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Dark Clouds Over Clean Diesels

Soot's health impacts and global warming potential dilute diesel's fuel-efficiency benefit

4 min read

11 June 2008—Diesel vehicles are increasingly presented as an equal alternative to gas-electric hybrids, thanks to their up to 5.88-liter-per-100-kilometer (40-mile-per-gallon) fuel economy advantage over conventional gasoline-powered cars and trucks and new emissions-control devices that vastly reduce their exhaust. ”We think that’s a win-win for both the environment and the climate,” says Allen Schaeffer, executive director of the Diesel Technology Forum, a Frederick, Md.�based trade group that promotes diesels.

But mounting evidence on the pernicious effects of particulate pollution—including a potentially serious contribution to climate change—suggests that diesel’s promise may be oversold. Some regulators are getting the message. California is implementing new fuel standards to reduce the carbon content of transportation fuels, and draft rules for the state’s Low-Carbon Fuel Standard, to be finalized by the end of this year, seem to explicitly avoid giving automakers and consumers an incentive to switch from gasoline cars to diesels as a solution to climate change.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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