Traffic pollution is widely considered to be
one of the most serious environmental problems facing the European Union
today. Now, the EU-sponsored PREMTECH
network, set up in 1997, is trying to change all of that, bringing together
researchers working in the field of cleaner car engines from across the
Over 100 researchers and industry experts took part
in PREMTECH's two-day annual review conference, held near Paris on 12
and 13 February 2001. Many of Europe's largest carmakers were present,
Benz and Volkswagen
from Germany, Renault
Peugeot CitroŽn from France, Italian auto giant Fiat
and Sweden's Volvo.
On the academic side, researchers from institutions in nearly all of the
Union's 15 Member States took part along with experts from a number of
national authorities such as the UK's Department of Trade and Industry
and the Irish agency, Enterprise
||Hunting the emissions
at the PREMTECH conference examine newer cleaner cars
"The cars being described here today are
the vehicles you will be seeing on the road in four or five years'
time. It really is very exciting," said Daniel Chiron, a European
Commission expert on engine design and scientific officer for PREMTECH.
PREMTECH's aims are simple - to help create cleaner, safer cars.
As socialist Member of the European Parliament Bernd Lange put it
in his opening speech, "The mission is hunting the emissions."
In more concrete terms, PREMTECH has established
a network linking Community-funded projects aimed at the development
of energy efficient, near zero emission internal combustion engines
running on conventional or cleaner fuels.
The network intends to ensure that the development
of advanced engines and after-treatment reduction technologies is
well defined and suited to industry objectives. The network also
ensures efficient project integration, optimisation of different
technologies, and that new needs and requirements dictated by the
future evolution of fuel consumption and emissions standards are
properly taken into account.
PREMTECH has identified four major areas of
- Advanced propulsion systems for Otto cycle engines;
- Advanced propulsion systems for Diesel cycle engines;
- Control systems;
- After-treatment systems.
Researchers taking part in PREMTECH projects
work in groups known as 'clusters', each one looking at a different
element of car design. For example, one of the current cluster projects
is looking at ways of developing 'hybrid' cars, which would run
on a mixture of conventional fuels and battery power. Another is
working on the question of cleaner engines that would produce lower
emissions of sulphur and other harmful gases. A third is looking
at the possibility of building a new generation of lightweight cars
that would consume less petrol than current models.
One thing that all PREMTECH projects have in
common is that they bring together researchers from the academic
world and the automotive industry from across the European Union.
As Christos Tokamanis, head of the Inland Transport and Marine Technology
unit at the Commission's Research
Directorate-General explains, PREMTECH really offers "a
flavour of the European Research Area ."
The European Research
Area (ERA), now being championed by EU Research Commissioner,
is intended to close the current 'R&D gap' between the EU and
its competitors in the United States and Japan by creating a Union-wide
research community. If the recent PREMTECH meeting was anything
to go by, the ERA certainly seems to have got off to a good start.
||Widening the call
One of the more innovative elements of this
year's PREMTECH meeting was the decision to invite researchers from
some of the non-EU countries currently lining up to join the Union.
When the current round of funding for PREMTECH projects commenced
in June this year, researchers from these 'applicant' countries
were able to submit proposals along with their EU counterparts.
While all of the speakers at the meeting were
clearly proud of the progress made over the past four years, none
of them are resting on their laurels. Everyone agreed there is still
a great deal of work to be done before the 'car of the future' becomes
a reality. Chiron said the Commission would probably provide partial
funding for around 20 new PREMTECH projects this year. He added
that his institution would be paying particular attention to the
socio-economic aspects of any proposals submitted. In other words,
applicants for funding would have to consider issues such as the
impact their new cars would have on pedestrians and local residents
as well as looking at questions of fuel efficiency.
"The criteria of reducing emissions
and increasing safety are the same," he said, "but there
is still a lot more to be done, so we are expecting to see some
exciting new proposals."