rain is destroying forests. Smog is invading our towns. The greenhouse
effect is increasing, threatening the planet with a rising temperature
which could have catastrophic effects. Attacks on the environment that
are related to road transport are rightly giving rise to serious concern.
The types of pollution vary. Cars and lorries produce nitrogen oxides
(these in turn produce ozone, which is a danger to public health at
street level), various volatile carcinogenic substances, and large quantities
of carbon dioxide (C02), the main gas responsible for the greenhouse
Transport accounts for 26% of CO2 emissions in the European Union, with
road traffic accounting for 85% of this.
A small glimmer of hope did, however, appear in the 1980s. Thanks to
the stricter standards imposed on the car industry, emissions began
to decrease. But this effect was counterbalanced by consumers' desire
for ever more powerful vehicles, which use more fuel, while at the same
time road traffic was constantly increasing. What about the future?
Without coordinated and stringent action, CO2 emissions from road traffic
could increase by 40% between now and 2010.
the Kyoto earth summit (December 1997), the European Union firmly committed
itself to reducing carbon dioxide emissions 8%, compared with 1990 levels,
by the period 2008-2012. In view of that, the European Commission is
putting pressure on car manufacturers to reduce CO2 emissions from new
European research is making a direct contribution to this campaign,
not only by stepping up its action against the elements which produce
greenhouses gases, but also by directing attention to types of car pollution
that have not yet been taken into account, such as those resulting from
the emission of dangerous particles or unregulated substances, including
some highly toxic volatile gases.
In parallel, various research projects are trying to promote alternative
methods of vehicle propulsion based on clean-energy or hybrid systems.
Finally, some projects are geared towards road infrastructures, which
may be the origin of some types of pollution.
How to better catch the polluters
Used cars generally pollute more than recent models. That is why a
technical inspection to check vehicle emissions is mandatory. But
this system is expensive to administer.
A European research project called REVEAL is working on the development
of reliable, low-cost measuring devices to be sited along the roadside.
They would automatically detect cars putting out too much pollution
and the owners would then be requested to comply with the law.
The salt which is poured in great
quantities on to the roads of certain countries as soon as winter
arrives causes serious collateral damage.
But other polluting agents also affect infrastructures, spreading
into the neighbouring soil and contaminating underground waters. What
are the major harmful products? What are their physical and chemical
effects on the immediate environment? What measures could be taken
to avoid this kind of pollution? Finding answers to such questions
is the aim of a European research project, POLMIT, which is being
carried out in seven countries across the EU, from north to south.
Water is the only waste product!
A number of European research projects
are involved in the area of clean vehicles. Among these, the FEVER
project has led to the development of a prototype, whose engine is
powered by a fuel cell, and where water is the only waste product.
Vehicles designed around such clean-energy systems can have a range
of 500 km and a top speed of 120 km/h.