This morning Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, announced that he wants to create the world’s first ‘ultra low emission zone’. ‘My vision is a central zone where almost all the vehicles running during working hours are either zero or low emission. This would deliver incredible benefits in air quality and stimulate the delivery and mass use of low emission technology.”
Boris wants Transport for London to work on a feasibility study for just how this idea could be rolled out in 2020. Sounds mad, doesn’t it? And Boris won’t be the Mayor of London in 2020 (he’s more likely to be the leader of the opposition) so surely this is just a PR stunt to fill a cold day in February?
In fact, it’s a smart political that opens up the opportunity to - finally - have a proper conversation about Co2 and the real meaning of emissions and pollution. So here’s my submission to TfL…
Dear Transport for London
Ultra-low emissions zones. Sound pretty cutting edge doesn’t it? But we need to make sure everyone understands the difference between ‘pollution’ and ‘emissions’. I’ve been banging on about air pollution since the ridiculous Congestion Charge was introduced in 2003. Co2 emissions are not locally harmful to human health. Pollution such as particulates and nitrogen oxides, for which there are EU legal limits, are harmful and are responsible for thousands of early deaths each year.
And please don’t go galloping off on wild green goose chases. The UK’s hydrogen fuelling network is over a decade away and battery-powered vehicles will remain expensive, short-range, affected by cold weather and inconvenient to recharge. Moreover, most of the vehicles that will be subject the ultra low emissions zone will be owned by the self-employed and private business for whom every penny counts. These people will want affordable, robust and cheap-to-service ultra-low emissions vehicles, like the conventional diesel vehicles they drive now.
The answer, as you might have guessed, is gas power. Gas is the lowest Co2 fossil fuel but produces virtually no pollution when it is burnt. Ever wondered why you can have open gas flames in your kitchen without being poisoned?
VW estimates that there is 231 years of gas supply in the world and the British Geological Survey thinks there’s enough shale gas under the UK to heat all our homes for 1500 years and that we should be able to easily extract 300 years’ worth. There’s 13.7 kWh of energy in a kilo of Compressed Natural Gas: just 8.9 kWh in a litre of petrol.
Commercial vehicles can be easily adapted for mass production, with tweaked petrol engines (so less urban noise pollution) and roof-mounted gas tanks. The new owners of the Black Cab company can re-engineer the old bus to accommodate gas tanks. Single-deck buses can use roof-mounted gas tanks (the whole Californian bus fleet is powered by CNG, as are Hong Kong’s taxis). Refuelling points can be accommodated at existing petrol stations.
Even wind turbines are part of this solution. Artificial Methane can be made by using wind power to ‘crack’ seawater into hydrogen and oxygen. Combining the hydrogen and Co2 creates the methane gas. The Mayor also says that building site machinery creates 12 percent of all the capital’s Nitrogen Dioxide pollution. The only solution is gas-powered machinery, like the gas-powered forklifts already used in warehouses.
As you can see, there is only one sensible, cost-effective, real-world way to create an ‘ultra low POLLUTION zone’. The reward is clean city air and quieter streets. And if London gets it right, the rest of the country will surely follow.