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Poor air quality could make cars switch to EV mode automatically

Rows of tightly parked cars on opposite sides of a suburban street

Geo-fencing using live air quality data could be used to enforce the zero-emission running of fleet vehicles in heavily polluted areas.

The real-time emissions control technology would trigger electric hybrid engines to automatically switch to a pure electric vehicle (EV) mode.

A trial, which is being co-ordinated by intelligent mobility experts at the Transport Systems Catapult, will be launched in Leeds later this year.

It aims to show towns and cities new ways to reduce urban air pollution without additional charges to motorists or businesses.

Called Project Accra, the trial is a collaboration between Leeds City Council, the Transport Systems Catapult, Cenex, EarthSense, Dynniq and Tevva Motors. 

Principal technologist at the Transport Systems Catapult Paul Bate told Fleet News: “Vehicle to Infrastructure communication has the promise to transform how cities manage urban traffic control and air quality regulation.

“Project Accra is a pioneering collaboration to explore the potential of geo-fencing technology that equips vehicles to anticipate and respond accordingly when approaching or driving inside a city’s Clean Air Zones (CAZs).” 

The Government’s recently published air quality plan gives the green light for local authorities to charge vehicles entering zones where pollution is at its worst.

In addition to the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in London, Leeds is one of five other cities, including Birmingham, Derby, Nottingham and Southampton, which will have to introduce a CAZ by 2019. More councils may follow suit.

Councillor Lucinda Yeadon, Leeds City Council executive board member with responsibility for environment and sustainability, is enthusiastic about the technology’s potential and keen to understand how it can best implement it in the city to help reduce air pollution. 

She explained: “Improving air quality in Leeds is a huge priority for the council, and we are looking at a number of different initiatives to address the issue.”

For the Leeds trial, transportation network systems developer Dynniq will develop a decision-making engine capable of taking inputs from a range of city data, such as live air quality information and real-time traffic conditions. 

EarthSense will be responsible for monitoring and uploading updated local air quality levels to the interface, which will be used to trigger on-demand zero-emissions running instructions in the participating Tevva vehicles.

Simon Notley, technical lead for Dynniq, said: “This is an exciting opportunity to create an entirely new solution to the problem of air pollution and demonstrate the huge potential for innovation that is being unlocked by modern intelligent transport systems. But most importantly it’s an opportunity to improve the quality of life of everyone living, working or travelling in cities around the world.”

The UK Government estimates that almost 50,000 people die each year due to poor air quality, which is driving local and national policy-makers to put increasingly strict regulation on urban transportation.

However, the complexity of implementing strict emissions controls in specific areas can come with additional costs to local councils, motorists and businesses.

Steve Carroll, head of transport at Cenex – the Centre of Excellence for Low Carbon and Fuel Cell technologies – said: “Local air quality is a persistent and growing problem in urban centres across the UK and globally.

“Using real-time air quality data to automatically instruct vehicles driving into high pollution areas to switch to zero-emissions driving has the potential to transform urban transportation regulation and save thousands of lives.” 

The Government is keen for local authorities to employ innovative technology to drive down emissions in pollution hotspots and not simply impose charges as a deterrent.

However, developers behind a project which will enable councils to charge vehicles to drive on city roads according to their real-time emissions received a £1 million Government grant earlier this year.  

The Air Car project, led by the Tantalum Corporation and Imperial College London, wants to combine emissions data with a vehicle’s location and driver behaviour, to give the “real” environmental impact of individual vehicles.

Tantalum, which owns Tracker, is recruiting fleets from the public and commercial sectors as part of a 1,000-vehicle trial starting in the autumn, to “test and fine tune” the technology. 

It will run within London and the other UK cities where CAZs are to be established.

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  • Wayne Burnett - 21/08/2017 14:43

    Couple of points here: - Firstly. If you have a hybrid vehicle that can run off the battery pack why would you not be doing so anyway without the need for it to be remotely switched. Secondly. Most hybrids will do no more than 30 miles in zero EV mode at best. If you find yourself at the end of that range but not yet out of an emissions zone what happens if your vehicle is remotely switched to a power source that you do not have?

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