The centre for transport development at the University of Pretoria (UP), in the faculty of engineering, built environment and information technology (EBIT) has developed a device that allows for the measurement of a variety of pollutants while driving under real and regular conditions.
Called Portable Emissions Measurement System (PEMS) the unit connects to the exhaust of a light or heavy vehicle. According to UP’s Professor Johan Joubert, the unit and the centre’s capability is the first of its kind in the African continent.
Professor Joubert and the centre’s team are building up a database of emissions and vehicle diagnostic on a variety of road types and vehicle loads in Gauteng. He said the current cohort of test vehicles includes the University fleet of light vehicles and the NRF Road Rail Vehicle (RRV), a heavy goods vehicle.
Professor Joubert said the research aims to achieve two main objectives. Firstly, he said, it seeks to study and understand the uncertainty and the variance in vehicle emissions in the local environment. For instance, “how do our South African vehicles perform really? If we do not know, and we don’t, then we poke blindly in the dark to try and improve the state of transport emissions,” said Professor Joubert.
Secondly, it intends to inform policy when it comes to setting realistic targets, he said. “The reality of carbon tax, as one intervention, is on the cards. But if we get it wrong, it may have many unintended consequences that will hurt the economy and its citizens. Urging everyone to buy electric or hybrid vehicles sound utopian, but it may only be achievable for the financial elite; adversely affecting economic inequality. If freight vehicles are taxed disproportionately, it will manifest itself in the price increases for essential goods on the shelves, hurting us all. Moreso, the poor and economically vulnerable,” he said.
He said the research is part of wider global movement to enhance vehicle certification to include Real Driving Emissions (RDE) testing following the international Volkswagen diesel scandal.
Professor Joubert said that everybody agrees that we need to protect the environment. But he said when it comes to the emissions from our vehicles; the public seem to be conveniently oblivious. He said every new car sold in the South African market is required to declare its fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions.
“Yet you are unlikely to experience that excellent reported fuel efficiency, though. Why? Because they attribute the difference to driver behaviour, the weather, road grade (the in or decline of your route), and general driving conditions. The reported fuel efficiency follows from chassis tests under strict and controlled conditions. The same argument holds for emissions,” said Professor Joubert.
He said South Africans experience the real effect of transport emissions daily in their cities, adding the country’s vehicle population is, on average, much older than the developed world who subscribe to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“Unfortunately, our ageing vehicles emit much more than their reported emissions because real people drive them. Again, why the difference? Because our cars and trucks expose us to actual driving behaviour on actual local road conditions and, yes, in beautiful South African weather,” he said.
Vehicle exhaust emissions from both diesel and petrol are known to be major contributors of carbon monoxide which is harmful to human health. It is widely anticipated that researches such as the one by the UP will contribute greatly to efforts to curb not only toxic emissions coming from motor vehicles but other sources of greenhouses gases which are blamed for the current global warming.