The diesel dilemma: Tackling climate change by doing more with existing technology
It's not easy being a diesel driver in today's world. Between clogged diesel particulate filters (DPFs), stricter EU directives and the highly publicised Paris agreement on climate change, the future of diesel looks bleak. Here, Mark Burnett, VP of the Lubricants and Fuel Additives Innovation Platform at NCH Europe, explains how using additives can make existing diesel technology less damaging to the environment.
If you're a diesel driver, you will most likely have heard the horror stories of failed DPFs. One minute you're driving down the road in a perfectly well-maintained car and the next minute your car has gone into limp mode, leaving you with limited electronics and only one usable gear to get to the nearest service centre with.
In the worst cases, drivers have reported screeching noises coming from the DPF shortly followed by plumes of smoke from the exhaust and an explosion of soot over the engine bay.
Despite the potential hassle, DPFs play an important role in capturing harmful particulate matter (PM), or soot, and oxidising it to prevent the car from polluting the air with high levels of noxious emissions.
The latest Euro six standard, introduced in September 2015, sets limits on the amount of permitted emissions, including nitrogen oxide (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), hydrocarbons and particulate matter.
Although it's great that the UK is taking these steps — the latest figures from the UK's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) show an overall decline in air pollution — there is not much benefit in acting alone. Cue, the Paris accord.
Designed to tackle the wayward direction of global climate change for the next hundred years, the Paris agreement is a deal struck between nearly 200 countries.
The key elements of the agreement include: keeping global temperatures well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial times, limiting greenhouse gases emitted by human activity, reviewing each country's contribution every five years and rich countries helping poorer countries switch to renewable energy. It's a historic step, and one that means 2017 might well be the beginning of the end for diesel technology.
However, for many people, this change cannot come soon enough. For years, there has been a perception that diesel vehicles are more environmentally friendly than their petrol counterparts, when this simply isn't the case. Diesel cars actually produce just as much carbon dioxide as petrol and more noxious emissions.
The problem is that drivers, fleet managers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the industrial sectors have already invested heavily in diesel and it will take time to transition to cleaner alternatives.
Rather than wait for the change, OEMs in particular can do more to make their existing diesel vehicles less damaging to the environment by using fuel additives. Additives have historically been shunned because some actually reduced fuel economy instead of improving it and customers would have been better off using a more premium fuel instead.
Where additives do work is for specific tasks such as unclogging injectors, cleaning the fuel and, crucially, improving DPF performance. NCH Europe's DPF Protect additive, for example, reduces the temperature at which the DPF burns soot, from 550 degrees to 400 degrees Celsius.
Instead of waiting for the engine to get up to temperature — something that usually requires the vehicle to be driven at speeds of over 40mph for over ten minutes — the additive triggers the regenerative process by lowering the temperature at which the DPF activates, lowering the amount of dangerous particulate matter emitted into the air.
While it will still take many years for technology and legislation to bring about an overwhelming improvement in climate change, there is still more we can do in the here and now to make existing diesel technology cleaner.
Accelerating solar transition with robotics and automation
Professor Tadhg O’Donovan, Head of the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences at Heriot-Watt University Dubai, shares his views on how robotics and automation can deliver a real impact in leading the Middle East’s transition to solar energy and in advancing the overall sustainability agenda
As the world grapples with diminishing supplies of oil and the need to reduce carbon emissions, the adoption of disruptive technologies such as robotics and automation can be an important catalyst for the proliferation of renewable energy. Current applications and research show that robotics and automation help simplify the processes involved in support of renewable energy generation, especially for solar energy sources, which results in increased productivity, and cost savings.
Solar panel placement
Robots and automation can help unload and place solar panels onto racks at huge utility-scale sites. Thanks to outdoor, autonomous robotic technology, the process for solar field assembly can be made more efficient. Moreover, due to the fragile nature of solar cells and wafers, high-speed impact robots are more suitable and gentler than manual handling which helps ensure higher throughputs with better yield. Robots support solar construction crews, not replace them which means utility-scale contractors are able to reduce large amounts of repetitive tasks and improve productivity, bolster worker safety, and produce more MegaWatt-hours, faster.
Solar panel cleaning and maintenance
Crucial tasks such as removing dust from solar cells can be automated with the help of self-cleaning robots which is otherwise risky for people. Dust removal is critical in high dust-density regions such as the Middle East to maximise the irradiance incident on the panel and to ensure the solar panels provide maximum power output and energy yield. Water-free autonomous cleaning system can save billions of litres of water over the lifetime of a plant situated in arid regions.
Manufacturing of solar power systems
Robots in the PV manufacturing process make a significant contribution due to their ability to reduce costs considerably and enhancing precision and accuracy when compared with human intervention. Manufacturers can deploy robots and automation to make smarter and swifter production decisions, which ultimately increase precision, reduces the cost of production, and improves productivity. Silicon ingot, silicon modules, solar cells, and silicon wafers are some examples of delicate components that can be produced with high precision through robotic automation.
Integrating robotics into the renewable energy industry comes with a few of challenges too. One of the largest challenges being the power grid itself which is primarily designed to transport energy from large, centralized power plants fuelled by non-renewable sources such as natural gas and oil. Hence, the current power grid requires an overhaul before solar and other forms of distributed renewable energy can be truly integrated as a viable source of power.
Fresh power grid designs
Propelling the energy industry into the future requires fresh approaches to the power grid design. The answer lies with smart power grids that can integrate various renewable energy sources and help utility companies achieve greater efficiency and sustainability.
An increase in the integration of robotics and automation in the renewable energy industry could lead to an eventual total shift from other sources of energies such as oil to greener alternatives such as solar. Finally, this will spur the creation of “jobs of the future” – especially in high-growth data, digital and robotics engineering.