Can Autogas fuel the drive against pollution?

In the UK the automotive industry’s 2009 scrappage scheme – backed by £300 million from the Government – persuaded thousands to upgrade to newer cars, improving the environmental performance and incidentally also boosting the beleaguered automotive industry. Around 400,000 vehicles were ordered through this scheme before it was, itself, scrapped in 2010.

Now the industry is advocating a new vehicle “scrappage” scheme aimed at combating pollution in London and the wider UK. According to this owners of older “gross polluters” should to receive financial incentives replace older, more polluting cars with newer, cleaner-fuelled models. It echoes a plea from Boris Johnson, who last year said owners of polluting cars should be given up to £2,000 to scrap them. The idea behind this is that each year the engines powering new cars become “cleaner”, to meet ever more stringent EU regulations.

Under its blueprint launched this week, UKLPG (the representative of the LPG industry in the UK) says that in addition to a new scrappage scheme, local authorities should receive more governmental support to help them convert their fleets to less polluting fuels. According to the LPG industry, its measures would not only improve air quality in London and the UK but avoid further EU fines for air pollution violations.

Autogas Limited — which naturally wants to sell more of its fuel — says an average LPG-fuelled vehicle emits between 10 and 14 per cent less CO2 emissions than an equivalent petrol-driven one. NOx and particulate emissions — a “specialty” of diesel vehicles — are also considerably lower with Autogas. Recent lab results indicate that dedicated engine development is very likely to increase the advantage of Autogas over the conventional fuels.

A driver covering 12,000 miles per year using Autogas would save more than 1.5 tonnes of CO2 in two years. Despite these benefits, the industry says fuels such as LPG are too often overlooked by policymakers and consumers and it wants that to change. The launch of the blueprint is timely; it follows reports that Oxford Street breached EU environmental legal limits for 2015, in just four days at the start of the year. The major culprit here being public transport vehicles. In 2014 the UK faced a fine of £300 million from the EU for failing to meet air pollution targets. The outlook for 2015 is not any better.

Could LPG have a brighter future? It’s too early to say; the industry is still gauging the effects of the Chancellor’s announcement last year of a 10-year tax trajectory supporting low prices for gaseous fuels including LPG, which could save drivers hundreds of pounds a year.

Although not available at every station, there are 65 LPG refilling sites in London alone and around 1,400 in the UK. Conversions are performed in roughly 8,500 garages throughout the country.

It’s been an interesting week for London’s air quality. Islington slapped a stiff £96 annual surcharge on residents’ parking permits for diesel-engined cars. It’s been welcomed by environmentalists but not the motor industry, which says it ignores huge gains in engine technology that make modern diesels so much cleaner. It’s interesting to note that Claudia Webbe, Islington council’s executive member for environment and transport, is backing the surcharge, calling on the London mayor to “do his share” by “replacing high-polluting buses and tackling polluting lorries that travel through our streets”.

Good point — why not lead the way by converting public transport to Autogas? Many large cities in Asia (Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and others) alleviate their pollution problem by running taxis almost exclusively on LPG. Factory fitted Autogas versions of models common to showrooms around the world are already available in the respective home markets of the manufacturers.