It is great to see that Michael Gove as Secretary of State for the Environment has vowed to take action “at pace” on banning plastic straws, cotton buds, drink stirrers and other disposable items. Well-placed government intervention can drive positive change for our environment, but this should give us pause for thought on where government interventions may be inhibiting such innovation. One such example is the government’s diesel subsidy for weakly regulated secondary engines. With Gove building some strong green credentials, one area where he can do more is taking on Britain’s air pollution problem.
Analysis has shown that the independent transport refrigeration units – TRUs, the secondary diesel engines used to provide cooling on refrigerated trucks and trailers delivering food to our shops and restaurants – emit up to 93 times more nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 165 times more particulate matter (PM) than the emissions limits of a Euro 6 diesel car.
But independent TRUs are entitled to run on half price ‘red’ diesel, meaning we not only tolerate their grossly disproportionate emissions but also subsidise them. TRUs are allowed to run on red diesel because they are classed – bizarrely – as ‘Non Road Mobile Machinery’, even though they operate on a truck or trailer.
Dearman has shown that UK technologies are ready to replace these polluters delivering temperature controlled transport at similar cost to taxed diesel. Our technology is already in commercial demonstration with such companies as Unilever, Sainsburys and M&S. Only last week Unilever CEO Paul Polman, tweated about the successful results of our trials in the Netherlands “Great partnership with @Unilever and @Dearmanltd working to our goal of making our transport system as green as possible – win for the environment and for business #carbonfree”.
It makes sense to tackle TRU emissions because they grossly disproportionate emitters, the number of vehicles affected would be small – 84,000 in the entire country – and as we are demonstrating home-developed, market-ready zero-emission alternatives are available. Removing diesel TRUs from the streets of London alone would remove the same amount of particulate matter as taking 300,000 Euro 6 diesel cars off the road.
Subsidising diesel Is not just bad for our health, it is bad for our economy. It also prevents new clean cold technologies from taking off. The government has already wisely invested tens of millions of pounds to support early stage clean cold technologies and which we have benefited from. Scrapping red diesel would help make our technology and others fully commercial on our home market, not undermined by a perverse subsidy. And with a global awareness and urgency now of the need to switch to clean cooling technologies especially for logistics, having zero-emission technologies in our cities would create the right platform and shop window for future exports and jobs.
Of course the government should set a date for the phasing out of all diesel TRUs from the UK, as it has done for cars and trucks. But at the very least, if the Government is serious about picking up the pace to address pollution from plastic to diesel, please let’s stop these perverse subsidies.
Prof Toby Peters