UP conducts real-time emissions testing to help inform policy

An engineering student and Professor Johan Joubert alongside UP's portable emissions measurement system

An engineering student and Professor Johan Joubert alongside UP's portable emissions measurement system

11th December 2020

By: Marleny Arnoldi

Deputy Editor Online


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The Centre for Transport Development, within the University of Pretoria’s (UP’s) Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, has acquired a system that can measure vehicle emissions while driving.

The portable emissions measurement system (Pems) unit is a first for Africa, the university says.

UP Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering's Professor Johan Joubert explains that the unit connects to the exhaust of a light or heavy vehicle or an off-road vehicle and measures a variety of pollutants while driving under real conditions.

Joubert and his team are building a database of emissions and vehicle diagnostics for a range of road types and vehicle loads in Gauteng.

The current cohort of test vehicles includes the university’s fleet of light vehicles and the National Research Foundation’s road-rail heavy-goods vehicle.

Joubert says the goal of his team’s research is, firstly, to study and understand the uncertainty and variance in vehicle emissions in the local environment, to determine how South African vehicles really perform.

The second aim is to inform policy when it comes to setting realistic carbon emission targets.

Joubert notes that, although South Africa has passed a carbon tax law, which will help to mitigate the impact of climate change, if the implementation is done wrong, it could have unintended consequences that will hurt the economy and its citizens.

“The carbon tax is currently accounted for as part of the fuel levy. It is an easy approach to implement but might be more regressive than alternative measures.

“The impact could be disproportionately high on, for example, urban freight carriers. Higher fuel costs directly impact the cost of logistics and doing business generally. “The higher cost of logistics, in turn, will ultimately manifest itself in higher prices for goods and services at your local retail outlet,” states Joubert.

He adds that a government push for the public to buy electric or hybrid vehicles is idealistic. “It might be achievable for the financial elite only, thereby adversely compounding economic inequality.”

New vehicles are sold with compulsory fuel consumption and emission declarations. But new vehicle owners are most likely never going to experience that ambitious consumption and emission performance.

This is because the declared values are the result of standardised tests in highly controlled laboratory environments. The difference in performance is attributed to, for example, driver behaviour, road grade and environmental conditions.

Joubert says the infamous Volkswagen diesel scandal, among others, sparked a global movement to enhance vehicle certification to include real driving emissions testing.

“South Africans experience the real effect of transport emissions daily in our cities. On average, our vehicle population is much older than the developed world, which eagerly subscribes to and seeks the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

“We should diligently pursue them too. Unfortunately, our ageing vehicles emit much more than their reported emissions because real people drive them. Driving a vehicle under normal road conditions in a typical South African road environment will result in substantially higher total emissions than that vehicle’s certified values. Yet the real emissions are what citizens are exposed to,” Joubert says.

He further points out that UP, its Faculty of Engineering, Built Environment and Information Technology, and the Department of Science and Innovation, through the Research, Development and Innovation Waste Roadmap, are working towards building smart cities that require smart mobility.

Edited by Mariaan Webb
Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor Online


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