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Air Pollution, an Enduring Problem

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Tags: ZeroEmissions, #MobilityLifeBalance

Cities right around the world are suffering from the consequences of exploding growth in the volume of road traffic. It is a challenge, but not an impossible one, to get to grips with air pollution.
Kathrin Wildemann, July 01, 2019
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Kathrin Wildemann has been a part of the permanent Copy Team at ZF since 2016. In her online and offline articles, she likes to cover electromobility and other topics that involve sustainability.
What is lovelier than to be out in the fresh air in sunshine under a blue sky? Jogging in the park, playing ball with the neighbor’s kids, sauntering around town in the evening and enjoying a beer on an outdoor terrace with friends at the end of the day. However, something that should be an important part of everyday life is increasingly turning into a hazard to health and life in many cities. Particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and carbon monoxide are quite literally clogging up the air we breathe in cities right around the globe.

Air pollution, a gigantic problem worldwide

Air pollution, a gigantic problem worldwide

The impacts of emissions on health are far-reaching. Among other things, smog causes cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, fetal malformation during pregnancy, or cancer. Estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO) indicate that 4.2 million people die each year as a consequence of air pollution. The situation is alarming in emerging and developing countries. There, almost all cities with populations of 100,000 or more inhabitants exceed the limits defined by the WHO, in some cases dramatically. In industrialized countries, the picture is more favorable. Nonetheless, 56 percent of cities in these countries exceed the limit values. In total, 9 out of 10 people in the world are breathing air that contains an excessive level of pollutants.

Inner cities are suffocating in clouds of exhaust emissions

Inner cities are suffocating in clouds of exhaust emissions

It is no coincidence that the population in urban conurbations are the worst affected. Ever more people live in cities, and their need for mobility is pushing the transport infrastructure up to its limits. By 2050, two thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities. Ever more passenger cars, mopeds, and trucks will be congesting roads and urban freeways. In the process, they generate huge amounts of exhaust gas. Even though road traffic is by no means the only source of air pollution, it does contribute a substantial amount to the problem. The WHO estimates that up to 50 percent of the particulate matter emissions in OECD countries originates from the exhaust pipes of vehicles with internal combustion engines.
Another problematic and no less concerning factor is allied to the unhealthy mix of nitrogen oxides and particulate matter: greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide are detrimental to the climate and are responsible for global warming. According to statements made by the International Energy Agency (IEA), road traffic in 2016 was responsible for more than 18 percent of worldwide CO₂ emissions.
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In many large cities, smog has become a daily companion for their residents.

90 percent
of all people in the world are breathing air containing levels of pollutants that exceed the limit values of the WHO.

Combating smog and greenhouse gases with e-power

Combating smog and greenhouse gases with e-power

Cities and governments worldwide are trying many different ways to combat air pollution. For example, a few cities are imposing driving bans of different kinds. These range from the driving ban on diesel-powered buses and trucks in Copenhagen to the completely car-free Sunday in Bogotá. However, restrictions are not a long-term solution in their own right. What we need are alternatives to private transport powered by internal combustion engines. Electromobility is an important approach to finding a solution. After all, an electric drive does not emit any exhaust gas while driving – regardless of whether it is on board a purely electric car or in a hybrid electric vehicle. The coming generation of hybrid electric vehicles can cover longer distances under purely electric power than has been possible to date. The internal combustion engine is intended to be a pragmatic auxiliary form of propulsion for long journeys. Needless to say, electric drives are also an interesting option to cut the emissions of city buses, delivery trucks, and even construction site vehicles in a sustainable manner.
At the same time, these pioneering city fathers are committing to well-developed infrastructures in their fight to improve air quality. They are linking mass transit to the provision of solutions for micro-mobility and mobility as a service. One example is Copenhagen with its well-developed network of paths for bicycles and e-bikes. Now, almost half of commuters in the city center of Copenhagen are on two wheels.
The coming generation of hybrid electric vehicles can cover longer distances under purely electric power than has been possible to date. The internal combustion engine is intended as an auxiliary form of propulsion for long journeys.
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Even people using transportation facilities who themselves produce no emissions also suffer from exhaust gas.

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