Diesel vehicles found to be less polluting than some hybrid cars – ‘cleaner than petrols’

Fuel doctor examines car filled with 'contaminated diesel'

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Channel 4’s Dispatches programme has discovered that certain groups of potentially harmful pollutants are worse in some new hybrid cars than some new diesels. Hybrids are the most popular form of electric vehicle in the UK, accounting for nearly a quarter of all new car registrations in September 2021.

Compared to 2019, plug-in hybrid sales went up by 91.2 percent.

Mild hybrids (MHEV) which use diesel have seen a 79.6 percent increase in registrations since 2020, while petrol MHEVs saw a 184.1 percent jump.

Despite their growing popularity, new research has shown hybrids not to be as environmentally friendly as they appear.

Hybrids contain both an electric motor and a fuel tank, which makes the vehicle heavier and less efficient in terms of needing to fill up more often. 

With an electric motor, hybrids can reduce exhaust emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter.

However, volatile organic compounds – VOCs – are chemicals that are emitted as gases from some liquids including petrol and diesel.

At certain levels some VOCs can cause cancer or cause ground-level smog.

Dispatches worked with Emissions Analytics, a group of exhaust experts, to test emissions from nine cars: six hybrids which all use petrol, two diesels and one pure petrol car.

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All the cars were put on the open road for testing and the results showed that, in a cold start, all hybrids performed worse than the new diesel car, emitting higher levels of VOCs.

Many VOC gases that are emitted from exhausts, including formaldehyde, are not currently measured or regulated by the Government. 

The Government is still pushing ahead with its plan to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2030, with a similar ban coming in 2035.

James Hobday, Business Development Director at Emissions Analytics commented on the findings.

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