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A breath of fresh air in the pollution debate

James Rockall, chief executive of the World LPG Association explains why switching to Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) may provide a quick-fix to our air pollution problems.

Air pollution is not a new phenomenon, but it has perhaps taken a backseat to climate change when it comes to governments’ agendas.

The impact of poor air quality, however, is shocking: The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that nine out of ten people breathe air with high levels of pollutants and an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths a year can be directly attributed to ambient (outdoor) air pollution.

The Covid-19 pandemic has put a new focus on air pollution. The Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air reported that the improved air quality during the first month of lockdowns prevented 11,000 pollution-related deaths in Europe. Whether because of the huge reduction in the ground and air transportation or the general effects of reduced industrial activity, the impact was, quite literally, ‘clear’.

There is no question that air pollution and climate change are intricately linked.

Whereas greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide have a long life, cutting air pollution quickly reduces the presence of pollutants such as nitrous oxides, ozone, and the ‘black’ carbon particulates produced from sources such as diesel engines and cooking stoves.

What is not generally realised is that around three billion people still cook using polluting open fires or simple stoves fuelled by kerosene, biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) or coal and, according to the WHO, close to four million die every year because of this indoor air pollution. We could put a stop to this today.

There is a quick win pollution solution

We cannot afford to wait for the world to change to electric cars or install solar panels on their roofs. We should not be standing by while millions die because of how they cook.

Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), a mixture of propane and/or butane, is an alternative fuel that offers an immediate solution that can save lives today. It can be used for cooking, heating, to power heavy industry, for electricity generation and more.

It is a practical solution for rural communities and developing countries. Autogas (LPG as an automotive fuel) is a safe, affordable, and cleaner alternative to petrol or diesel. On average, compared to diesel, Autogas emits almost no polluting particles – a staggering 98% less NOx – and up to 20% less CO2 than petrol, measured under real driving emissions on a well-to-wheel basis.

Although currently classified as a fossil fuel, with some 60% of supplies produced from natural gas processing, current sources of LPG will still significantly lower emissions and improve air quality, making it an ideal ‘bridging’ fuel while additional technology and resources are developed. But LPG also has a strong ‘renewable’ future with bioLPG. Propane and butane, the gases that make up LPG, can come from sustainable sources such as waste oils or animal fats. Some innovative research is also looking into production from cellulose sources, such as wood, or completely carbon neutral and renewable synthetic LPG produced from green hydrogen and sequestered CO2.

Hydrogen offers exciting potential in decarbonisation programs, but two of the biggest challenges are storage and transportation. Using H2 to produce synthetic LPG converts the energy from this gas into a liquid fuel that can be easily stored and distributed with huge benefits for the environment.

Conclusion

Covid-19 has raised awareness of the impact of air quality, both in terms of our health and its contribution to global warming. We need an energy transition away from conventional fossil fuels, but this must be workable, realistic, and affordable.

Many current ‘green’ projects are going to take time and do not completely address the needs of existing machinery that is creating pollution today. In transport, for example, electric vehicles will help lower pollution, but with over 300 million4 motor vehicles in circulation on the EU’s roads alone, decarbonising this fleet requires alternative options.

No single fuel source offers a panacea for air quality and climate change. We are, however, on a pathway towards an array of solutions that will deliver clean air, reduce carbon emissions, and save lives. E-mobility, hydrogen, wind, solar will all play their part, but LPG has an important role in terms of its immediate impact on air quality and saving lives as well as a secure, long-term, green fuel.

Photo Credit – Pixabay 

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