FUEL: Is this the end for diesel engines?

Though not being qualified to have ever been employed by Volkswagen (VW), my modest education involved night school study of heat engines, also known as thermodynamics. This was to a sufficient level to know about the world changing invention of Rudolf Diesel, and other equivalent compression-ignition engines, boilers and other plant.

In my time, nobody was too concerned about the stuff we ejected into the atmosphere from such engines, nor for the even larger amounts from boilers, driving steam-engines and huge turbines (the steam sort). My chest condition tells me we should have been.

The manipulation of some modern electronic gadget to detect the dangerous particulates and oxides to show that on the road you were producing ‘acceptable’ discharges, when in fact many times more than that arose, is something slightly surprising to even me.

Diesel’s work finished in about 1913, apparently because he foresaw his invention becoming a weapon of war. He disappeared overboard from a ferry, the finding at the time ‘suicide’. The engines were already being used in war ships, including U-boats.

The nonvolatile oil fuels were much safer than the petrol (and gas) fuels available, ships requiring to carry a large bunkered store of fuel to cross the Atlantic etc, such oil being the cheap end of petroleum products for fuels, all good ideas at the time.

Each day there is some sort of news about the twists in our energy, coal and wood, petrol and heavier oil products, sun and wind. To carbon-capture (or not), the use of very expensive (previous metal) catalytic devices on road transport are usually at a cost, being avoided if at all convenient. Carbon fuels produce a number of harmful substances, as well as the much discussed carbon dioxide. China’s capital Beijing is the world leader in air pollution, frantically being worked on by its Government, all very late.

The really wonderful diesel engines developed following the initial invention still serve us, but the exhausts require a bit of work. Does failure to clean up exhaust gasses mean the end of diesels?

Mr A M Johnson

Cullercoats