A new Channel 4 Dispatches investigation airing tonight will reveal that hybrid cars are producing higher levels of some harmful emissions than some of the latest diesel models.
A test of six hybrids, two diesels and one petrol model found the partially-electrified cars produced more volatile organic compounds – or VOCs – than the entirely fossil-fueled vehicles.
VOCs are chemicals that are emitted as gases from some liquids, including petrol and diesel. At certain levels some VOCs can cause cancer and ground-level smog, the report warns.
The report, to be shown at 8:30pm on Monday, also uncovers the existing state of the electric vehicle public charging network in the UK, revealing more than one in 20 devices are out of service – and some charge points have been broken for up to six years.
Are hybrids more harmful than diesels? Channel 4 Dispatches investigation will reveal that hybrid cars are emitting higher levels of potentially dangerous volatile organic compounds
Channel 4 worked with experts at UK company Emissions Analytics to reveal the greater polluting impact of hybrids cars.
Currently, hybrids are the most popular form of electrified cars in the UK, with more than 207,000 new vehicles entering British roads this year (both conventional and plug-in hybrid), accounting for almost one in six vehicle registrations so far in 2021.
Seen as a stepping stone from petrol and diesel cars to electric, their eco benefits include reducing exhaust emissions of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter.
However, assessments of six latest models found that, during engine cold starts, they are producing more more harmful VOCs that cars with internal combustion engines.
Hybrid vehicles used for the test were a mix of plug-in hybrids – which offer the longest electric-only driving ranges – as well as conventional hybrids you can’t plug into a charger.
‘Mild’ hybrids, which are both petrol and diesel models that have small batteries and electric motors to supplement the engine – though never actually power the wheels, were also included in the tests.
All the cars were driven by Emissions Analytics on the open road for the study.
The results showed that, in a cold start, all hybrids performed worse than the new diesel car, emitting higher levels of VOCs.
Volatile organic compounds are chemicals that are emitted as gases from some liquids, including petrol and diesel. At certain levels VOCs can cause cancer and ground-level smog
Many VOC gases that are emitted from exhausts, including formaldehyde, are not currently measured or regulated by the government.
James Hobday, business development director at Emissions Analytics, explains: ‘It’s often a simplification when people look at emissions to say that electric is good and diesel is bad.
‘In cold starts, VOCS for the electrified cars were often much higher than for diesels. And the diesels were even cleaner than the petrols.
‘The prevailing wisdom that electric cars are clean when it comes to VOCs it isn’t the case.
‘The VOCs we found, like benzene and formaldehyde, are in notable quantities. We still require research into what quantities of VOCs are acceptable.’
Some new hybrid cars are due to remain on sale in the UK beyond the 2030 ban from showrooms for petrol and diesel vehicles.
Hybrids, which combine electric motors and a battery with an internal combustion engine (usually petrol) will continue to be sold until 2035 – though the Government has yet to clarify if this will be only plug-in hybrid cars or also conventional hybrids.
Dispatches contacted the Department for Transport about the VOC emissions revelation found in its sutdy.
A spokesperson told them: ‘We’re on course to become the first G7 nation to fully decarbonise cars and vans.
‘Hybrid cars and vans have an important role to play to achieve our phase-out date and will only be allowed to be sold between 2030 and 2035 if they deliver significant zero emission capability.
‘By 2035 all new cars and vans will be zero emission at the tailpipe. Before 2035 we will continue to regulate emissions from non-electric vehicles.’
Dispatches will also reveal that it found that more than 1 in 20 public electric car chargers were out of order in Britain when it reviewed available devices on a single day in September
Dispatches exposes poor state of UK public charging
Also revealed in tonight’s show is the ‘shocking state of Britain’s electric car charging network’, says Channel 4.
The second part of its investigation, with the help of Zap-Map, looked at the availability of public charging infrastructure in a single-day sample to understand what existing EV owners were likely to face if wanting to charge their cars on day in September.
Currently, there are more than 26,000 public chargers across Britain – though not all of them are always working, the report uncovered.
It found that 5.2 per cent of all chargers (more than 1,300) were out of use.
Some 840 ‘slow chargers’ were out of service that day, while 10 per cent of all rapid devices – those that offer faster charging times – were unavailable due to existing faults.
It also found that over 30 of ‘super new ultra-rapid chargers – or 3 per cent – were faulty when the study was conducted.
Incredibly, Dispatches also discovered that some charge points have been broken for years.
This charger at the Metrocentre shopping centre in Gateshead has been out of order for six years, it has been revealed
EV drivers interviewed for the report said that a charge point in Litchfield had been out of service for three years, one in the Isle of Wight for five, and another at the Metrocentre shopping centre in Gateshead unavailable for a staggering six years.
Gateshead Metrocentre said in response: ‘The charger was a trialed test site prototype with now obsolete technology which cannot be fixed and will be removed.
‘All our fast and rapid chargers are operational and new EV parking bays will also be operational in 2022.’
A DfT spokesperson added: ‘We want to make charging an electric vehicle as easy and accessible as refuelling a petrol or diesel car.
‘That’s why the Government has just committed £620 million to support the transition to electric vehicles on top of the £1.9bn from Spending Review 2020.’
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