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Thermal Propulsion Systems Research, Department of Engineering Science, University of Oxford - Air Quality

4 maps of Blackbird Leys with different information overlaid on one main road

Air Quality

Air quality matters to all of us, and historically our Group's research activities have been dedicated to the development of the fundamental science necessary to enable substantial emissions reductions and efficiency improvements in next generation vehicles. Recently however, we have become increasingly concerned about the unintended consequences of public policy on emissions from vehicles.

For example, the post-'dieselgate' demonization of the diesel engine has led to an increase in UK vehicle CO2 emissions in 2017 - the first time that CO2 emissions have risen in over two decades. The London Ultra Low Emission Zone, coming into force in 2019, while placing heavy restrictions on diesel vehicles allows for unlimited particulate emissions from gasoline vehicles and motorbikes. 

We believe these policies, although well meaning, to be misguided and ill-informed and hence ineffective (read our Group led comment on the death of the internal combustion engine here, and the Group's Dr Felix Leach commenting on the London Ultra Low Emission Zone here).

We have also noted recent instances of sound scientific data being grossly misrepresented in the public domain. The Daily Mail tells us that  air pollution kills 40,000 people each year in the UK, the University of Cambridge's Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication digs into the data and tells us something quite different.

Research activities

Professor Felix Leach standing in front of Oxford Bus Company no.13 bus used in the study

Research activities

So what are we going to do about this? Under Dr Leach's lead, the Group has recently started a new stream of research. We are engaging with local government and industry to provide expert guidance, and to carry out carefully targeted research supporting the development of effective, evidence based, policy. For example, recently we have been running research in collaboration with the Oxford Bus Company, Oxford City Council, and Cambustion (world leaders in transient emissions measurements) to quantify NOx emissions from buses in Oxford – aiming to understand the reasons behind the emissions and where improvements could be made. An outline of the research can be found in the leaflet that was distributed to passengers during testing. Results from the study showing where and what causes NOx emissions on our roads can be found here.

Further reading and future research

We will continue update this page with new policy related research as it develops. In the meantime, Dr Leach's presentation, "Air pollution from vehicles - legislation and low emissions zones - unintended consequences and nudges", which was given at the 2018 Scottish Air Quality Database Annual Seminar held in Glasgow, is available to download.

Enquiries regarding research collaborations on this theme can be addressed to