The impact on passenger car emissions associated with the promotion and demise of diesel fuel

Samuel Wilson, Naomi J. Farren, Rebecca A. Rose, Shona E. Wilde, Jack Davison, Jasmine V. Wareham, James D. Lee, David C. Carslaw*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The promotion and growth in the use of diesel fuel in passenger cars in the UK and Europe over the past two decades led to considerable adverse air quality impacts in urban areas and more widely. In this work, we construct a multi-decade analysis of passenger car emissions in the UK based on real driving emissions data. An important part of the study is the use of extensive vehicle emission remote sensing data covering multiple measurement locations, time periods, environmental conditions and consisting of over 600,000 measurements. These data are used to consider two scenarios: first, that diesel fuel use was not promoted in the early 2000s for climate mitigation reasons, and second, that there was not a dramatic decline in diesel fuel use following the Dieselgate scandal. The strong growth of diesel fuel use coincided with a time when diesel NOx emissions were high and, conversely, the strong decrease of diesel fuel use coincided with a time when diesel vehicle after-treatment systems for NOx control were effective. We estimate that the growth in diesel car use in the UK results in excess NOx emissions of 721 kt over a three decade period; equivalent to over 7 times total annual passenger car NOx emissions and greater than total UK NOx emissions of 681.8 kt in 2021 and with an associated damage cost of £5.875 billion. However, the sharp move away from diesel fuel post-Dieselgate only reduced NOx emissions by 41 kt owing to the effectiveness of modern diesel aftertreatment systems.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108330
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironment International
Early online date23 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We express our thanks to Ricardo and the Department of Chemistry at the University of York for funding the studentship of Sam Wilson. We would like to thank Adam Vaughan, Stuart Young, and Will Drysdale from the University of York for the collection of data using the FEAT instrument. Ricardo’s remote sensing field team (Ben Fowler, Tom Green, Les Phelps, Sam Copsey, Paraic Marry, Sion Carpenter, and Susannah Telfer) are thanked for collecting data using the Opus RSD5000.This study includes data from Sheffield which has been obtained from the CONOX database Borken-Kleefeld et al. (2018) .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Author(s)


  • Diesel
  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Remote Sensing
  • Vehicle emissions

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