Month: November 2020

Power, Policy, and Pollution: what’s the influence of local community groups on the politics of air pollution?

Written by Emma Hibbett, PhD student at Grantham Institute – Climate Change and Environment & Centre for Environmental Policy 

COVID-19 has catapulted air pollution into the political foreground as new evidence is emerging which connects coronavirus fatality to air pollution exposure. In the UK, air pollution is already the largest environmental threat; responsible for 36,000 deaths and 3 million lost working days each year. Although the UK government has taken steps to manage the crisis of pollution, 15 million people still live in areas with pollution levels that exceed WHO guidelines for particulate matter.

How politicians decide to manage air pollution matters; whose voice, knowledge, and experiences are included in policy making process will influence the types of solutions that emerge. In a democratic society, local communities should be able to have their voices heard in decisions which affect their lives. However, in air pollution policy making, some community voices are excluded from this process, resulting in policies which do not always reflect the experiences of local people. Often, the most excluded voices are those of the most vulnerable, who disproportionately experience the health impacts of air pollution. In London, for example, just 2% of the capital’s richest experience NO2 levels which exceed EU limits, compared to almost half of the most deprived communities.

Polluted London

When the stakes are this high, it is crucial that the experiences of all are included into policy making in order to ensure that solutions benefit everybody. Community inclusion in policy making is even more critical in times of crisis, but this is when exclusion is at its worst. During the pandemic, local authorities have rushed to pass emergency measures without consulting communities, resulting in tensions and policies which overlook the experiences of certain communities.

My PhD work examines these critical questions of voice and inclusion in our society. To do this, I explore how different community groups do, or do not, gain access to political decision making, and what resources and relationships help them to influence policy making.

My preliminary results highlight critical tensions in our democracy regarding who gets to speak, and who is heard. COVID has brought these tensions in sharp focus; providing an exemplar case of whose voices and experiences are represented in policy change. If we are to successfully transition towards a zero pollution future, we must prioritise these questions of representation and justice. If not, we will continue to exclude vulnerable communities from solutions which are supposed to build a fairer, healthier, and more just society.

PhD Insights: Ensuring effective lubrication of components in electric vehicles

By Amran Mohamed, a member of the Transition to Zero Pollution cohort.

Effective lubrication is an essential aspect in the move towards the electrification of mass transportation and in reaching the goal of becoming a net-zero economy. Around one third of fuel consumption in vehicles is due to frictional losses. Therefore, as the demand for electric vehicles (EVs) increases so does the need for effective lubrication of the engineering components in EVs to ensure their reliability, efficiency and to improve the fuel economy.

Due to the complexity of EVs, both thermal heating and cooling occur. For example, in engines, starting conditions vary widely from the running conditions of the engine, therefore, several lubricant formulations are often required to satisfy the various thermal conditions. At high temperatures the viscosity of the lubricant decreases drastically, leading the lubricant to be less effective. Simply using a thicker lubricant, so that the high temperature viscosity of the lubricant is higher, leads to a reduced low temperature performance of the lubricant. Rather than implementing different lubricants for the different conditions, a single lubricant which can remain sufficiently thick at a range of temperatures is more desirable.

Headshot of Amran Mohamed
Amran Mohamed

Viscosity modifiers (VMs), which are commonly polymeric, are added to lubricants to reduce the viscosity dependence on temperature of the lubricant. This has allowed the use of lubricant for a larger range of temperatures. However, due to the polymeric nature of VMs, they can exhibit varying responses to severe conditions depending on their architecture and chemistry. Commonly used VMs can be described as either viscosity index improvers (VIIs) or thickeners. Thickeners thicken the lubricant uniformly at all temperatures. VIIs, however, increase the viscosity of the lubricant more at high temperatures and do not greatly affect the low temperature viscosity, which is the desired effect. The chemistry of the polymer greatly affects this response, which in turn affects the effectiveness of the VM. Moreover, various architectures of synthesised VMs affect their performance as well as their lifetime as a VM.

It is clear that a lot is there to be understood about the behaviour of VMs in lubricants under severe conditions. Designing more effective VMs will allow us to greatly improve lubricant formulation as well as reduce CO2 emissions by allowing for the efficiency and durability of engineering components in EVs.