A cleaner fuel for cleaner air

The construction industry is under pressure to clean up its act in an effort to improve air quality in the UK. With diesel powered generators often running 24-hours a day, fleets of non-road mobile machinery (NRMM) at work and the inevitable dust, fumes and debris as a consequence of on-going construction projects, the sector naturally has a part to play in driving down levels of these harmful pollutants.

Studies have shown that each year in the UK, around 40,000 deaths are attributable to air pollution. Evidence also links poor air quality to cancer, asthma, diabetes, heart disease and the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Poor air quality is not only putting the environment at risk but the health and wellbeing of the public and workers on construction sites who spend their days surrounded by diesel operated machinery, breathing in harmful emissions. 

According to the London Atmospheric Emissions Inventory, one of the most detailed air-quality studies undertaken in the UK, construction sites are responsible for around 7.5% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, 8% of large particle emissions (PM10) and 14.5% of emissions of fine particles (PM2.5), with the vast majority of these emissions coming from diesel diggers, generators and other machines used on the sites [1]. The construction industry needs to act now to introduce new technologies and ways of working to improve air quality. However, this cannot be achieved overnight and we must look to pragmatic solutions to help the industry reduce its reliance on ‘dirty diesel’.

For an industry that already operates at low margins, any increases in costs have a significant impact across the supply chain so solutions that don’t require huge levels of investment or cause disruption to activity are the way forward. Making smarter fuel choices is a practical and proven way to help improve air quality with immediate effect, and a move that will be more cost-effective in the long-run, particularly if clean air zones are rolled out wider than the five cities planned for 2019.

One solution that could help the construction industry reduce its output of harmful emissions is the use of paraffinic fuels. This readily available fuel type is proven to have a positive impact on air quality and local emissions, and paraffinic fuels have been officially recognised since April 2016 under the EN15940 standard. There are three main types of paraffinic fuels: hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), gas-to-liquid (GTL) and biomass- to -liquid (BTL). As part of this family of fuels, Shell GTL Fuel has improved combustion properties inside standard diesel engines, helping to reduce emissions of harmful air pollutants, including NOx and PM.

Trials have shown NOx emissions can be reduced by up to 37%, and PM by up to 90% with Shell GTL Fuel compared to conventional diesel. The fuel can be used as a direct replacement for conventional diesel in both heavy and light-duty engines without the need for investment in infrastructure or modification to existing diesel engines. Furthermore, this alternative fuel has a longer shelf life than conventional diesel and it will mix with gas oil, meaning there is no need to clean storage tanks before dropping it in.

Not only does Shell GTL Fuel help tackle the air quality issue, but it also offers other benefits to construction plant machinery and vehicles, including reduced noise levels in some engines, safer storage, is non-toxic and improved starting performance in cold conditions (particularly useful in the UK), is biodegradable and causes zero loss in efficiency.

Although fuel accounts for a relatively low percentage of spend on construction projects, the fuel type used can have a huge impact on efficiency and ability to win tenders based on better environmental credentials. The evidence is strong – the use of paraffinic fuels makes sense from both an environmental and business perspective. While paraffinic fuels may cost slightly more than conventional diesel, they are still cheaper than introducing green technologies like catalytic converters and upgrading entire fleets or infrastructure that may be obsolete in a few years.

The construction industry is in a strong position to start making a positive contribution to the UK’s air quality problem which will also deliver improvements to the health and wellbeing of the workforce and public. By making smarter, more informed fuel choices, we can build a cleaner, safer, healthier construction industry.

To find out more about how your construction business could reduce emissions and improve efficiency on site, visit us at UK Construction Week on stand E120.

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