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Diesel engines are about 33 percent more fuel efficient than regular gas engines, but the trade-off is they emit a pair of problematic compounds, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide. These twp not only cause smog but also health problems in humans. In order to continue to be able to release diesel-powered cars in the U.S., car manufacturers had to come up with a way to reduce the amount of these nitrogen compounds emitted from engines. The easiest way was to add a catalyst (urea), which neutralizes most of the compounds. Volkswagen came up with their own way to address the problem and starting in 2009, they began releasing TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection) Diesel engines onto the American market. This next-generation diesel engine, trapped the nitrogen compounds and then neutralized them by spraying them with additional fuel. That extra fuel caused the car's performance to decrease significantly so, according to an on-going EPA investigation, VW tweaked the engine's software to only neutralize the nitrogen compounds if sensors indicated that the car was undergoing a smog check.
The falsified emissions results said the TDI Diesel Jetta emitted about 0.07 grams of NOx compounds per mile. Preliminary testing has showj this number to be closer 2.5 grams per mile (15 to 35 times higher than reality! Cumulatively, these cars may have released 260,000 to 1,000,000 additional tons of NOx than they said they were. The company has admitted to knowing about the "hack", which may be in as many as 11 million vehicles made since 2009. VW's parent company, Volkswagen AG, is the second largest car manufacturer in the world and also makes Audi, Bentley, Porsche and a bunch of other car lines. The company's CEO, Martin Winterkorn, resigned in wake of the scandal. No one knows what VW will have to do to reconcile the mess they created, but it will likely be extremely expensive for VW (and TDI Diesel owners, too).
What do you think VW should do in the face of this massive scandal? Do you, or anyone you know, own one of the cars in question? We'd love to hear from you about this: let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
Volkswagen Scandal: Why Is It So Hard to Make Clean Diesel Cars? (Live Science)
"The company may have to recall up to 500,000 diesel cars in the United States and 11 million vehicles worldwide because they emit up to 40 times the allowable levels of air pollutants that are called nitrogen oxides."
VW scandal caused nearly 1m tonnes of extra pollution, analysis shows (The Guardian)
"Volkswagen's rigging of emissions tests for 11m cars means they may be responsible for nearly 1m tonnes of air pollution every year, roughly the same as the UK's combined emissions for all power stations, vehicles, industry and agriculture, a Guardian analysis suggests."