Beijing may show up more often than London in headlines about air pollution, but in one respect, air in the U.K. capitol is actually dirtier.
Levels of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide in London are so high that a certain street in the city center has been called the most NO2-polluted place in world. Buses, pumping out diesel fumes that get trapped between city buildings, are one big part of the problem.
In response, the city is starting to overhaul its fleet of thousands of buses. One of the technologies they’ll be testing, starting next year, is a set of hybrid double-deck buses that can wirelessly charge at the end of each route. The buses will still have a diesel engine if the battery runs out, but in theory, they’ll be able to run on electric power for most of each trip.
It’s similar to technology now in use in other cities, like a system in Geneva that wirelessly recharges electric buses in seconds at each stop.
If the technology works as planned, the city will start to roll it out to other hybrid buses. “The trialing of inductive charged diesel electric hybrid buses is designed to establish whether the technology can stand up to the rigors of operating in an intense urban environment such as London,” says a spokesperson for the city’s transportation agency Transport for London. “It will help TfL understand whether electric-only mode could be realistically achieved, and whether any modifications would need to be made before they could be rolled out more widely.”
The city already has around 800 hybrid buses on the road–the largest fleet in Europe–and will have 1,700 by 2016. But because the current design charges by braking, like a Prius, it ends up still using quite a bit of diesel. The new wirelessly charged buses could help the city get closer to a goal of zero emissions.
It’s one step in a larger plan. By 2020, the mayor hopes to create the world’s first “Ultra Low Emissions Zone” in Central London, which will fine vehicles running on dirty fuel. The city recently retrofitted 1,000 older buses with new technology that cuts NOx pollution by up to 88%, and plans to take the oldest, most polluting vehicles off the road. The new policies will also help the city meet EU requirements–right now, the air in London is so dirty that it’s breaking the law.