Editorial Feature

How Germany is Tackling Pollution

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Tackling pollution has been on the German radar since the 1980s. In July 1989, the then West German government announced an ambitious plan to aid East Germany in the reduction of its nitrogen oxide (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and mercury levels caused by coal burning.

West Germany provided the-then advanced coal-burning technology for East German power stations as well as the membrane separation technology needed for water purification. This enabled East Germany to filter out chlorinated hydrocarbons and mercury in contaminated water they used to dump in rivers. Since then Germany has become a global leader in green technology exports with a market share worth north of $400 billion. Domestically, Germany has an ambitious energy transition plan (‘Energiewende’) aimed at winning their continuing battles with air and chemical pollution.

Air Pollution is a Big Problem in Germany

Following the Volkswagen emissions scandal of 2015, the German automotive industry came under heavy pressure from the international community. A huge program was put in place to change the operating software which was providing falsified data on vehicle emissions as well as retrofitting its existing commercial and municipal fleets with modern catalyzers. With several other prominent automobile manufacturers under the spotlight and a lawsuit from the European Court of Justice against the German federal government for breaking emissions regulations, Germany has worked hard to achieve its clean air targets. In August 2019, the EU commission awarded Germany $479 million in aid to retrofit garbage trucks, buses, and other municipal vehicles with diesel engines.

Using a post-combustion patent, the new catalyzers can change the process in which NOx is formed before being expelled. The converters chemically alter the air and fuel used for combustion resulting in lower engine temperature, thus reducing the amount of NOx formed. According to the Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation & Nuclear Safety, the modern catalyzers, and software upgrades are predicted to reduce particulate matter by the following levels by 2020:

. .
Heavy municipal vehicles 750 tonnes per annum
Heavy commercial vehicles 400 tonnes per annum
Light mpl. & cml. Vehicles 300 tonnes per annum


Retrofitting older diesel vehicles is not the only way Germany is tackling pollution. Ubitricity is a start-up company based on the European Energy Forum (EUREF) campus in Berlin investing heavily in electromobility. Over 1,000 lamplights around the city have been converted into electrical charging points (copying the model London has used in the past decade), encouraging electric vehicle usage. The EUREF campus itself has one of the world’s largest electric vehicle charging stations powered entirely by solar panels on the roof. As part of the German ‘Clean Energy’ project, Ubitricity plans on installing charge points on lamp posts and other areas in 90 German cities with the highest levels of air pollution. Audi is also using old car batteries to build a giant energy storage facility with a 1.9mw capacity. Ubitricity is just 1 of 150 green companies based at the EUREF campus in Berlin, but the ideas generated here are meant to be taken off-campus and out into the world.

Germany has also created a series of laws and energy reforms as part of its ‘Energiewende’ plan to aid its fight against pollution. The ‘eco-tax’ of 65 cents per liter on petroleum first came into being in 2007 but has remained steadily in place with money raised being invested in green technologies including wind and hydroelectric power. The Renewable Heat Act aims to incentivize both the commercial and public sectors to invest in new buildings and reduce the heat loss to 14% by 2020. The national grid is also being expanded to help get renewable energy to people that need it around the country. Perhaps one of the most audacious plans in tackling pollution has come from the Green Party in the Bundestag. In 2018 they tabled the concept of free public transport, costing and justifying the investment as encouraging people to refrain from using their cars and thus reducing emissions. Whilst it remains unlikely this scheme will be adopted anytime soon, it does show the level of seriousness in which Germany is treating the air pollution problem.

Despite Germany breaching the European Limits of air pollution in 2018, the country appears committed to tackling the problems. The number of German cities with particulate matter levels above 40mg per cubic meter has already fallen from 65mg since 2017. A factsheet published by Germany Trade & Invest shows that the green industry remains strong. The country is the largest exporter of water treatment technologies, sewage sludge treatment, and phosphor recovery. Recycling opportunities have been identified and championed for wind rotor blades, textiles, and batteries. With Germany planning to phase out its remaining nuclear power plants by 2022 and giving renewable energy and technologies priority on the national grid, the country is showing a consistent commitment to tackling pollution.

Sources and Further Reading

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John Allen

Written by

John Allen

John is an award-winning writer and speaker. He holds a BA Hons. in Theological Studies from the University of Exeter as well as diplomas from the London School of Journalism and the Open University. John has worked in both the healthcare and digital sectors researching and writing about the latest developments in life sciences, robotics, space exploration, and nanotechnology.


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