Though mile for mile, diesel engines are more efficient than gasoline engines, “when it comes to smog-forming pollutants and toxic particulate matter, also known as soot, today’s diesels are still a lot dirtier than the average gasoline car.”
Still, diesel engines have the added bonus of being able to run on biofuels – and sometimes without any conversion work at all. Biofuels completely change the contest between gasoline and diesel: “the use of biodiesel blends in an existing diesel vehicle can reduce the emissions of the tailpipe pollutants associated with conventional diesel including particulate matter”
Interestingly enough, gasoline smog and particulates appear to be more deleterious than diesel. Emissions from gasoline vehicles are more carcinogenic than their diesel counterparts as well (and in one study, the amount of diesel pollution is actually negatively correlated to cancer risk). In Los Angeles, their infamous smog problems are principally caused by cars and not heavy-duty diesel trucks. Particle filters in diesel vehicles are superior to gasoline-powered vehicles, which reduces the fine particles released into the atmosphere.
While diesels burn less fuel and emit less carbon dioxide, they do emit sulfur. This is a big problem because sulfur emissions cause as many as 10,000 deaths a year among Americans with heart and lung ailments.
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