Five minutes with Dr Marc StettlerLecturer in Transport and the Environment

Dr Marc Stettler with Michael Gove and Professor Nick Jennings at the launch of the Government’s Clean Air strategy at Imperial, May 2018
Dr Marc Stettler with Michael Gove and Professor Nick Jennings at the launch of the Government’s Clean Air strategy at Imperial, May 2018

1.  Tell us about your research in a nutshell.

I work on quantifying the environmental impact of transport, primarily in relation to air pollution and climate change.  My focus is on understanding what comes out of the emissions tailpipe of a car or the back of a jet engine and what happens once those emissions are released into the atmosphere.

2.  What impact could your research have for our industry partners?

What impact could our research have?  Take vehicle manufacturers as an example; they have been in shock since ‘dieselgate’ (the 2015 VW emissions scandal).  These companies are now having to compete on how genuinely clean their products are on top of all the usual pressures. 

As a result, some companies have taken routes to improve their environmental impact.  They are finding they can now use these improvements to differentiate themselves from their competitors.  They’re taking what could have been seen as a threat to their business and using it as an opportunity to change and win over some customers.  Environmental implications have been brought into the corporate decision-making process and we are helping with that. 

A lot of my work is focused on improving the accuracy of emissions estimates from different modes of transport and sectors to get a more detailed picture of their total impact across cities.  Once we better understand this we are able to say the air pollution impact of road transport, let’s say, is x and the economic impact of that is y.  

Once we have a good estimate of the economic impact of pollution we can do a proper cost-benefit analysis and confidently say technology to improve emissions is worth the price tag.  For example, we currently have a project with two logistics operators to trial a new hybrid truck technology to reduce fuel consumption and emissions.  We are doing some independent data collection of this technology and then modelling work to understand how they can best deploy the technology in their business and increase efficient fuel use.

3.  What is exciting you the most about your field at the moment?

It’s rapidly evolving.  There’s a new announcement every week.  

The transport sector is rapidly evolving in terms of continued growth globally, vehicle technologies such as electric vehicles, the promise of autonomous vehicles and different ownership models.  We're only just starting to understand how these shifts will effect the environmental impacts of the transport sector. 

New studies come out constantly that also tell us a little bit more about the health implications of pollution.  We know that air pollution impacts people’s health but we tend to know that at very aggregate levels.  This is still a relatively novel field of work.

At the city scale today we can say that a certain percentage of pollution is going to have an average effect on the average person in the city.  But we don’t know how an individual is effected by pre-existing conditions or their day to day decisions like what transport they use to commute, what times they’re active and where they sit all day or how this feeds into the bigger picture of hospital admissions and strains on other health services.  Building up that picture is a really interesting challenge.

4.  Who/what sectors would be interested in hearing more about your research?

All transport-engaged areas but especially:

  • Automotive sector
  • Aviation sector
  • Shipping sector.  (Maritime-related pollution is currently a hot topic.  The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is exploring how shipping might affect the climate, especially in the polar regions.  Ports and ships are also major emitters of NOX and sulphur emissions.  There’s a lot of work to be done here.)
  • Environmental engineering and air pollution monitoring sectors

Find out about the Air Quality Network of Excellence at Imperial