Research by Ford of Europe has shown how emerging technologies such as blockchain and dynamic geofencing can complement plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs) to help contribute to cleaner air in urban centres.

The findings follow an extensive three-year study into the potential for commercial PHEVs to help cities solve air quality challenges. More than 400,000 kilometres of data was collected during the programme with dozens of Ford Transit and Tourneo PHEVs deployed to a variety of municipal and commercial fleets in London; Cologne, Germany; and Valencia, Spain.

A key breakthrough was that with geofencing, the vehicle’s zero-emission electric-drive mode can be activated automatically whenever it enters a low‑emission zone, without intervention from the driver.

And the Cologne municipal fleet trial took this one step further, showing how blockchain technology can complement geofencing to further enhance efforts to improve air quality. The time a trial vehicle entered or left a geofenced zone was recorded into a blockchain – a secure and transparent digital ledger that creates permanent time‑stamped records which are saved on multiple computers – ensuring ‘green miles’ driven could be safely stored and potentially shared among relevant parties such as city authorities and fleet owners.

The trial also tested dynamic geofencing: instead of a fixed low-emission zone triggering the vehicles’ zero-emission modes, Ford’s dynamic geofencing pilot constantly adjusted the boundaries based on real-time air quality data.

As Ford’s connected PHEVs entered these constantly fluctuating zones, they automatically switched to low-emission mode – taking the decision making out of drivers’ hands, improving air quality for citizens and helping vehicles maintain compliance with local restrictions.

Both the Cologne and Valencia studies proved the value of connecting vehicles and cities to help reduce air pollution and develop low-emission zone compliance; of the 218,300 km covered by the 20 vehicles in Cologne and Valencia, almost half (105,600 km) were driven on purely electric power, rising to more than 70 per cent in the Cologne geofenced zones.

“Our pioneering research demonstrates that operators can get the best of both worlds with plug in hybrid electric technology, electrifying fleets for improved sustainability without compromising on productivity,” said Mark Harvey, director, enterprise connectivity, Ford of Europe. “With our latest studies in Cologne and Valencia, we’ve shown the additional sustainability and compliance benefits that connected technologies such as geofencing and blockchain can bring to cities, citizens and operators.”