Pontificating Politicians Plan To Outlaw The Engine, But Forecasters Say Nothing Much Changes

  • Date: 20/02/20
  • Neil Winton, Forbes

Virtue signalling politicians compete with each other to bring forward the theoretical day when carbon dioxide (CO2) is eliminated from our cars, trucks, ships and airliners, but experts say this is not going to happen any time soon and traditional engines will retain dominance for years to come.

Man with yellow vest protesting in France. GETTY

Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared Britain would bring forward the day new gasoline, diesel and hybrid powered cars and SUVs would be banned from sale to 2035 from 2040. Countries like Denmark have already declared 2030 to be the year when everybody must only buy battery-electric powered cars, or fuel-cell ones if available. The European Union (EU), minus Poland, has a target of going net carbon neutral by 2050.

The EU has decreed that by 2030, the average fuel consumption of internal combustion engine-powered vehicles must be 92 miles per U.S. gallon, which is just another way of saying all new cars must be battery-electric vehicles (BEV). That’s a problem given they are unaffordable to average income buyers.

Forecasters in the real world paint a different picture. According to investment bank Morgan Stanley, global sales of BEVs will only reach 24% by 2030, from about 2% in 2019 and 11% in 2025. And that is a stretch if you look at IHS Markit’s projection of BEV production reaching only 15.9% by 2030, while output of gasoline, diesel, and mild-hybrids cars and SUVs would still account for just over 70% of sales.

Either way, a big gap is opening up between what politicians say, urged on by high-profile environmentalists like Greta Thunberg, and what is happening in the real world. The key point surely is that politicians making unrealistic claims for short-term gain will probably be retired when their plans implode, and the rioting starts. Forecasters have to stick around and live with their predictions. 

Professor Gautam Kalghatgi, visiting professor for Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College London, and Engineering Science at Oxford University says the politicians and environmentalists declared aims are not possible.

“Internal combustion engines (ICE) are going to power transport to a very large extent for decades to come, so the best way to ensure the sustainability of transport is to improve ICE engines. It is imperative to improve such engines to improve the sustainability of transport,” Kalghatgi said in a speech to the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

“Even by 2040, transport will be dominated by combustion engines and 85 to 90% of transport energy will come from oil,” Kalghatgi said, quoting the U.N. accredited World Energy Council data.

Tell that to the British government, which this week said its planned ban on the sale of new gasoline, diesel and hybrid autos might well be brought forward to 2032 from 2035.

Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) applauds the British government’s motives in seeking to ban ICE vehicles but believes this isn’t the fastest way to get rid of CO2. It argues that because of the 300 million plus number of ICE cars on Europe’s roads with an average life span of about 12 years it would be impossible to replace them quickly with battery-electric vehicles. So it would make sense to invest in making current ICE technology more efficient.

“Whilst we rightly continue to invest in electric vehicles we must also pursue and invest in renewable and low carbon fuels made from sustainable and net zero sources. These alternative fuels would be able to use the existing infrastructure, reducing consumer impact at the fuel pump and potentially avoiding the cost associated with new infrastructure to support electric vehicle adoption at pace,” IMechE said in a statement.

In an earlier report IMechE said policy makers need to be aware that electric vehicle technology is far from zero-emissions when it is subject to life-cycle or “cradle to grave” analysis.

“This analysis shows that an electric vehicle produces about half the greenhouse gas emissions over its lifetime as a (gasoline) vehicle when taking into account emissions produced as a result of the manufacture of the vehicle, mainly the battery pack, and the source of power used to charge it,” IMechE said.

Kalghatgi said in an interview that BEVs can’t possibly meet the goals assigned to them. They don’t save much CO2, they are too expensive to replace affordable mass market cars and SUVs, the charging network and power generation requires massive investment, and raw materials required in the production of batteries look to be in short supply with the inevitable price spikes as demand increases.

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