Rhein on Energy and Climate

In the next 35 years the internal combustion engine will be progressively phased out for new cars and light vans. This is a crucial part of de-carbonising the world economy.

Electric and hydrogen engines are more energy efficient and, if one day completely fed by wind and solar energy, they will emit zero CO2. In the long run, Humanity has no choice but to go electric if it wants to maintain a lifestyle dependent on motor vehicles.

In the last 10 years both EU and USA have made great efforts to reduce the fuel consumption of conventional engines. By 2025, their average fleet consumption will linger around 4 litre/100 km. That is a huge achievement, especially in the USA, but not good enough, as part of the efficiency gains will be neutralised by additional traffic, especially in emerging countries.

Presently, electric cars account for less than one per cent of vehicles sold world-wide. But the projections for the next ten years are optimistic. The industry hopes to reach a market share of about 15 per cent until 2025, three quarters of which will be hybrid vehicles, which will facilitate the battery and range problems.

Europe is lagging behind the USA. It has put too much trust in its efficient diesel engines that consume no more fuel than comparable hybrid vehicles and are less expensive.

The USA has defined an ambitious strategy for making electric vehicles competitive with conventional ones. In January 2013, the Department of Energy has presented the “Electric Vehicle Everywhere” with three specific goals to be met by 2018:

  • cutting battery costs by 75 per cent, from $ 500 to $ 125/KWh;
  • reducing the vehicle weight by one third;
  • reducing the cost of the electric drive train by 80 per cent.

In 2018 an EV with a 450-km range should cost no more to buy and operate than a vehicle with an internal combustion engine.

To reach these objectives the US government has pledged $ 2.4 billion for 48 research and development projects on batteries and electric drive.

In addition, federal and state governments offer purchase premiums to allow manufacturers to reach economies of scale and make EVs cheaper.

Unlike the USA, the EU has been unable to formulate a coherent long-term EV strategy.

It has left that job to member states with the result of patchwork. No surprise that Europe is behind USA and other competitors in terms of development and sales, though leading manufacturers share the positive US long-term outlook.

In order to facilitate the transition the EU should take three complementary actions:

  • Fix even stricter emission standards until 2030 when the EU aims at reducing its overall emissions by 40 per cent over 1990.These standards should be so strict, say no more than three litre/100 km, that they will be almost impossible to implement without large-scale recourse to hybrid or 100 per cent electric engines;
  • Launch a R&D programme, comparable to that of the US Department of Energy for specific research projects, in particular for batteries, to help the industry in the costly transformation.
  • Fix stricter pollution standards in cities, like in Paris since the spring of 2015, that will prohibit the use of diesel vehicles. In parallel, promote the use of public transport (subways and tram) with the long-term goal of largely car-free cities.

These issues are presently subject of controversial discussions between the EU Commission on one hand and European manufacturers and labour unions on the other. The Commission is pushing for very ambitious targets( 68-78 g/km) as of 2025 which the industry supported by the unions consider as a threat to competitiveness and jobs.

Maybe they should agree on 2030 as the target date, which coincides with the global schedule for reducing C02 emissions. The substance of the new standards is far more important than an early entry into force. Industry needs time to adjust to what will be far-reaching changes in technology.

Brussels 05.04. 2015 Eberhard Rhein

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  1. This does not read sensibly.

    Producing energy for vehicles hat can be easily made from non-food based ortganic materials will always be cheaper. We can make this at the current time for €urocents 13 to 14 per litre and the fuel range of 3 litres per 100 kilometres is attainable already.

  2. Wow, the writer of this article is a dreamer……

    By 2018, good luck on that. A gallon of gasoline weighs about roughly, 7 pounds and is; 12 inches tall X 6 inches wide and costs in the US about 3.00 US$ now and in Europe as much as 8.00E, with taxes of course. That gallon will take you about, 40 miles, diesel even more.

    Get the picture….? A GM made Volt battery, costs about 7000.00 US$ and will range out, at about 42 US miles, ohhhh I forgot the weight, its over 400 US pounds! So even if the cost comes down 75% to 1750.00 US$, that’s still more than a gallon of gas and more to fuel up when added to the cost of electricity over a year, versus the cost of 1 year worth of fuel. The battery also will have to be replaced in 3 years on average…. The drive train will also remain more costly, simply because it allot more complex, than a simple gasoline engine or diesel with a 5 or 6 speed manual clutch, that burns now in ULEV-2 for diesels and PZEV for gasoline.

    So are you sure you want to spend another, 20,000 US$, just for a more complicated drive train in 3 years?

    2018, Its a nice dream however…

    Our best hope is; Gasoline to hydrogen fuel cells. They’re 2x more efficient than a gasoline engines and still produce plenty of watts with zero emission. Straight hydrogen fuel cells are less efficient, hydrogen only has 1/3 the energy of gasoline and less so of diesel…

    And, continuing the forward march of, better engines and drive trains for now anyway……

    When fuel cells cost about the same as an engine, transmission and maybe components too and give similar range and viability, then we may see the internal combustion engine, go the way of the steam engine. Everything then, will be fuel cell electric powered, including everything from aircraft and lawn mowers…..

    Batteries no, never will work in cars! And now that’s the impediment they face! Although a fuel celled car still needs small one to store some of the output.

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