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Fossil fuel car ban ‘will close cheapest route to cutting CO2’

Electric Vehicles

22 August 2020

Banning the sale of fossil fuel cars and vans as a way of promoting battery electric vehicles is a high-cost strategy that will close the door to technological advances in greener internal combustion engines, an industry expert has warned. 

The Government consulted this spring on banning the sale of new cars and vans with an internal combustion engine (ICE) from 2035 or possibly earlier (LTT 06 Mar). The Committee on Climate Change has suggested 2030. 

The Prime Minister has proposed that the ban should apply to conventional ICEs and hybrid vehicles. This would restrict choice to only battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel cell vehicles running on hydrogen.

Gautam Kalghatgi criticises the policy in a paper published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation think tank. Kalghatgi is a fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and a visiting professor at Oxford University. 

“All available technologies, including ICEVs, BEVs, fuel-cell vehicles and alternative fuels are required to improve the sustainability of transport,” he says. “Banning the most common of these technologies, and the one with the most potential for improvement, namely ICEVs, is not sensible.”

BEVs are not zero emission when viewed on a lifecycle basis. “It takes more energy to manufacture a BEV than an internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV), because the manufacture of batteries is very energy intensive. In addition, the end-of-life recycling cost is higher for a BEV than for an ICEV. 

“As a result, in the UK, only BEVs with small batteries have lower lifetime emissions than ICEVs. As battery size increases to enable bigger cars and longer range, the CO2 footprint of BEVs surpasses that of equivalent ICEVs, even if the electricity used is increasingly carbon-free. 

“Therefore, even converting all of the UK’s 37 million light duty vehicles (cars and vans) to battery power would not decarbonise the transport system to any great extent.” 

Increasing the number of BEVs in the UK to ten million from the current 100,000 would “at best save about four per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with transport in the UK”, he estimates. 

This will come at enormous  taxpayer expense. “Mass conversion to BEVs will require huge spending on CO2-free electricity generation and the necessary public infrastructure for charging. The electricity distribution network will need to be significantly altered.”

It will also place huge demands on raw materials. “To replace all light duty vehicles in the UK with BEVs would require twice the total annual world cobalt production, nearly the entire world production of neodymium, three-quarters the world’s lithium production and at least half of the world’s copper production during 2018,” Kalghatgi believes. 

A ban on sales of new ICEVs will deprive the country of the opportunity to gain from technological developments in this field, he adds. “A five per cent reduction in the fuel consumption of ICEs will deliver a greater reduction in greenhouse gases [than ten million BEVs], and this, moreover, while using existing infrastructure.

“It is highly unlikely that technology would fail to deliver such modest progress by 2030. In fact, there is scope for far greater reductions in fuel consumption. Better combustion and control systems, partial electrification, and reductions in weight could conceivably deliver reductions of 50 per cent.”

Such reductions will, however, “require sustained research effort” and much of the gain could come after a UK ban comes into force. 

“Even if the Government want to promote BEVs, banning the sale of new ICEVs will effectively stop R&D in this area [in the UK] well before such a ban comes into force.

“The possibility of making large and – relatively speaking – very cheap impacts on the sustainability of transport will be thrown away in favour of BEVs, an expensive and largely futile exercise.

He told LTT: “A lot of highly qualified and talented engineers and scientists in the UK will lose their jobs starting in, say, 2025 if the ban is from 2030. If sufficient numbers of people are not persuaded to buy BEVs, because of charging anxiety and high up-front costs, what is left of the auto industry will also be destroyed.”

Kalghati also criticises the push for BEVs on air quality grounds. “Although BEVs are widely seen as being beneficial in terms of air quality, modern ICEs with exhaust after-treatment systems are comfortably capable of beating the most stringent NOx requirements, and modern filters for diesel exhausts can deliver near-zero particulate levels.

“At this point, other sources of particulates such as tyre wear become more important. Here, BEVs perform rather badly; they are heavier than ICEVs because of the weight of the batteries and tyre wear is consequently worse.” 

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