Now Vehicle Emissions Champion Joins Call to Stop ICE Bans

Exponents of ICE powertrains as the best way to reduce greenhouse gases in the near and medium term will be heartened by news that a vehicle emissions champion has joined mounting calls to stop ICE bans.

First Toyota confirmed it will stick to its exploration of all powertrain technologies beyond BEV and now Emissions Analytics, the real-world testing organization credited for its key role in exposing flaws in laboratory emissions testing, is standing up for ICE technology as a better way to meet climate control targets during the staged transition towards a truly zero-emissions vehicle powertrain. In its latest newsletter, the organization suggests a three-stage transition that it says will achieve ongoing targets without the sledge-hammer approach of banning ICE technology.

Firstly, the powertrain mix of the here and now should be made up of hybrid, mild hybrid, diesel, gasoline fed on increasingly bio and synthetically produced fuels, while BEVs should be used only in limited scenarios. This is to cope with the scarcity of expensive battery and electric motor materials, dominated by China, plus the scarcity of ‘green’ electricity. The organization says this will achieve a 30% reduction in CO2 on up until 2030.

Secondly, from 2030, BEVs should make up an increasing share of the powertrain market as battery and motor ingredients become less scarce, and cheaper, and green electricity more accessible although still limited. The remainder of the powertrain market would then be entirely hybrid ICE. It estimates this would achieve a 60% reduction in CO2 thanks to a better use of green electricity albeit at the expense of some consumer utility as they have to cope with BEV limitations.

Finally, from 2040 onwards, there should be a competitive mix of BEV, hydrogen and ICE using e-fuels achieving a 100% reduction in current CO2 emissions. This will come thanks to better BEV technology, fewer resource dependencies and abundant green electricity. It also satisfies most consumers’ needs and maximizes social welfare thanks to level-playing field commercial competition.

Emissions Analytics says the industry has to stop losing itself in pointless debates about energy efficiency of differing powertrain technologies and focus on what it needs to achieve to meet climate control targets. Its newsletter points out that an ICE vehicle using higher levels of ethanol, E10 and above, will endure a less efficient combustion but emit considerably less CO2.

By the same token, a modern vehicle pushes out more emissions, in the shape of microplastics, from its tires and brakes than from the tailpipe. Therefore: “The Ultra Low Emission Zone in London is a big step in this direction, even though it… does not discriminate on vehicle mass. With typical ICE vehicles emitting 67 mg/km of tire particles, compared to 81 mg/km for equivalent BEVs, there are some downsides to these heavier vehicles. In short, this shows the logical fixation with ‘combustion’ being inherently bad is also wrong.”

While e-fuels have exciting prospects. The organization points out that we are a long way from being able to adopt them commercially while battling climate change. “So, why don’t we go straight to e-fuels, and bypass the additional problems of material scarcity and dependence on China that comes with BEVs? The answer is that we do not have sufficient low-carbon electricity to power the process. This is where BEV supporters have a point: green electricity is scarce, so we must use it efficiently. However, what they are proposing is swapping one scarcity for another: scarce green electricity for scarce battery and motor components. Scarcity matters, especially where the scarce goods are disproportionately controlled by a limited number of entities, as it leads to them enjoying excessive ‘economic rent’ through using that market position. Building a diversity of supply is a necessary first step, to accommodate growing demand.”

Emissions Analytics also warns against adopting approaches to powertrain technologies that could be steered more by self-interested parties than by the mission to effect a real impact on climate change targets. It summed up: “As a side note, hidden in here is a paradox for the BEV lobby: enough green electricity is needed to allow the manufacture and charging of cars to be low carbon, but too much green electricity would enable competitor fuels and powertrains. We should look out for lobbying focused more on powertrain transition than grid capacity building.

“In conclusion, BEVs can be great products and will play a significant role in decarbonization on almost any scenario. But why ban the competition? The argument that efficiency is so much better that we should gamble all our investment on this horse is ill-conceived, costly and risky. It is perhaps just very clever rent-seeking, supported by parts of an excitable environmental lobby. Once efficiency is seen within the proper context of costs, alternatives and negative side-effects, the merits of a diversified, staged, pragmatic transition to a net-zero world become clear. BEVs then can be best understood as a transitional technology to a fully decarbonized, competitive, welfare-maximizing future.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in Europe. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

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