Auto Industry Commits To All-Electric, But Hybrids Make Powerful Interim Case; Report
As politicians declare their love for clean electric cars and fall over themselves to be the first to ban the sale of allegedly dirty, climate threatening new fossil-fuel powered ones, a report from Emissions Analytics suggests hybrids could have the inside track for some years because electric cars don’t have a sufficiently clear CO2 (carbon dioxide) advantage, and their price likely will remain too high for the mass market.
Green groups like Transport & Environment think this is nonsense and a diversion from the urgent task of advancing to net zero carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has led the call by major nations to ban the sale of cars and SUVs by 2030 powered by internal combustion engines (ICE), while the U.S. is calling for “zero-emission” battery electric cars, plug-in hybrids or fuel cell cars to take 50% of its market by the same year. Johnson later watered down the plan a little by allowing ICE/electric hybrids to remain on sale until 2035. Germany’s new coalition government might seek an ICE ban when it emerges over coming weeks or months. Other major economies are planning similar moves.
There are some governments in the European Union (EU) which don’t buy this policy.
“It’s not possible,” Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said, answering a question last month about the EU proposal to ban new gasoline and diesel cars by 2035.
“We can’t dictate here what green fanatics devised in the European Parliament,” Babis said. Babis is up for re-election this month. In the 2nd half of 2022, the Czech Republic assumes the EU’s rotating presidency. Auto manufacture accounts for almost one-third of the Czech economy, and VW’s Skoda, Toyota and Hyundai/Kia build sedans and SUVs there.
The EU has already passed stiff rules curbing carbon dioxide (CO2), which some experts say mean that manufacturers will really need to be all-electric when the final round of rules bite in 2030. Others say the new round of tighter rules in 2025 mean even plug-in hybrids won’t be enough.
Hybrids are vehicles like the iconic Toyota Prius which combine a battery and an ICE engine coordinated by a computer to provide improved fuel economy. Electric-only range is not much more than a mile. Plug-in hybrids use a much bigger battery which can provide around 30 miles of electric-only range, while the latest models like the Suzuki Across PHEV have about 50 miles of electric range.
Emissions Analytics CEO Nick Molden says the EU policy might be premature. Emissions analytics describes itself as independent, real-world emissions testing company.
“At the moment, it appears that battery electric vehicles (BEV) are neither sufficiently clean nor a strong enough consumer proposition to achieve mass adoption without significant subsidy. They are certainly not zero emissions, not least due to the construction process and tire wear emissions. Hybrids, in contrast, reduce tailpipe CO2 emissions materially now – albeit somewhat less than BEVs – and have few utility disadvantages for consumers,” Molden said in the report.
Range anxiety, associated with BEVs, wouldn’t be a problem, and hybrid prices start at a more affordable level.
“Therefore, it would be optimal to follow a hybridization strategy for, say, the next 10 years and then segue to BEVs after that, once they are cleaner and have fewer consumer disadvantages,” Molden said.
This is anathema and then some to environmental lobby groups, like Brussels-based Transport and Environment.
“Battery electric cars emit zero CO2 or air pollution, so they deliver the climate benefits required to fully decarbonize road transport immediately. While hybrids do require less battery materials, the minimal emissions savings they deliver are simply not enough for the task at hand and are a distraction,” said Julia Poliscanova, senior director for clean vehicles at T&E.
BEVs might emit no CO2, but the overall cleanliness depends on how grid power is generated. In Germany, for instance where up to 24% of electricity is generated by coal, that claim wouldn’t get far, unlike mainly nuclear France. The manufacturing processes, mining and after life recycling also generate much CO2.
T&E wants action against ICE vehicles, which anyway could soon be cheaper and not require subsidies.
“The idea that we continue to kick the can down the road with combustion engine cars is ludicrous. Battery electrics could be cheaper than diesel and (gasoline) cars within the next five years as our study with Bloomberg NEF shows, and that is without subsidies. Governments should continue to tighten car CO2 targets to encourage carmakers to produce electric cars at scale. This will provide affordable zero-emissions vehicles for everyone without wasting time on fake solutions,” Poliscanova said.
The EU is negotiating to tighten 2030 rules to a 55% cut in CO2 from 2021 levels, up from a previously agreed cut of 37.5%.
The automotive industry’s current mantra agrees that even plug-in hybrids will have to take a back-seat to BEVs, with the likes of Mercedes saying PHEVs are just an interim technology.
German giant auto technology supplier ZF begs to differ.
ZF CEO Wolf-Henning Scheider told Reuters at the recent IAA Mobility show in Munich that based on the company’s order book, he expects PHEVs to play an important role in the electrification of individual mobility.
“(PHEV demand will last) well beyond 2030 in many parts of the world”, Scheider said, as they increase electric-only range to more than 60 miles from the current average of around 30 miles.
Emissions Analytics, in the report, said the greatest source of CO2 from BEVs is in the manufacture, but points out there is little advantage in air quality. NOx emissions have been cut sharply.
“If the car fleet (in the U.K.) were made up entirely of these latest diesel and gasoline cars, there would be no air quality legal violations. For particle mass emissions, exhaust filters on ICEs typically reduce emissions to less than 1 mg/km. In contrast, tire emissions from ICEs are around 32 mg/km over a lifetime, whereas BEV tire wear rate, other things being equal – are 21% higher at 38 mg/km. Adding exhaust and non-exhaust emissions together. BEVs are slightly high emitting than ICEs and full hybrid electric vehicles (FHEVs),” the report said.
The report said the introduction of BEVs looks to many like the optimal strategy to cut lifetime CO2, but the gap with FHEVs is closer than reported elsewhere.
“However, this neglects consideration of risk. Rolling out hybrids would be relatively low risk due to limited resource requirements, consumer resistance and taxpayer subsidy requirement,” the report said.
The report said BEV CO2 reduction estimates are sensitive to many factors including –
· Speed and degree of decarbonization of battery and vehicle manufacture
· Speed and degree of decarbonisation of the grid
· Improvements in battery energy capacity and therefore vehicle range
· Longevity of batteries and BEVs as a whole
· Geopolitical security around scarce battery materials
· Environmental and ethical issues around mining
· Degree to which vehicle miles travelled in BEVs replace ICE miles, or are additive due to the lower marginal cost
· Ability to develop a transparent and standardized lifecycle model to be able objectively to verify CO2 reduction claims.
The report said although BEVs will likely provide a theoretically higher rate of CO2 reduction it might be better to concentrate on FHEVs in the shorter term, then migrate to full-electric or some other technology later.
“As high-certainty methods of CO2 reduction are a pressing policy need, it may be better to ‘bank’ the lower risk 24% reduction from 10 years of hybrids (which Emissions Analytics data shows), and then migrate to BEVs and other lower-CO2 powertrains.”
“Returning to the topic of currently scarce battery materials, the FHEV strategy requires 39 GWh of battery capacity for vehicles sold in the ten years to 2030. In contrast, the BEV strategy requires 570 GWh, or 15 times more. From a practical, ethical and geopolitical point of view, this is significant,” the report said.
Professor Gautam Kalghatgi, Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said the assumed CO2 advantage for BEVs with large batteries is diluted by high embedded emissions from battery manufacture which can only be closed if the vehicle is driven on CO2-free electricity for a long-enough distance.
“Hence in many instances, depending on conditions/assumptions, (hybrids) can have lower green-house gases (GHG) over their lifetime than BEVs. The bigger the battery, the worse the GHG and other environmental impacts,” Kalghatgi said.
The report reckons BEVs are not yet good enough value a product to get rapid adoption without significant subsidies. New ICE cars and SUVs are now sufficiently clean they don’t contravene air quality rules and are readily available for hybrids. Greater competition for BEVs from hybrids would benefit consumers.
“Vast sums of taxpayer subsidy could also be avoided. Surely it would be better to take the pragmatic route and hybridize everything as soon as possible,” the report concludes.
“Hybridization is a much less risky proposition, manufacturers can make real money without government subsidy, consumers like it because it’s less of a compromise, and it’s ready today,” Molden said in an interview.