Global vehicle manufacturers are now delivering on their promises to introduce electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. John Batterbee, Strategy Manager for Vehicle Integration at the Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), reports.
Transport - excluding aviation and international shipping - contributes almost a quarter of the UK’s carbon emissions (approximately 120 million tonnes of CO2 a year). Around a third comes from heavy duty vehicles and around two thirds from light duty vehicles. To achieve the UK’s long-term reduction targets, technology change within the transport sector will be essential.
The automotive and energy industries are responding to this challenge by developing a range of low-carbon vehicle and fuel technologies. There is significant potential to increase the efficiency of conventional internal combustion engine vehicles for both heavy and light duty vehicles. Beyond that, new fuels offer substantial opportunity to reduce carbon emissions: bio-fuels, electricity and hydrogen. For heavy duty vehicles, natural gas is an attractive option too.
Most of the world’s major car manufacturers are developing the full range of vehicle options. Some have been making their initial market entries for electric powered vehicles over the last year or so; for example: Nissan with their pure electric Leaf (and General Motors with their electric / petrol hybrid Ampera. Many of the major global liquid fuel suppliers are also developing and deploying bio-fuel technologies and exploring the potential use of natural gas for heavy duty vehicles. Government supported research and development is helping to mature hydrogen as an energy option for transport, although it is currently not as market ready as the other options.
We are now reaching a point where decisions have to be taken on which energy infrastructures to build for the UK and its needs.
Substantial long-term investment will be required and perceived risk is critical to the cost of financing it. For the automotive industry, there are many opportunities to manage risk; for example: vehicles can be built to order and sold in different market territories; and many of the technologies are transferable between vehicle types. For the energy industry, there is little opportunity to manage risk: once built, an energy infrastructure generally can’t be relocated or repurposed. It is therefore essential that Government takes a long-term policy perspective to build energy industry confidence for the investments needed to make the transition to a sustainable and secure energy for transport an affordable reality.
The ETI - a public private partnership tasked with developing “mass scale” technologies that will help the UK meet its energy targets – has been investing in projects to understand the most economic pathway to transition the UK’s transport energy infrastructure and the decisions that need to be taken when. These projects have included major new research; for example: vehicle trials and surveys with mass-market consumers; analysis of the Department for Transport’s National Travel Survey data; and research on the impact of carbon reduction on the existing liquid fuel system.
The transport sector emerges from our whole system analysis of the UK energy system as potentially one of the most expensive areas in which to cut carbon emissions. Making conventional internal combustion engine vehicles more efficient is clearly identified as the most important first step in any cost effective pathway to carbon reduction in the transport sector. Following that: bio-fuels are important for both the heavy and light duty sectors; natural gas is potentially attractive for the heavy duty sector; and electrification is attractive for the light duty sector (predominantly in the form of electric / petrol hybrid vehicles recharged via the existing domestic electricity supply system). Hydrogen potentially has a role to play in the UK transport fuel mix by 2050, but the technology still needs significant investment to reach maturity.