Battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will dominate UK roads after 2040, but only if charging infrastructure improves and acquisition costs are reduced, according to a Government-sponsored report on clean-engine technology.
The Roadmap Towards 2040 report by the Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) predicts that BEVs will “start to replace conventional propulsion systems in the next five to 10 years”.
“But this depends on the availability of a sufficient charging network,” the document suggests. It also highlights high acquisition costs and limited range — well-known drawbacks of BEVs — as “significant barriers to mass adoption”.
The report forecasts that BEVs will evolve over the next decade from "general purpose” to include models with variable battery capacities to suit short, medium or long-distance usage. However, there's “some uncertainty” around when the technology will evolve and could happen during 2027–2029.
Combustion-engined cars — what the report calls TPS, or thermal propulsion systems — will still have a future by 2040. A new generation of high-efficiency engines with advanced valve control and more precise injection and breathing will bring efficiency boosts.
Controversially, the report doesn’t mention diesel for passenger cars, limiting its discussion for commercial vehicles. “There’s not really an alternative for heavy duty vehicles carrying big loads over long distances,” says Jon Beasley, the APC’s director of technology and one of the report’s authors.
For cars, the combustion engine is ultimately predicted to become part of a high-efficiency “hybrid-focused TPS”, says the report — a trend forecast to start from 2027-2028.
Intriguingly, the report casts doubt on the long-term future of hybrids: “It is possible that mild and full hybrid architectures will eventually phase out as they do not offer consumers sufficient zero-tailpipe emissions.” To last beyond 2040, the battery capacity of hybrids will have to be beefed up considerably to access urban zero-tailpipe emissions zones, the report suggests.
The APC is a 10-year joint venture between the Government and the automotive industry. Its funding to the tune of £1 billion is allocated to multiple projects to ease the introduction of decarbonised technology to all forms of transport.