Lifecycle analysis shows combustion engines have less environmental impact than batteries, claim automotive bosses

A sole focus on developing and promoting electric powertrains will lead to the UK missing emissions targets and long-term environmental issues, leading figures in the automotive industry have said.

Speaking at the Driving the Future event in London, Neville Jackson, chief technology and innovation officer at Ricardo, a firm developing combustion engine, hybrid and electric car technologies, said: “We are too focused on the only way ahead being electric - and that is a message we have to get across to legislators.

“If you look at the lifecycle analysis of vehicles, which is set to be part of European Commission regulations from 2026, then the analysis of cradle to grave impact is clear: the internal combustion engine operating on a very low net carbon or zero carbon e-fuel delivers the lowest overall environmental impact.

“We need to avoid the issues of spending huge amounts making batteries that aren’t recyclable, or which are expensive to recycle. There are real opportunities with the technology - let’s not forget we invented the lithium ion cell in the UK - but there are hurdles to overcome that we have to face into in a realistic way.”

Neville's comments come despite car manufacturers focusing on second-life use of batteries once they are no longer used in cars, such as putting them in houses and using them to store energy at peak output times and return it to the grid when required.

Behind the scenes of Britain's battery revolution

Jackson’s view was echoed by Michael Hague-Morgan, commercial director of Autocraft, a specialist engine and battery cell company. He said: “Whenever you rush into technology you make mistakes. That is already evident in the number of battery packs we are now seeing that have failures.

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“Some were even designed as sealed, so you can’t open them and replace or repair them easily. The impact of that on the environment is huge. The focus on pure electric in isolation does not offer the best route - there is some wonderful hybrid technology coming, and it is my belief that will get us further down the path to our targets than pursuing electric in isolation.”

Craig Wilson, managing director for Williams Advanced Engineering, which focuses primarily on electrified powertrain technology, added: "There is no silver bullet here. The internal combustion engine will be around for sometime I anticpate, albeit supported by different technologies and factors."

Jackson and Hague-Morgan also highlighted the pressures of capitalising on the UK’s innovation leadership in emerging technology.

“Our academic centre is the envy of Europe,” said Jackson, “but the struggle is taking our ideas and leadership into a position of scale. An example would be the £1-2bn required to get battery manufacturing to the UK - it’s what’s required and what some countries are investing, and at that point the offer of a £100m incentive doesn’t look enough. There is an upfront cost to defossilising our system that will pay back, but it needs to be invested in first.”

Hague-Morgan added: “The traditional model in the UK has been to sell our university and SME knowledge. In electrification we are in the same position - but do we want to sell it? Do we want to manufacture offshore, or take the opportunity to get highly-skilled, highly desirable manufacturing here?

“One of the issues is that government funding is typically measured by the blunt instrument of whether it will create jobs. Today, we don’t have the same unemployment issues we had a few years ago, yet the measure is the same. I’d like to see a focus on the type of jobs being created, so that we can keep the manufacturing in the UK and capitalise on the transition.”

Hague-Morgan also outlined a vision for car sales to remain mixed equally between combustion engine, hybrid and electric powertrains for the foreseeable future, with the latter more focused on urban and societal trends. 

“We shouldn’t overlook the technology we have today - including diesel,” he said. “The issue is getting legislators to understand the facts, starting with the differences between a Euro 4 or 5 diesel and today’s Euro 6 diesels. It is not easy to understand, but the right solution should depend on it.”

Read more:

Analysis: just how green are electric vehicles?

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Comments
19

10 July 2019

An electric car is still an incredibly complex machine involving a huge number of materials so its not surprising its no better (or worse) than a combustion engined car in cradle to grave terms. There was a study in around 2006 that found a 4.0 litre Jeep was the most environmental friendly car because it's so simple. But in reality I don't think any car can ever be considered sustainable - there will always be an environmental impact. I do wonder though if we should be looking more at hydrogen and would be interested to know how it fairs in a cradle to grave analysis (assuming the hydrogen is generated from renewable energy).

10 July 2019
Will86 wrote:

An electric car is still an incredibly complex machine involving a huge number of materials so its not surprising its no better (or worse) than a combustion engined car in cradle to grave terms. There was a study in around 2006 that found a 4.0 litre Jeep was the most environmental friendly car because it's so simple. But in reality I don't think any car can ever be considered sustainable - there will always be an environmental impact. I do wonder though if we should be looking more at hydrogen and would be interested to know how it fairs in a cradle to grave analysis (assuming the hydrogen is generated from renewable energy).

What is the advantage of a hydrogen car over an EV?

10 July 2019

Because putting all our eggs in one basket and assuming the battery powered EVs are the solution seems like a very foolhardy idea given the uncertainties currently surrounding them. BEVs clearly have a big place in our future but there are other options, hydrogen being one, that we should be seriously exploring. 

10 July 2019

Everytime you hear an industry 'expert' you need to look at who they are and the company they represent.  Of course anybody with a business model wedded to the Internal Combustion Engine will do what they can to either spread FUD or to try and confuse people.  This is just another example and of course Autocar gives it room to breathe.

I also laugh when studies are quoted without reference to where they can be found and the journalism at Autocar which does not balance this by referencing an alternative viewpoint.

Still Chickens don't vote for Christmas do they !

 

 

10 July 2019
So, two people that work for companies that develop engines would like to keep their jobs. Up next, a child-size-coffin maker warns us of the dangers of vaccines..

10 July 2019
shiakas wrote:

So, two people that work for companies that develop engines would like to keep their jobs. Up next, a child-size-coffin maker warns us of the dangers of vaccines..

Did you actually read the article? The companies make all forms of propulsion including EV powertrains.

 

10 July 2019
Very clearly shiakas didn't read the article - he just wanted to make his point that any criticism of electric cars is mad and evil.

10 July 2019

Yep, fairly nail on the head stuff.

The whole drive to electrification isn't lead by those creating technology, but know-nothing climate zealots and politicians hoping to please the masses.

Given, there needs to be a drive to reduce CO2-intensive technology - but if that was the sole focus, automakers would be being forced into creating as many Euro 6d diesels as they can produce.

A balanced approach is the only way out, the best technology will win out through market forces, if the world's governments can pull their oars out.

Ref. climate protests - 12 year olds are future voters, given. But if we want to get to their point where they can vote, we need to balance the drive to electriciation with sustainability.

10 July 2019
CarNut170 wrote:

Yep, fairly nail on the head stuff.

The whole drive to electrification isn't lead by those creating technology, but know-nothing climate zealots and politicians hoping to please the masses.

Given, there needs to be a drive to reduce CO2-intensive technology - but if that was the sole focus, automakers would be being forced into creating as many Euro 6d diesels as they can produce.

A balanced approach is the only way out, the best technology will win out through market forces, if the world's governments can pull their oars out.

Ref. climate protests - 12 year olds are future voters, given. But if we want to get to their point where they can vote, we need to balance the drive to electriciation with sustainability.

Agreed that we should not make rush decisions. But EU6 Cars have ultra small particles that are entering our cells with as yet unknown concequences. They might very well turn out to be worse than EU4 cars. Also, remember that for every quoted CO2 figure you have to pretty much double it to get to a realistic calculation of the cost of extraction, refining and transporting of the fuel. We have yet to see a study that shows electric cars are not the lowest CO2 solution even with electricity from coal alone.

10 July 2019
shiakas wrote:
CarNut170 wrote:

Yep, fairly nail on the head stuff.

The whole drive to electrification isn't lead by those creating technology, but know-nothing climate zealots and politicians hoping to please the masses.

Given, there needs to be a drive to reduce CO2-intensive technology - but if that was the sole focus, automakers would be being forced into creating as many Euro 6d diesels as they can produce.

A balanced approach is the only way out, the best technology will win out through market forces, if the world's governments can pull their oars out.

Ref. climate protests - 12 year olds are future voters, given. But if we want to get to their point where they can vote, we need to balance the drive to electriciation with sustainability.

Agreed that we should not make rush decisions. But EU6 Cars have ultra small particles that are entering our cells with as yet unknown concequences. They might very well turn out to be worse than EU4 cars. Also, remember that for every quoted CO2 figure you have to pretty much double it to get to a realistic calculation of the cost of extraction, refining and transporting of the fuel. We have yet to see a study that shows electric cars are not the lowest CO2 solution even with electricity from coal alone.

True, but particulates are a measured part of emissions - and restrictions on EU6d are tighter than ever.

Particulates are what damage health, they are what cause the cancers and breathing difficulties - NOx, while villified, has little effect.

Diesel PHEVs have the lowest CO2 footprint overall, while also preventing the public health issue of particulates. Fuel cells, if producing water vapour, actually create a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, H20 - thankfully it's far easier to pull it out of the air, just the exhaust needs to be refrigerated.

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