R.I.P I.C.E – A Global Perspective

The historic agreement reached by 195 nations at the Paris climate conference illustrated that the world is on the precipice of radical change. United around the single aim of tackling climate change, countries from across the globe set in motion ambitious decarbonisation plans. Central to this global vision of a more sustainable world was the continued emissions reduction in the automotive industry. Members of the Zero Emission Vehicle Alliance, a collaboration between US states and European countries including the UK, announced that it is aiming to have all new cars sold within their jurisdiction to be emissions-free by 2050.

Global initiatives such as the Paris Agreement are vital in gathering political momentum. However national and local actions have arguably accelerated the development of zero emission vehicles even further. National incentives in Norway have directly driven the uptake of electrified vehicles, with EVs making up 28.5% of new car sales in August. Similarly in California, 3% of new vehicles sold are EVs, with drivers in the San Joaquin Valley and Los Angeles able to access additional grant money based on their household income. Closer to home, Sadiq Khan’s first announcement as London Mayor aimed at improving the air quality by introducing the Ultra-Low Emission Zone a year earlier than planned. While in Germany we have also seen headlines in recent weeks centred on the Bundesrat vote to ban the internal combustion engine by 2030. While non-binding this vote demonstrates a clear signal of intent from Europe’s largest car manufacturer.

In response to these changes, the majority of OEMs now offer ultra-low emission vehicles or plan to in the near future. In addition new entrants such as Tesla are designing desirable electric vehicles that resonate with a new generation of digitally minded end users. This unprecedented level of innovation has culminated in a number of vehicle manufacturers offering electric vehicles capable of 200 miles at a price bracket accessible to a larger range of consumers. So in a world where zero emission driving is the aspiration, where does this leave the internal combustion engine?

Electrification has the potential to revolutionise the passenger car sector but some key questions are emerging. The Internal Combustion Engine has been a main driver of economic growth in the past and continues to be so in the developing world. Is pushing the electrification route to cleaner transport on a developing country the right approach? Brazil for example are driving the decarbonisation of transport using ethanol derived from sugar beet rather than moving towards EV’s. Pursuing this policy makes economic sense given the resources and infrastructure available in Brazil. Therefore when picking a future strategy, there is a wider social question of equity and practicability. In Brazil’s case, the internal combustion engine provides a cost-effective solution compared to electrification where resource and infrastructure challenges make mass market adoption currently unfeasible.

Existing battery technology capacity limits the potential for full electrification in sectors such as construction equipment and heavy duty trucks. The internal combustion engine has proven to be versatile, reliable and relatively cheap to make throughout its history. Will new technologies provide the same versatility, reliability and cost effectiveness that the engine brings? Will battery technology improve, will a hydrogen infrastructure be established to bring fuel cell technologies to the forefront or will future liquid fuel developments make the Internal Combustion Engine the sustainable choice?

Solutions to these complex questions are being investigated but it’s important that today’s vehicles powered by the internal combustion engine are as efficient as possible. The Advanced Propulsion Centre continues to see exciting innovations in ICE technologies with funded programmes, supporting projects that will lower emissions. The ‘Low Carbon Automotive Propulsion Technologies’ report identifies the UK as a leader in engine technology development recognising the strength in UK design and manufacturing which sees us produce over 2.4m engines every year.  If the internal combustion engine is still to play a prominent role in the future then the UK must ensure it develops technologies that can help reduce the amount of CO2 emitted from the internal combustion engine, whilst simultaneously developing technologies that can provide long term, sustainable solutions.

Join us at the Royal Institute on the 14 November 2016 for the first debate of the Future of Technologies Series. Key industry figures and leading academics will come together for a lively debate on what the future holds at the “R.I.P I.C.E” event.