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Institution's response to Government announcement on pulling forward ban on petrol and diesel vehicle sales

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...all forms of propulsion technology, including renewable fuels, electricity and hydrogen could have a substantial impact on GHG emissions
...all forms of propulsion technology, including renewable fuels, electricity and hydrogen could have a substantial impact on GHG emissions

IMechE's Engineering Policy Team responds

In response to today’s announcement that the Government is pulling forward the ban on new internal combustion engine vehicles to 2035, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers feels it is imperative to reinforce its findings on Accelerating Road Transport: Decarbonisation published on 28 January 2020.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers would like to see a complete shift away from fossil fuel use in any part of our energy system and we must find solutions in the near term that can make the biggest and fastest reductions in our CO2 emissions.

Steve Sapsford, Chair of the Institution of Mechanical Engineer’s Powertrain Systems and Fuels Group said,

“In contrast to today’s announcement, there is not a 'one-size-fits all' solution. We are running the risk of assuming that all a vehicle’s GHG emissions are emitted at point of use. Whilst that might be where legislation has its current focus, we need to take a more holistic approach including the GHGs associated with vehicle production, use and disposal/recycling.  Such life-cycle analysis is a technique for quantifying the environmental and human health impacts of a product over its life span and can often be referred to as 'cradle-to-grave analysis'.

"In our report, we demonstrate that all forms of propulsion technology, including renewable fuels, electricity and hydrogen could have a substantial impact on GHG emissions. Some, that are currently being ignored and side-lined by today’s announcement, could have a much larger impact in the short term.

"There are over 300 million passenger cars in circulation on European roads; around 99% are powered by diesel or petrol.  Sales of electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrids, represented 2.5% of new passenger vehicle sales in Europe in 2018. This means that over 97% of new vehicles are still powered by diesel or petrol and, once a new car is sold, its average life span is approximately 12 years.

"This clearly demonstrates that we simply do not have time to just wait for the increasing share of EVs to make a dent on the passenger car CO2 footprint.  Indeed, as we accelerate the adoption of EVs, it is possible that we are accelerating the production of GHG emissions unless battery manufacture, which can represent a significant proportion of an electric vehicle’s lifetime GHG emissions, uses only renewable energy.”

Dr Jenifer Baxter, Chief Engineer at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers added,

“There is also the enormous challenge to scale up the associated infrastructure necessary to manage the transition to large-scale electrification in the timeframe put forward. A challenge with no delivery plan. This will not just be additional electricity capacity, but local network upgrades and millions of private and public charge-points, which must be ‘smart’ to prevent overloading the system at times of peak demand. This new transport paradigm will also require a new generation of engineers and technicians who have the skills to design and service both the vehicles themselves and the charging infrastructure.

"So, whilst we rightly continue to invest in electric vehicles we must also pursue and invest in renewable and low carbon fuels made from sustainable and net zero sources. These alternative fuels would be able to use the existing infrastructure, reducing consumer impact at the fuel pump and potentially avoiding the cost associated with new infrastructure to support electric vehicle adoption at pace.”

Consequently, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers believes that by insisting that there is only one solution, today’s Government announcement side lines a significant complementary opportunity to reduce GHG emission associated with road transport.


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