Europe powers ahead with drive to develop alternative car fuels
The EU is looking at electricity, biofuels and hydrogen as part of its aim to phase out fossil fuels
European Transport Commissioner Siim Kallas: wouldn’t comment on Germany’s controversial blocking of lower limits on carbon dioxide emissions for cars
Nobody yet knows what the winning automotive fuel of the future will be. By 2050, it could be electricity, compressed natural gas, harmless biofuels, hydrogen cells or a combination of all of these. One sure thing is that it won’t be either petrol or diesel. The EU is aiming to “de-carbonise” transport by halving the use of conventionally fuelled cars by 2030 and then phasing them out altogether by 2050, according to Mark Major, the European Commission’s enthusiastic point man for “sustainable urban mobility”.
At present, Europe’s cars, vans and trucks are almost 94 per cent dependent on oil, of which 84 per cent is imported. That’s one reason to switch. Another is the air pollution caused by traffic, particularly in urban areas, and a third is to cut emissions causing climate change.
The only way to do that is to develop alternative fuels and more energy-efficient vehicles. At first, the EU put its faith in biofuels and then had second thoughts when it turned out they were displacing food crops.
Electric cars are now seen as one of the best options. But as EU transport commissioner Siim Kallas noted, the price of electric cars “remains too high” compared to conventional ones.
Speaking at a conference in Brussels on Moving Europe forward with clean transport fuels, Kallas wouldn’t comment on Germany’s controversial blocking of lower limits on carbon dioxide emissions for cars, merely saying the EU was a “very diverse organism”.
His chef de cabinet Henrik Hololei said Europe “has the leading car industry in the world and will eventually achieve zero-emissions transport”. But he stressed the importance of addressing the “vicious circle” that’s hampering the take-up of electric cars, in particular.
“We don’t have enough electric vehicles because there are not enough refuelling points,” he told the conference. This means many people will not buy these cars out of fear they couldn’t recharge the battery. Yet most electric cars would be charged at home.
There’s also been a problem of different countries opting for different plugs. That’s why Olivier Onidi, head of innovative and sustainable mobility at the directorate-general for transport (“DG MOVE”, as it’s officially known), underlined the need for a common EU standard.
In terms of population, he identified Estonia as the country most geared up for electric cars with 824,000 recharging points, of which 82,000 are publicly accessible. In absolute numbers, Denmark is out in front, with 1.25 million recharging points around the country.
Lars Bording, chief executive of Danish electric mobility company Clever, said they had given electric cars to 1,600 families two years ago. “The kids loved the silent trip and the parents loved it too because they’re so cheap to run. But you need the infrastructure.”