Friday, 25 April 2008

Low Carbon Cars? The King Review

Prof. Julia King Vice chancellor of Aston Uni. 15 April 2008

The King Review was ordered by Gordon Brown, as a follow up to the Stern Report.
Its object was to look at the potential to reduce emissions from road vehicles.
This did not look at having fewer vehicles, or using them less, or sharing them, or at a shift to public transport. Just focussed on the engine and the fuel source. King presumed that everyone wants a car of their own. A technical fix was sought.
Prof. King is an engineer, who used to have a senior position at Rolls Royce.
Proposed 25 years to decarbonise road transport in Britain.
Assumed that a 60% cut in emissions will be needed by 2050.
In UK, 22% of emissions are from transport; 13% of emissions are from private cars.
Traffic projection shows a doubling by 2050 (Eddington report). So, a 90% reduction per kilometre is needed from road vehicle efficiencies.
If UK can do this, there will be huge export opportunities in India, China and the 3rd world where car use has to be decoupled from carbon emissions to prevent dangerous climate change.

Conclusions of the review
1. There is huge potential to reduce emissions from cars. Available technology could reduce by 30% if it was used in all cars. Today, you can buy a model in all types that produces 125 gms per km. If everyone chose the most fuel efficient that would be a 25% reduction in average emission per km for traffic.

2. There is scope for further gains. Hybrid cars emit half the emissions and are on sale, though the price needs to come down.

3. Problem is that fuel efficiency has been a minor consideration in how cars are sold and how people choose them. People still want powerful cars. Rising fuel prices may change this preference in future. Fuel efficiency of cars should be clearly labelled in the showroom. The tax system needs to incentivise people at the point of purchasing a new car to go for low energy models.

4. Example of EU regulation on diesel particulates suggests the industry will respond but only when forced by regulation. There is an agreed EU target for all cars to be 130 gms/ km by 2012.

5. Biofuels may generate CO2 in production that greatly reduces positive effect on CO2. They conflict with human food. Tropical deforestation for biofuels is a disaster and strong sustainability criteria have to be worked out. Only bio-fuels made from wastes, that don’t require new land are likely to be acceptable. Message of slow down on bio-fuels from King Review. Bio-fuels may be required for aircraft, where liquid fuel seems essential. See Scharleman and Laurence Science 4/01/08 for latest estimates of fuels and their greenhouse gas emissions. Gallagher Review is coming on bio-fuels.

6. Oil from tar sands will need much more energy to extract.

7. Electric vehicles depend on the carbon content of electricity. There will have to be plans to ‘decarbonise the electricity supply’, if electric cars are to be widespread. The same argument obtains for hydrogen cars. Novel high density batteries are being developed.

8. Oil provides a dense and portable store of energy that is hard to duplicate from any other source. Alternative energy sources all need a lot of development, but King is optimistic that they can catch up in performance.

9. A new way of calculating life cycle emissions, not just at the exhaust pipe is needed.

10. Would people compensate for increased fuel efficiency by driving further? A big unknown...

Wider reflections on the King Review – from discussion and questions
There seems to be the technology to achieve big reductions in the emissions of road transport, but does the government have the political courage to “incentivise”, or force the industry to offer highly efficient vehicles and drivers to use them (but over-use them) ?

Making car engines more efficient is only one aspect of making the transport system more efficient. Measures to restrain driving, e.g. by road pricing were not part of their remit. Nor measures to change modal split between car and public transport, cycling etc. Nor potential to substitute electronic communication for physical travel.

The huge demand for driving coming from the developing countries will feed through the price mechanism. This year’s steep rises in oil price and soon perhaps a peak in oil production with demand over-shooting could be important new factors... i.e. the space for ever-growing fuel consumption by private motorists may be disappearing fast. The car will have to get much more efficient, or die.

John Newson

1 comment:

John Davison said...

Our UK roads are superbly engineered and well drained - massive jump forward from traditional roads of stone laid on mud. The difference comes from 'binding' in the makeup of the road and the depth of construction.
However, the binder we use now is usually asphalt, bitumen, or cement, all of which require a lot of energy to produce. It may be smart to think about alternative fuels for the vehicles but road construction and maintenance needs to change too.