Combustion engines have no future, hydrogen has problems, study says


Which routes are best for reducing traffic congestion? There is now a new study on the subject. What e-cars can do, what future opportunities the ICCT provides for combustion, and what issues hydrogen vehicles face.

Automobile manufacturers must reduce the amount of carbon in their fleets. The industry has no choice but to comply with plans like the recently announced EU offensive “Fitfor55.” But which drive blend is best for this situation? Is there such a thing as an ideal solution? Such debates rage on all the time.

There has already been numerous research conducted on this topic. In theory, you can start counting down the days until a huge list of alleged faults in the articles is published by a “rival” camp.

Another (well-known) group, the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), has now dared to review it. “Battery vehicles that are powered by renewable energies, as well as fuel cell vehicles that are run with green hydrogen, are the only two technical paths to achieve a decarbonization of the European car fleet by 2050,” research author Georg Bieker said.

CNG is not an option, according to the ICCT.

To put it another way, the ICCT does not see conventional combustion engines, hybrids of any kind, or gas vehicles as having a bright future. Quite the opposite is true. Even now, completely battery-powered compact automobiles emit 66 to 69 percent less CO 2 than equivalent combustion engines during their entire life cycle. Hybrids would be 20% better, and plug-in hybrids would be 25% to 27% better. According to the study, CNG vehicles may produce significantly more greenhouse emissions than gasoline and diesel vehicles.

The authors of the study took into account the whole life cycle of autos, including manufacturing. They were calculated using the predicted electricity mix in Europe from 2021 to 2038. The ICCT chose a total mileage of 243,000 kilometers for combustion engines and anticipated that batteries would endure until they were scrapped for batteries. In this circumstance, a battery change would not be required, which is clearly helpful to the environmental balance of e-cars. Even if more pessimistic assumptions were made, the Stromer would still have a significant advantage over a combustion engine.

Furthermore, the balance sheet for electric automobiles will continue to improve, according to the study’s authors. Specifically, when the electrical mix improves over the next few years. This is beneficial in real-world situations. However, this has a production benefit: if the industry uses more green electricity, the entire manufacturing process becomes more sustainable. If 100 percent of the energy was available from renewable sources, according to the ICCT calculation, pure electric cars would even have a CO 2 advantage of 81 percent over comparable combustion engines.

Yes, hydrogen has potential, but…

The question still remains: How do fuel cell vehicles perform? That depends largely on the hydrogen used. If the fuel cell vehicles could use 100 percent green hydrogen, they would have a 76 percent better carbon footprint than combustion engines, according to the ICCT. So they would not be too far removed from electric cars in the optimal scenario.

The authors explain the higher emissions by the fact that the use of electricity-based hydrogen is roughly three times as energy-intensive as the direct conversion of electricity into motion in electric cars. Contrary to what is often assumed, fuel cell vehicles also have no advantage in production: Because the production of a hydrogen tank with carbon fibers is associated with similar energy consumption as battery production, according to the ICCT.

The problem: green hydrogen is currently hardly available. In Germany, for example, it currently only accounts for around four percent of the total H2 volume. Instead, a large part comes from the reforming of methane from natural gas (so-called “gray hydrogen”). Under these conditions, fuel cell vehicles currently release “only” 26 percent fewer greenhouse gases than comparable combustion engines.

According to the authors, e-fuels are ruled out

The ICCT employees do not see an option for the future in refueling combustion engines with synthetic fuels. Their production is associated with high costs. Therefore, e-fuels could not make a significant contribution to decarbonization, they say.

According to their own information, the authors have also been able to determine similar trends in studies for the USA, India, and China. Their recommendation is, therefore: The registration of new vehicles with internal combustion engines should expire between 2030 and 2035.

Arnes Biogradlija
Creative Content Director at EnergyNews.Biz

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