Internal Combustion Engines Should Be Part of the Solution To Lower Pollution

Internal combustion powered cars 8 photos
Photo: VDMA
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There are more than 1.4 billion internal-combustion-powered cars worldwide. It would be absurd to believe that all of these might be stopped and replaced with electric vehicles at the flick of a switch. Moreover, that would be a disastrous idea that will give humanity more problems than solutions.
Before the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, we were all dragged into discussions about electric vehicles. Some were more skeptical than others that this might be the future since there were many limitations. Those technical issues were partly solved, but not entirely. Some countries agreed and said they would ban the sales of internal combustion engined cars starting in 2030. Moreover, the EU began to think about the same thing starting from 2035. At first sight, it looks like a great idea. But on second thought, it doesn't look that bright anymore.

In June 2022, Hartmut Rauen, Deputy Executive Director of VDMA (Mechanical Engineering Industry Association), said, "The ban will reduce the diversity of climate-neutral propulsion technologies - making it increasingly difficult to achieve European climate neutrality targets and build economic resilience. In addition, Russia and China dominate the supply of scarce key raw materials for electromobility such as nickel, cobalt or magnesium to the global vehicle industry. This makes the phase-out of the internal combustion engine a significant geopolitical risk for Europe." Considering what happened after Russia invaded Ukraine, Rauen's warning looks legit. In addition, China's unclear intentions about Taiwan might worsen things even more. But we still want to lower pollution, right?

One thing is for sure: replacing all cars and trucks with electric ones is impossible. First of all, there are not enough materials on Earth to produce that many batteries. Moreover, most cells cannot be recycled. In addition, EVs are expensive, and their prices won't go down anytime soon. But still, they are part of the solution. Customers from richer countries might buy electric vehicles, but not all of them. In addition, you can't ignore some countries whose citizens cannot afford such expensive cars, and their freedom of movement shouldn't be affected.

But let's say Europe and the U.S. will press the "kill-switch" and stop fuel-powered vehicle sales in 2035. By 2045, fewer vehicles will be fueled by gas or diesel on the road, and more and more cars are going to be BEVs. And the electricity will come from where? Solar panels, wind turbines, nuclear and coal powerplants? Each of these is creating other problems. Solar panels are changing the microclimate in areas where they are placed. The blades from the wind turbines cannot be recycled, so they are buried in the soil when they are replaced. Nuclear powerplants are also a threat due to their waste materials, and coal powerplants are emitting massive doses of CO2 and particles. This doesn't sound like net-zero at all!

At the end of October, during the negotiations between EU Parliament, Council, and Commission on CO2 fleet regulation, the problem of eFuels was dismissed. These synthetic fuels might not be net-zero capable, but they lower emissions. In addition, they are produced from renewable sources. This is not a clear solution, but part of it. After all, creating plug-in hybrid vehicles powered by eFuels and electricity might be a better idea. Thus, for the daily commute, cars might rely on their small battery packs and use eFuel only for long distances.

Charging a 10 kWh battery at home in eight hours may be done with a simple extension cord. Users won't even need designated charging stations for that. A PHEV needs way less fuel when appropriately used than its internal-combustion-powered sibling. For instance, BMW 330e xDrive plug-in hybrid has an EPA fuel consumption of 67 mpg (3.5 l/100 km), while the 330i xDrive is good for 28 mpg (8.5 l/100 km). If eFuel were used, then the CO2 emissions would be lowered even more.

In November, EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton pointed out that a commitment exclusively to electric cars would jeopardize the complex, well-established value chains. In addition, more than 20 to 25 percent more electricity would be needed to charge the vehicles. Considering this, Mr. Hartmut Rauen said, "To achieve effective climate protection quickly, all climate-friendly drive options must be used. This also applies to the combustion engine powered by CO2-neutral, green eFuels."

In aviation, the conversion to all-electric and SAF had already started. For now, a long-range aircraft that could carry 200 passengers can't rely solely on electricity, so sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is tested, and the results are satisfactory, to say the least. The same principle may be applied to cars. Bio-diesel, bio-ethanol, and bio-gasoline are no longer new fuels, and engine manufacturers are burning the midnight oil to find new solutions to use them.

Last but not least, hydrogen could play an essential role in this predicament. However, that's no clear answer since producing the so-called green hydrogen is not easy. Besides making it, it needs to be liquified, stored, and transported. Let's not forget that neither of these steps is a walk in the park. By now, tests performed with fuel-cell vehicles such as Toyota Mirai or Hyundai Nexo showed excellent results, so they can be part of the solution. But still, at around $650 per month to lease a Mirai, that's not an affordable vehicle.

For now, nobody has a clear solution. But one thing is for sure; the internal combustion engine must stay, at least for a couple of decades, before it will be withdrawn. Until then, you may still enjoy a classic Corvette or any other V8-powered car that can roar its engine.
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About the author: Tudor Serban
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Tudor started his automotive career in 1996, writing for a magazine while working on his journalism degree. From Pikes Peaks to the Moroccan desert to the Laguna Seca, he's seen and done it all.
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