Although mainly responsible for CO2 emissions in transport, the road vehicle sector is nevertheless a conscientious learner who is working to reduce its carbon footprint, mainly through the gradual availability of systems like “stop and start” which reduces fuel consumption by around 15% in towns and the increase in sales of electric and hybrid vehicles (+64% in 2018).
The total replacement of internal combustion vehicles by other types of propulsion is now on the horizon. But the development of electric mobility must also be accompanied by the decarbonisation of electricity generation. And hydrogen batteries and fuel cells still have a high environmental cost; manufacturers are therefore working on their energy density, their lifespan and their capacity to withstand a larger number of charging cycles. They also want to develop new technologies (like supercapacitors which no longer require rare metals, which it is reported will be in short supply by 2050).
Hydrogen or electric?
The “electric battery” scenario is based on the assumption of rapid advances in lithium batteries and a fall in their cost. The “hydrogen” hypothesis involves a fall in the cost of hydrogen storage tanks and fuel cells.
The International Energy Agency believes that as hydrogen does not produce greenhouse gases or particles, with water its only byproduct, it must “play a key role in a clean, secure and affordable energy future”. At the moment, public transport and captive fleet projects are being prioritised.
“A massive development in private cars is a more distant prospect due to the costs of deploying charging stations and cars .(…) Hydrogen mobility will start with fleet vehicles in order to make the infrastructure profitable.” Dominique Lecocq, VP Ecosystems & Communications at Air Liquide Hydrogen Energy World Business Line.
Yet hydrogen is mainly produced from natural gas and is not without ecological impact. “One of the industry’s challenges today is to move production towards low-carbon hydrogen,” Dominique Lecocq goes on to say.
A mixed future
The most likely scenario is that “we will have a hybrid future in terms of propulsion. Hydrogen, electric and thermal technologies, and others yet to come, will be combined,” says Cédric Rouxel, Head of Department at ALTEN. “All of the international groups are joining forces to develop hybrid vehicles in a very tight market where standards are more stringent and investment much heavier,” adds Adrien Jouhannaud, Head of Department at ALTEN.
It is likely that this mixing will be found not just in vehicles but also in usage, with electric propulsion being used in urban areas and hydrogen propulsion for long distances. Different charging infrastructure for different needs.
ALTEN is committed – Greener journeys
- The company car catalogue for ALTEN employees is now composed of 75% hybrid or electric cars. Diesel vehicles have been removed from the catalogue completely. Likewise, for taxi journeys, ALTEN encourages its employees to choose green taxis. Finally, each newcomer must follow an e-learning ecodriving training module.
- To enable its teams to work together without having to travel, ALTEN has equipped its buildings with high-performance video conferencing equipment.
3 questions for Mark Smidt
Managing Director of Heliox Automotive BV
Interview conducted in February 2020. HELIOX, a Dutch company founded in 2009, creates end-to-end vehicle recharging infrastructure solutions which include charging terminals, stations and maintenance. It now operates in several European cities and in 2018 installed the world’s largest electric bus depot with charging stations in Amsterdam.
How are you feeling in this context of adapting to climate change?
I’m optimistic because we’re doing what’s right for the planet. Electric mobility is the first step and the contracts we’re winning show that there is a genuine change in mindset.
What key trends do you see?
A real explosion in fleets of electric buses in Europe and the United States! It’s good news because they will be driving the paradigm shift. Following in their wake will be lorry development, which I see happening by 2030 and further down the line, the development of private vehicles.
Do you think we can successfully make this smooth transition?
It will take decades to decarbonise completely and political will and sacrifices will be required. Gandhi and Franklin D. Roosevelt are great role models to me in these times of crucial change: they accomplished great things with stubbornness and perseverance, making radical choices.
Decarbonisation is the mother of all battles for our planet. And the companies working on it today are leading the way.
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