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EU’s Electric Goal Gets Mixed Reception
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EU’s Electric Goal Gets Mixed Reception

By Simon Johns - Jan 15, 2021

Lubes’n’Greases Exclusive by Tim Sullivan & Simon Johns

Rarely do the auto lobby and environmental groups agree, but they both see flaws in the EU's far-reaching transport emissions reduction plans. One side says it goes too far and the other says it’s not far enough.

The European Commission’s aim to have at least 30 million battery electric and other zero-emissions cars on the roads by 2030 is too ambitious given the current number of vehicles and extent of infrastructure, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association.

The target, set out in the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Package, would represent a 45-fold increase from the existing European electric vehicle population of about 650,000.

“Unfortunately this vision is far removed from today’s reality,” ACEA Director General Eric-Mark Huitema said in a response statement made by the association in December.

The European Commission, the EU body that proposes laws, called the 2030 target an important step on the way toward the region’s goal of returning to 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – a commitment the EU undertook in signing onto the United Nation’s Paris Agreement for halting climate change.

To accommodate that many EVs, the commission said 3 million public charging points will need to be installed throughout the 27 member states. According to EU figures, there are about 210,000 of them already dotted across the bloc. More than the current total would have to be installed annually until 2030 to reach that goal.

ACEA believes 3 million is still toofew and points out that about 75% of them today are located in only four countries: France, Germany and the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

“Experience has shown us that a voluntary approach to these infrastructure targets does not work. While some EU countries have been very active, others have done little or nothing,” Huitema also said.

A rapid switch to zero-emissions vehicles may not be the panacea some believe. One lubricant industry insider proposes a multifaceted approach.

“Neither battery nor fuel-cell is the solution. The reality is a huge matrix of solutions for different applications. We have to force BEV use where it makes sense – short distances, public transportation, etc, but we have to replace fossil fuels by renewable fuels as well,” Sebastian Doerr, manager of Lubtrading GmbH, a grease and base oil trading company, told Lubes'n'Greases.

Doerr offered a number of benefits to developing renewable fuels in the transport mix, such as the existing distribution infrastructure and the ease of transporting liquid fuels over electricity and hydrogen. Hydrogen is also a bone of contention for environmentalists.

"We welcome the European Commission's push for replacing fossil fueled cars with electric vehicles. But the idea to promote hydrogen-powered cars goes into the wrong direction. E-fuels [renewable fuels] and hydrogen, which are very energy intensive in production, should be reserved mainly for planes and ships, with strict environmental and social safeguards attached, but not for cars. Battery-electric cars are much more energy efficient,” Lena Donat, senior advisor for low-carbon mobility, told Lubes'n'Greases.

Donat also said that the production of BEVs creates new problems, as they require large quantities of critical raw materials, which have their own environmental and human rights concerns along the value chain.

“Battery-electric cars can thus only be one puzzle piece in a more complex transport transition,” she said.

While the scale of carbon emissions during BEV production and from charging, known as the “backpack”, compared with internal combustion engine cars is hotly contested, even if the target is reached there will be a substantial fleet of ICE vehicles on the roads for many years to come.

“Thirty million BEVs producing [a] backpackwith only renewable electricity will save about 25% of[vehicle] greenhouse gas emissions in 2030. We still have 75% of the car population running on fossil fuels,” Doerr said.

Greenpeace is also skeptical about whether replacing ICE vehicle with EVs will be able to supply a sufficient reduction in transport-related emissions.

“We need to reduce the number of cars on the road significantly and increase use of alternatives like trains, public transport and active mobility, as well as putting an end to the sale of new traditional and hybrid cars by 2028," Lorelei Limousin, a member of Greenpeace’s EU transport campaign team, told Lubes'n'Greases.