The COVD-19 pandemic and the unsequential catastrophic events that followed had the world coming to terms with the urgency of paying greater attention to how civilizations have been impacting our environment. While governments, industries, and sciences across the world combined forces to aggressively combat global warming and climate change, one of the most discussed matter has been achieving the target of zero carbon emissions.
It is common knowledge that the automotive sector’s contribution is cardinal in achieving this goal. Until recently, only muscle-powered vehicles like bicycles, or electric bicycles and gravity racers were known to mankind. Full-fledged cars to walk on that path was a different deal altogether, but thanks to assertive advancement in this area, breakthroughs are already at our door.
Just a few days ago, Japan’s announcement of the clear goals of maximizing the use of electric vehicles by 2030 and achieving zero vehicle emissions by 2050 made heads turn. However, this is certainly not the first time it has been projected that the stated is possible. In fact, 2020 has particularly been a year where new findings have strengthened the conviction that if leaders in the automotive sector join hands and efforts, the goal is quite attainable quite soon.
The Concept: How Can Vehicles Reach Zero Carbon Emissions?
It was estimated recently that in order to reach the net-zero carbon emission goal by 2050, we will need to overturn the production to 100% of electric vehicles by 2030. The shift is estimated to be slow, and therefore, 20 years of legroom is required so that every individual using private transport conveniently switches to electric vehicles by 2050.
Besides completely shifting to electric vehicles, there are two ways in which researchers are exploring the concept of minimizing carbon emissions.
Using Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS)
Technically, the technology isn’t new as it was a decade ago that onboard carbon capture for cars was designed by researchers in the USA. The technology aimed at capturing CO2 emissions at source from condensed hydrocarbon fuels which would go processing and the fuel would be completely converted to hydrogen, a clean fuel with no footprints. This way, the vehicle will be powered by H2 while the CO2 is captured and stored as a liquid which could later be reprocessed as synthetic fuel. The limitation of this technology -- the costs of processing -- became a great factor that shifted the focus to electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions.
Four primary illustrative pathways were exhibited by McKinsey and Company on the basis of the customer’s willingness to pay and the ambition of manufacturers. These include:
- Cost-Positive Pathway: Decarbonizing is limited only to actions that are cost-effective like mechanical and open-loop recycling.
- Net-Zero Cost Pathway: Actions are limited to ensuring that the material costs remain the same.
- Sustainability Premium: Integrating actions that only allow a certain amount of additional material cost per vehicle.
- Zero Emission Pathway: Being the most ambitious and not considering the cost factor, this pathway ensures abatement of over 95% of the emissions.
The Approach: Which Emissions Can Be Feasibly Targeted?
Up until recently, since tailpipe emissions made for up to 65-80% of the total carbon emissions generated by a vehicle, efforts were directed at sustaining associated processes. However, now that zero-carbon emissions are in question, material emissions should be climbing up in priority.
This is also important as we compare these emissions absolutely and relatively, which according to projections, indicate that as tailpipe emissions decrease, material emissions will tend to increase, thereby forming a lion’s share of the total life-cycle emissions and lose out on the purpose.
As the name suggests, these are emissions that are released by the vehicle from a tailpipe and are considered to be major threats to the atmosphere. These are basically products of burnt hydrocarbons and release noxious chemicals that are toxic to human and environmental health. The emphasis is, therefore, laid on electrifying corresponding and related powertrains.
These include emissions from the vehicle trim components, and because these have been overlooked, they become the primary drawback of electric-powered vehicles. The changing energy mix that powers batter vehicles are estimated to boost material emissions by more than 40% by 2040. The figure is alarming and indicates that immediate measures should be taken to tackle material emissions because, like large-scale decarbonization, transforming the architecture and processes for the same is a long-term endeavor.
The Cost Factor: Short Term Expenses Or Long Term Investment?
One thing is clear from all of the discussion above; achieving net-zero carbon emissions is an expensive affair. But a closer look can tell us that there’s more to the picture.
Yes, technologies like monomer recycling that can lead to a whopping 92% reduction are hands down expensive and impractical to be available to the masses for production. However, integrating cost-effective pathways with a long term approach is a viable option. So much so, that it is estimated that the automotive industry can cut down material emissions by a drastic 32% while also keeping the costs in check.
More than half of the cost-positive technologies involve the use of aluminum and plastic. Inert anode technology shift based on aluminum, for instance, can cause a 73% emission reduction from the baseline whereas mechanical recycling using plastic can lead to a 34% reduction. The best part? Each of these processes ensures cost reduction as well!
How Is The Green Car Future Expected To Look Like?
First things first, the time to join hands and take action is now. The green car future can be extremely successful and beneficial but is only achievable if incessant efforts by all automotive players are put in to develop and practice strategies.
Futuristic innovations like Toyota Fun Vii or the Volkswagen Hover Car are sure going to make impressionable changes in the green car future, however, it will take decades to create an economy that will be able to support mass production of such projects.
This leaves us with only feasible, cost-positive approaches in the near future but also a promise that there’s ample hope in the automotive sector.