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Call for more to be done to reduce emissions from petrol and diesel vehicles

Even if the UK government accelerates its plan to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars, millions of fossil-fuelled vehicles will still be on the UK’s roads in the 2030s and 2040s, claims a new study from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE).

The UK government originally announced the phase-out of new petrol and diesel cars from 2040, but may bring forward the date to help decarbonise the road transport sector which accounts for around 27% of GHG emissions, a figure which has risen steadily in recent years.

While attention and investment has focused on EVs, the IMechE argues in its
Accelerating Road Transport Decarbonisation report that the quickest way to reduce road transport emissions is to improve the efficiency of the internal combustion engine and to switch to renewable and low carbon fuels as soon as possible.

‘Ultimately, we would like to see a complete shift away from fossil fuel use. However, in the interim we must find near-term solutions using existing technologies that can make the biggest and fastest reductions in our CO
2 emissions,’ comments Dr Jenifer Baxter, Chief Engineer at IMechE. ‘We cannot rely on electric vehicles to make any meaningful impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions fast enough and the internal combustion engine is likely to be with us in the foreseeable future.’

EVs have a 1.6% market share of new vehicle sales but, despite a jump in their sales, UK car emissions continue to rise. Average CO
2 emissions from car sales increased last year for the third year in a row due to a drop in diesel vehicle sales and the growing popularity of SUVs.

‘We’re calling for more research into improving the efficiency and emissions reductions of internal combustion engines, renewable and low carbon fuels,’ says Steve Sapsford, co-author of the report and Chair of IMechE’s Powertrain Systems and Fuels Group. He notes that research in these areas has been reduced recently as a result of the popularity of EVs.


The report cites forecasts from the National Grid which estimates that there could be as many as 37.1mn petrol or diesel vehicles still on the road in 2030 and 22.6mn in 2040. HGVs are the most ‘stubborn’ petrol/diesel category, with a reduction of just 9% forecast by 2030 and 33% by 2040 in the most optimistic scenario.

The report says policy makers need to be aware that EV technology is far from zero-emissions when it is subject to life-cycle or ‘cradle to grave’ analysis. This analysis shows that an EV produces about half the GHG emissions over its lifetime as a petrol vehicle when taking into account emissions produced as a result of the manufacture of the vehicle, mainly the battery pack, and the source of power used to charge it, says the IMechE.

Among the report’s recommendations are:

  • A move to E10 10% bioethanol in petrol pumps and B7 in diesel pumps, to help to rapidly decarbonise the many millions of internal combustion engines already running on conventional fossil fuels as soon as possible.
  • The adoption of a lifecycle approach for all government policy. This takes a holistic view of GHG emissions and avoids the unforeseen consequences of backing particular technologies at the expense of exploring essential alternative and complementary approaches.
  • Substantial investment (similar to that provided for battery EVs and charging infrastructure) in renewable and low carbon fuel development and associated internal combustion engine technology levelling the playing field across low carbon technologies. This will enable both growth in EVs and further immediate reduction in vehicle CO2 emissions with a managed transition to zero carbon.

News Item details

Journal title: Petroleum Review

Countries: UK -

Subjects: Electric vehicles - Decarbonisation - Road transport - Alternative fuels - Emissions -

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