Over the past 50 years, emissions control from vehicles and machinery has expanded from a niche requirement to one that is by far the strongest driver of powertrain development. In recent years, the questions of energy efficiency, fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions have also been added to the equation. Road transport is crucial to the citizens, businesses and supply chains. BUT it comes with significant costs to our society. For example: productivity losses due to delays in road congestions, accidents and fatalities as well as increased air pollution.
Road transport together with heating is the main source of urban pollution. The EU’s policy focus is best exemplified by the much-discussed European Green Deal. This vision, while subject to some criticism, has been accepted as the roadmap for achieving carbon neutrality and improving general sustainability. The European Green Deal strategy aims at a systemic shift by calling for a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from transport, necessary for the EU to become a climate-neutral economy by 2050. It also works towards a zero-pollution ambition. In this context, the European Climate Law introduces a 2030 target of at least 55% net greenhouse gas emissions reduction. To meet these ambitious targets, a set of measures was adopted, including the so-called ‘Fit for 55 package’, to boost the use of renewable and low-carbon fuels and replacing existing fleets with low- and zero-emission vehicles.
Until relatively recently, all countries were concerned about energy security, rather than greenhouse gas emissions or general sustainability; the goals of energy security and GHG emissions reduction conflict to a certain degree. Powertrain development has been driven by an ever-expanding list of external factors, many of them non-technical in nature. Major changes occurring in the global economy, society and other branches of industry are having impacts on road transport – and the strength of these effects will only increase. Fleet average in-use (tailpipe) CO2 reductions are not a new topic in the EU. However, the proposed percentages have become very large, with reductions as high as 100% under serious discussion. On 24.06.21 the European Parliament confirmed a plan to impose a 55% CO2 emissions reduction requirement (all sectors) by 2030 (current target: 40%), as well as “the goal of reaching 90% CO2 emissions reductions in the transport sector by 2050.” The European Commission has proposed ambitious new CO2 emissions targets for new heavy duty vehicles (HDVs) from 2030 onwards. These targets will help to reduce CO2 emissions in the transport sector – trucks, city buses, and long-distance buses are responsible for over 6% of total EU greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and more than 25% of GHG emissions from road transport.
On 10 November 2022, the Commission presented a proposal to reduce air pollution from new motor vehicles sold in the EU to meet the European Green Deal’s zero-pollution ambition, while keeping vehicles affordable for consumers and promoting Europe’s competitiveness. The proposal replaces and simplifies previously separate emission rules for cars and vans (Euro 6) and lorries and buses (Euro VI). The Euro 7 standards set emission limits for all motor vehicles, i.e., cars, vans, buses and lorries under a single set of rules. The new rules are fuel- and technology-neutral, placing the same limits regardless of whether the vehicle uses petrol, diesel, electric drive-trains or alternative fuels. This combination of requirements (Euro 7 and 100% CO2 reduction) can influence OEMs’ decisions to switch to EVs directly and to not invest in new emissions control for Euro 7, due to high cost/short time. This situation could generate additional problems, which result in vehicle purchase costs increasing (a phenomenon also likely to affect costs of used vehicles).
Powertrain electrification is normally understood as being motivated by efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions considerations, but such changes also impact harmful exhaust emissions. Even mild powertrain electrification makes powertrain operation (and thus development) vastly more complicated. However, changes to powertrain hardware are not limited to electrification – in the current climate, many ideas and concepts for engine design are being revisited, which form an important part of holistic improvements in powertrain- and vehicle-level efficiency and environmental performance. Powertrain technologies and emissions requirements evolve in concert, with each affected by the other, as well as many other external factors.
Many changes are expected and the industry is under truly unprecedented pressure. Unfortunately, an exclusive focus on tank-to-wheel performance is distorting the true picture of environmental performance; historical approaches must be abandoned when they are no longer fit for purpose. Industry should be allowed to offer vehicles propelled by a range of powertrain types, depending on the usage profile and local conditions, in order to sell mobility solutions with genuinely low cradle-to-grave impacts.
Piotr Bielaczyc is an Advisory Board chairman of Clean Propulsion Technologies and actively following the development of the project. He is particularly monitoring and contributing to WP2 “ Virtual sensors and control”.