Washington DC Area May 10, 2023
The Transportation Issue.
In 1897, the Detroit Electric Car Company was founded and electric cars gained popularity, but were later replaced by internal combustion engines (ICE) due to low gasoline prices.
Today, engines with combustion chambers are the dominant power units for transport on land, in the air, and in water.
Internal combustion engines operate according to a thermodynamic process in which fuel is compressed and ignited, then releases energy that can be used to do work and convert it into forward motion.
This thermodynamic process has been improved over time. However, in a thermodynamic process, the utilization of usable energy is about 30%, i.e. 70% is considered wasted energy.
As long as fuel prices were cheap, low energy utilization was accepted by the population to get from A to B comfortably.
Cars became very popular, and the automotive industry built large production facilities around the world. Cars have become a personal status symbol, and trucks are means of transportation for the distribution of goods.
But with the explosive growth of cars around the world and the globalization of transport, problems caused by exhaust gases have also arisen. The concentration of exhaust gases threatens human health, and the carbon dioxide emitted contributes to global warming while remaining in the atmosphere.
The transportation industry is cornered by its technical inability to improve the efficiency of conventional internal combustion engines to meet new emissions regulations.
To meet these requirements, alternative drive concepts must be chosen, such as the use of hydrogen or electricity.
Just as the world is being forced to move away from fossil fuels to usher in a renewable energy revolution, so too is the automotive industry being forced to change its drive concepts to meet energy consumption and emissions requirements.
This is associated with massive investments in the automotive industry and goes hand in hand with new materials and requirement profiles for production.
The Undisputable Global Appoach.
Science has proven that carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion and related processes is a major contributor to global warming, which must be stopped to avoid further dramatic changes to the climate and our biodiversity, without which we cannot survive.
This is a global effort, not a local decision, to switch to renewable energy sources, to which humanity has no alternative. The global community must harness swarm intelligence to successfully manage the effort.
The auto industry is fighting back with the introduction of e-fuels, a synthetic process that converts carbon dioxide and hydrogen into power-to-liquid that can then be used in internal combustion engines, with the carbon dioxide released back into the atmosphere via exhaust gases.
Their argument is that these e-fuels are carbon neutral and do not release any further carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This is only possible if the entire production process follows strict regulations to deliver on this promise. For example, the process must be powered by 100% renewable energy.
1.) We need to capture huge amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and generate hydrogen at the same time. We do not have a feasible concept to meet these assumed global demands for e-fuels, nor do we have the cost per gallon of e-fuels on a large scale.
2.) The synthetic process consumes an additional amount of energy and a carbon-neutral balance can only be achieved if 100% renewable electricity is used. Otherwise, the carbon-neutral balance leads to higher carbon emissions.
3.) When using e-fuels with combustion engines, the usable energy efficiency is again only 30%, which means that 70% of the process energy is turned into heat and wasted. We cannot afford to generate such a large amount of wasted energy in every internal combustion engine vehicle on the roads of the world.
4.) We already have a proven alternative for the mass market to switch from combustion engines to electric vehicles, as we started in the 19th century.
A Foolish Argument.
The carbon neutrality promised by the auto industry is not a valid argument as a global target, because we have
a.) to cut carbon dioxide emissions substantially,
b.) and must reduce our energy demand at the same time.
Both cannot be achieved by producing e-fuels.
It is a foolish approach to introduce an infeasible procedure and sell it to the public with impressions that do not correspond to an objective overall assessment of a mass market.
Energy Efficiency Comparison.
The energy efficiency chart shows that an electric vehicle is by far the most energy efficient and can travel 5.6 times the distance of a combustion vehicle per fuel load.
In addition, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the comparable lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions of a battery-powered mid-size car (BEV) are 50% lower than those of an internal combustion engine car.
What is the point of selling e-fuels as a mass-market alternative, if not to lobby an over-engineered auto industry to increase its profits?
Heated steering wheels, automatic dual-climate zones, cabin preheating, personalized seat programming with heating, concert-like surround sound systems, retractable and heated mirrors, remote controls of any kind – you name it, and you can get it.
Each part requires resources and adds weight to the vehicle, resulting in higher energy consumption. An insane cycle of technology development.
Simplified processes use fewer resources and are more sustainable, and any missing part cannot fail and does not have to be produced or stored in a warehouse for next-day delivery.
It gets even worse, for each part in a car you must produce that same part multiple times to cover wear and tear, malfunctions, and other replacement factors over the lifetime of the car, which increases the carbon footprint.
Carbon dioxide potential accumulates at every stage of the distribution chain. Our exaggerated expectations of designing the world with luxury and convenience will hit us hard.
Our resources were supplied by stars of the universe and are limited here on Earth. It was a one-time supply 4.56 billion years ago.
It is time to shift gears and turn the tide. We need to think globally and not locally, as it might suit a lobby organization.
E-fuels for ICEs are not a mass market solution to reduce carbon emissions and save energy to meet global requirements.
The Choice Is Ours!
Peter Keuter is an independent writer, and his views are not affiliated with any company or political party
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