In recent weeks news out of France and the UK suggests that they are preparing to implement policy to ban the combustion engine in cars in the near future. This move is a reaction to the out pouring of concern regarding climate change seen around the world in recent months. By banning the combustion, governments engine seeks to appease those that demand action against climate change. But, is it a good idea to ban these engines altogether?
The alternative to the combustion engine is electric cars. Electric cars may be better for general air pollution in urban areas, but electric vehicles do not necessarily mean zero fossil carbon emissions. Powering electric cars requires electricity and currently it is not possible to power the entire transport network with renewable energy from hydro, wind or solar.
Car emissions do not have to be fossil emissions
With the combustion engine, we have decades of engineering experience, as well as extensive infrastructure around the industry that would go to waste if we were to give up on the combustion engine entirely. The problem with the combustion engine is that it pumps fossil CO2 into the air, as well as nitrogen oxides and other pollutants. With the existing technology, which is becoming increasingly efficient, and new technology, it is possible to dramatically reduce fossil CO2 emissions.
Synthetic fuels, made using renewable energy and CO2 taken directly out of the air, do not emit fossil CO2 into the air. That makes the entire process, from production of the fuel, to combusting it is entirely carbon neutral. If we use this technology to fuel our vehicles we can gradually work towards a point where renewable energy, and battery storage capabilities within vehicles, are able to power out entire transport system. Until this point, we need a solution that protects the climate.
In the case of Switzerland, the problem of air pollution is not as great as in other parts of the world. In Swiss urban areas Nitrogen Oxide level are much lower, and according to François Launaz, President of the Auto-Switzerland Association of Importers, a ban on diesel engines is not necessary. He argues that in fact Diesel, with its lower consumption, is important for the reduction of CO2 emissions and essential for meeting CO2 emission targets in Switzerland. Launaz also believes that solutions will come from a technical standpoint rather than a political.
Old cars will continue to be on the road for many years after the ban
It will not take many years until technology is advanced enough to power the entire transport network with renewable energy, and when that time happens, it is likely that we will all be driving around in electric cars. But, until that time comes, cars using combustion engines will continue to dominate roads around the globe. Even when electric cars gain popularity, cars with combustion engines will still remain on the road until they are no longer serviceable. The climate is close to the tipping point and we can not just sit back and wait for other solutions, when we can already make carbon neutral synthetic fuel to run our cars.