The transportation system is often named as a root cause of air pollution, and therefore as a major cause of climate change. The smog filled cities around the world have made the car the poster boy of the debate on climate change. Even though road vehicles make up only 18% of carbon dioxide emissions, according to the International Energy Agency, with a greater proportion coming from power stations, it is still vitally important to deal with the pollution from these sources.
Electro mobility is being lauded as the saviour that will clean up the transport sector, and while that may be the case in the future, currently it it is not necessarily so. Traffic is increasing worldwide, and new vehicles with combustion engines continue to be put onto the roads. In Switzerland, the average life cycle of a car is around 15 years, and in other countries around the world it is often longer. In the developing world, you will often see cars of 30 years and older driving around. That means the cars seen on Switzerland’s roads today, will only be leaving them in 2030, and after that they may move on to another country. Even if only electric cars were imported from tomorrow, it would take a very long time until they were the sole mode of transport on our roads.
Whilst electro mobility is seen as the answer by many, diesel is seen as an evil that must be taken off our roads. The diesel gate scandal has not helped the reputation of the fuel, despite the fact that it is fuel efficient. For those that feel that their electric car is their small way of saving the environment, they may be surprised to know that their vehicles are not as climate friendly as they think. Much of the energy pumped onto the grids around the world still comes from coal power plants, and therefore charging electric vehicles will not be much better than fuel efficient diesel, if not worse!
So what is the answer? Electro mobility is for the future but not now, so how do we make the combustion engine, diesel and petrol cleaner? Over the years attempts have been made to create renewable fuels that can be utilised by the combustion engine. Biofuels of many varieties have been created and trialled, but few have been successful at any scale, and often have other environmental effects, as with palm oil, which is linked to deforestation and soil degradation. But now, the next generation of renewable fuels are coming into fruition, and already being produced.
Gasoline can now be mixed from air and water. The building blocks of fuel are carbon and hydrogen, which can be mixed, as if by magic, but actually through a reaction using a substantial amount of electricity, to form diesel or petrol. If the electricity comes from renewable sources, then the fuel is carbon neutral and only puts carbon into the air that has been mined from the air as a raw material. It is also an answer to the renewable energy storage question, with batteries simply not efficient enough yet.
For at least 15 years to come, Switzerland will have cars running on gasoline running on their roads. Other countries could be much more than that, and therefore a clean diesel solution is not only necessary, but can be a profitable enterprise worldwide. With the planned power to liquid plant in Laufenberg, Switzerland is well placed to take a leading role worldwide in providing this innovative clean fuel solution.