Internal combustion engines are the primary driving technology of the world’s cars. It’s come a long way since the first patent for an internal combustion engine was granted back in 1794, but modern versions still work by the same principle of exploding a combustible fuel in a sealed chamber, and capturing it as power for movement. And that in itself is an inefficient way to make something move. Too much energy is lost through heat, and even the most efficient engines on the market still waste more fuel than they can translate into movement.
We’ll have ICEs for a while yet, and no doubt there are more incremental improvements to come. But some countries have looked ahead and recognised that the future lies elsewhere. In the long term, there’s no place for fossil fuels in a sustainable transport system, and several countries have moved to ban them.
- Norway is perhaps the most ambitious, with plans to have 100% electric vehicles by 2025. It already has the highest percentage of electric car sales in the world, at 52% , so it’s well on its way.
- Britain has a very soft half-plan for 2040 (hybrids will be allowed, and it may be an ambition rather than a formal target) As is often the case, the leadership is coming from Scotland. They’re bringing in a more substantial plan and want to do it by 2032.
- Netherlands are going two years earlier, and every car sold will need to be zero emissions by 2030. With more charging points per capita than anywhere else in Europe, there’s room for expansion.
- France have plans to be carbon neutral by 2050, with fossil fuel vehicles gone from showrooms by 2040.
- Germany want 2030, but currently have a non-binding resolution in that direction. With several countries pushing for something similar, it’s likely that there will be an EU target along these lines in the near future.
- Half a point for Israel for planning a phase out of petrol and diesel, but opting for gas instead. Honorary mention too for California, considering a Clean Cars Act in the face of serious opposition from the Republican administration and industry lobbying.
- That’s all good, but it isn’t a real climate solution unless the Asian giants are involved, so the big news is that India want all electric vehicles by 2030. That’ll be an enormous challenge for the country’s electricity market, and if it can’t be done on renewable energy it’ll still be a problem – but it does suggest electric cars are a leapfrog technology and that Indian cities will be a lot cleaner and quiet in the not too distant future.
- Finally, and I’ve saved the most significant two till last, China announced last year that it is consulting on the matter. China will tell us its plans when it’s ready, but given the amount of support for zero emissions vehicles over the last decade or two, it would be no surprise. And that would be a gamechanger – China is the world’s biggest market for cars. Any car company that wants to be competitive in the 21st century has to be thinking about China, and a ban would force every single one of them to up their game on zero emissions vehicles.
If these bans are formalised and pursued as proper transition plans, rather than airy ambitions, we have a major shift coming. The EU, India and China could all be set to ban internal combustion engines, and their 200 year run might finally putter out.
- feature image by Chad Kirchoff