The EU could ban the registration of petrol and diesel cars from 2035. What some welcome, others see as a mistake. Engine expert Thomas Koch is among the scientists warning of the “electric-only” strategy. An interview.

On Tuesday (June 7) things get down to business: Then the EU parliamentarians will vote in connection with new exhaust gas regulations on a ban on internal combustion engines, among other things. From 2035, a “100% reduction” of all emissions at the tailpipe would then be required, which would effectively make petrol and diesel cars no longer eligible for registration. This calls critics and lobbyists from both sides onto the scene: While some welcome the ban because e-mobility is the superior technology and then virtually unrivaled by law, others warn against it.

A key argument of the ban advocates: With e-mobile CO2 emissions can be limited. The argument of the critics: The calculations submitted are inadequate and unscientific. In a letter to all EU parliamentarians, more than 300 scientists, including not only engine developers, are now appealing to refrain from a technology ban. Co-initiator Professor Thomas Koch from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) explains the reasoning of the scientists in an interview with FOCUS Online.

FOCUS Online: Mr Koch, in an open letter to all EU parliamentarians – not for the first time – you pointed out the need for freedom of technology in the drive technology of the future and are thus taking a stand against technology bans. Who supports you?

Thomas Koch: There are several hundred experts who all teach the basics of energy conversion, energy balancing, thermodynamics or fluid dynamics in the lecture halls of universities and colleges and who are now making those responsible aware of the situation in several actions. Our key message is that there is no reliable database to justify a ban on modern hybrid vehicles in Europe in 2035.

There are always different perspectives in science, and this has also become clear during the pandemic. After all, you only represent one opinion, don’t you?

You have to strictly separate two things. On the one hand, this is the secure state of knowledge and, on the other hand, the unknown. The latter is the refuge of scientists, namely to understand and to get to the bottom of things. But not everything is directly related to science. Let me illustrate this with an example: If you wake up in the morning with a body temperature of 40.2°C, you are sick. It’s not science, it’s state of the art. Finding the cause of illness can become a true science, but the state of knowledge is that you are ill.

And it is also the current state of knowledge that crucial balance calculations that compare the CO2 emissions of different drive systems are unacceptable and incorrect. We have been pointing out this simple fact for many years and we have again emphasized it intensively. It is a blatant myth that a battery vehicle clearly has the best carbon footprint for any application, let alone any EU country. The battery vehicle is a valuable technology option that we need to develop further and open up the market segments. But alternative hybrid drives, especially with low-CO2 fuels, are highly competitive from an environmental point of view, but are constantly being analyzed with incorrect calculations.

Can you explain this with a simple example?

We would like to point out that the additional demand for electricity causes disproportionately high CO2 emissions because the capacities for renewable energy are not sufficient. The calculations assume that the additional requirements are just as “clean” as the current electricity mix. In reality, however, these requirements are generated from fossil fuels, which leads to exorbitantly higher CO2 emissions. I always explain it with this example: Daughter Eva needs 6,000 euros per year for her education for fees, cloud, software, etc. After all, she can save 40 percent herself, i.e. 2,400 euros, or even 80 percent, i.e. 4,800 euros, if you work even harder. earn through your own work. The parents pay the rest, in the first case 60 percent, i.e. 3600 euros, or in the second case only 20 percent, i.e. 1200 euros.

Now the daughter can afford a new mobile phone for 100 euros a year, and her studies now cost 6,100 euros. In both of the daughter’s cases of earnings, the parents pay the full additional price of 100 euros, namely 3700 euros and 1300 euros respectively. In the bills, which form the basis for the EU roadmap of the future, the parents only pay 60 euros or even 20 euros per year for the additional requirement in a figurative sense, because that corresponds to the initial “mix”. In the example with the daughter, no one would think of saying that the additional costs of 100 euros per year are only 20 percent, i.e. 20 euros per year, but that is exactly the basic error in all calculations.

So the daughter’s financial contribution is comparable to the energy that photovoltaics and wind power provide in a year and the parents’ contribution is analogous to the contribution of gas and coal-fired power plants?

Correctly. And that is why an increase in total energy demand primarily leads to an increase in fossil energy. The resulting CO2 value in Germany for the next decade is well over 600 g CO2/kWh on average, but is always shown as around 360 g/kWh in the relevant calculations. We still have potential here in the future by storing electricity in excess hours, but that doesn’t solve the problem and the fundamental error in the balance remains.

If it increases CO2 emissions disproportionately, where does electromobility make sense at all?

We need a clever mix of different technologies of the future. This also includes the further development of electromobility. There is further potential, for example in battery production, power electronics, electric motor construction, control and thermal management of vehicles. We are also very active here at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and many important developments can be pushed forward in the future. However, we also absolutely need a perspective for alternatives and here CO2-neutral fuels – we call them reFuels – about which true horror stories have often been told, are also indispensable, also in order to maintain individual mobility at all.

But the automotive industry is fully committed to electromobility, isn’t it?

That cannot be said in general terms. For example, Hyundai, Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, BMW, Stellantis, Renault, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Toyota, Geely and other manufacturers have not signed the much-cited Glasgow Cop26 agreement to phase out the internal combustion engine, and for good reason. And no Ford or GM manager has yet been able to explain to me how an electric pickup with an eight-ton trailer load, which is also inexpensive to produce, can be moved over long distances or how an entry-level electric vehicle can be offered affordably to the broad lower middle class.

There are many more myths. ReFuels are said to be incredibly expensive, although all analyzes in large-scale production estimate production costs of less than one euro per liter, i.e. only moderately above the costs of fossil fuels. In addition, the range of possible fuel supplier countries is expanding significantly, because all countries with a lot of wind or sun can become suppliers. To be honest, I find the argument that electric mobility is the cheaper option for people on a tight budget really bad, and here I also reproach the consumer protection experts and social politicians who claim this.

Combustion engines today contribute more than 60 billion euros in tax money, e.g. through energy, VAT, CO2 and motor vehicle taxes. In comparison, an electric car is subsidized over its lifetime with over 20,000 euros. Even if the battery vehicle has cost potential, such as the lower service costs of the drive, cost parity is not remotely evident under the same boundary conditions.

In the end, society or the end consumer pays the receipt. Just a side note here is that the raw material costs are going through the roof, which results in further dependencies. China, for example, has now made a clear commitment to freedom of technology, and several technology paths are being developed there. In particular, they want to be among the world market leaders in the field of combustion engines and hybrid technology, which we want to abolish.

Do you have the impression that there is an honest discussion taking place on the subject of the ban on combustion engines?

no My perception is that hardly anyone realizes what is being voted on. The fact is, however, that in all surveys, an absolute majority of over 85 percent of people clearly say that a fuel filler cap on the vehicle will continue to be desired in the future. I would therefore find it deeply undemocratic if a technology ban were implemented against the majority of people, especially since e-mobility as a replacement technology has so many unsolved problems – such as the dependency on raw materials and processes, the availability of electrical energy, the costs and the environmental balance. All of this needs to be resolved before we issue technology bans. To use an analogy, you don’t quit your apartment before you have a new one, and you don’t quit your job before you have a new one. In this respect, I remain optimistic and believe in the common sense of the parliamentarians.”

The interview was conducted by Jens Meiners, Car Editors Net

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