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How far from the death of the internal combustion

by Godwell Nhamo, febrero 17 2015, 06:08

EVIDENCE pointing to the death, in the not-too-distant future, of the internal combustion
engine which has been a workhorse in cars and other machines for 150 years is
Around the world economies are undergoing conversion from being resource-intensive to
being low-carbon and resource efficient aimed at addressing, among key challenges,
ecosystem decay, biodiversity loss, climate change, water stress and energy security.
The use of renewable, clean and energy-efficient technologies is now inevitable. Among
such technologies are electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
The world has witnessed game changers in the vehicle manufacturing sector over the past
few decades. The internal combustion engine was one of the tipping points against steam
engines and likewise, the lithium ion (Li-ion) battery is among multiple tipping points
against the combustion engine.
The internal combustion engine is probably one of the most perfected and publicly accepted
technologies yet. The technology is also found in mining, manufacturing and sectors that
use fossil-fuel powered generators, mills and pumps.
The promotion of electric vehicles, particularly those drawing from renewable energy
sources, emanates from the global challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions that
cause climate change, to which the transport sector contributes on average 13.1% of total
emissions. Currently more than 90% of the transport sector is powered by fossil fuels.

According to data from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change,
transport contributes significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions in many countries. In
India 1994 figures reveal 11% of total greenhouse gas emissions was from the transport
sector, 18% in Mexico (2002), 14% in Australia (2007), 27% in Canada (2007), 18.5% in
Japan (2007), and 13% in SA.
China and the US are the worlds two highest emitters of greenhouse gases.
In the US there has been significant policy reform to accommodate the sale of electric
vehicles. The Recovery Act commits the government to building local manufacturing
capacity for advanced Li-ion batteries, a critical element in the clean energy industry.
Investment to build this capacity amounted to $2.4bn in loans to factories in Tennessee,
Delaware and California. An additional $2bn in grants was budgeted for 30 factories to
produce Li-ion batteries, motors and other components for electric vehicles. Companies
have been matching the governments financial support dollar for dollar with the initial
target of 500,000 Li-ion batteries by December last year.
The Recovery Act also supports demonstration projects of 13,000 electric vehicles and the
establishment of more than 22,000 charging points in 20 US cities. Companies are
matching the governments funding dollar for dollar in this initiative to the tune of $400m.
Tax credits ranging from $2,500-$7,500 for buying electric vehicles were introduced in
2011, depending on battery capacity.
China designated electric vehicle production as a key national programme in the 1990s. The
regulatory environment includes the development of national strategies for new energy
vehicles; national research programmes; national subsidies; rules and regulations for
manufacturing and products and technology and emissions standards.
A number of technologies are associated with electric vehicles.
Hybrid electric vehicles are propelled by both the motor and an internal combustion engine.
They present difficulties in multiple energy source control, optimisation and management.
The large size of the batteries required and their management are also challenges.
Battery-powered electric vehicles have challenges with battery life and management,
charging facilities and costs.
The major drawback of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are the costs of the fuel cells, their life
cycle and reliability. There are also challenges with charging stations.
University of Toronto professors Heather MacLean and Lester Lave compared
environmental effects of hybrid electric vehicles with internal combustion engines in 2002,
using the second generation Toyota Prius and the Toyota Corolla. "The more complicated

and expensive Prius has lower pollutant and carbon dioxide emissions and better fuel
economy than the Corolla," they concluded.

A study comparing hybrid electric vehicles, battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell
vehicles was conducted by Mikhail Granovskii and others at the University of Ontario
Institute of Technology. It emerged that the battery electric vehicle is more environmentally
friendly if the electricity comes from renewable energy sources.
Battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have zero emissions (or ultra-low
emissions) and are high in energy efficiency. Though all the electric vehicles are tipping
points for the combustion engine, the battery type will emerge as the substitute if its
production is scaled up.
In January 2011, in his state of the union address, US President Barack Obama proclaimed
that he wanted 1-million electric vehicles on American roads by 2015 to reduce dependence
on oil and to take the lead in the growing electric vehicle manufacturing sector. This was
triggered by the fact that there were more plug-and-drive electric vehicles in China than the
US and anywhere else in the world.
The US department of energy responded that, though the policy statement goal was rather
ambitious, the motor industry had the capacity to see 1.2-million electric cars on the roads
by 2015.
Last year Mr Obama announced that he wanted fuel-efficient trucks with "tougher fuel
efficiency standards for delivery vehicles" by March 2016.
Among the early entries into the electric vehicle market was the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet
Volt. The growth in US sales of the Leaf has been phenomenal, increasing from 67 units
sold in February 2011 to 1,425 units sold in February 2014.

In April 2013 the Nissan Leaf reached a landmark of 62,000 units sold globally since its
launch in December 2010, making it the most sought-after "zero-emitting" electric car
The Nissan Leaf has found its way to SA, with eight purchased by the Department of
Environmental Affairs and 20 ordered by the City of Tshwane. Private sales were also
made. The car can cover up to 200km when fully charged at a maximum speed of 150km/h.
It has been recognised globally for its "greenness", winning awards such as 2011 World Car
of the Year at the New York International Auto Show and 2012 Car of the Year in Japan
from the Automotive Researchers and Journalists Conference.
It outclasses all other electric vehicles even though it is a battery electric vehicle. NissanRenault plans to sell 1.5-million units globally by 2020.
The uptake of electric vehicles faces a number of barriers. A key challenge is that
consumers tend to be reluctant to take up technology that is novel and unproven.
Among the concerns are: battery range (the distance travelled before charging is needed),
battery size and weight, high purchase price, a lack of charging infrastructure and reliability
and safety. Others may include financing costs and insurance for new technology risks.
And then there is the cost of operating these vehicles. Research in 2010 discovered that the
purchase and operation costs of a hydrogen electric vehicle and a battery electric vehicle
was $5,377 and $4,819 more expensive respectively compared to vehicles with internal
combustion engines.
However, modelling on pricing shows that between 2020 and 2030 battery electric vehicles
could be cheaper by between $1,115-$7,181 if battery costs decrease and petroleum prices
As of 2012 a Li-ion battery with 35kWh storage capacity cost about $30,000 to produce.
However, Toyota has been making advances and has managed to cut the cost of producing
its fuel cell vehicles by 90% since 2005 from about $1m per unit to $100,000. But this is
still way too high compared to a mere $1,000 for producing a conventional internal
combustion engine of similar functionality.
For the public an acceptable price for a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is about $50,000 for a
luxury sedan. The price reach for battery electric vehicles of $40,000 has been attained in
the US and is expected to fall to $20,000-$30,000 by 2020.
The cost issue is more pronounced in developing countries where citizens do not have the
luxury of saving. In SA (and many other African countries), what citizens aspire to is
owning a car any will do.

The Leaf, for example, was retailing at about $42,000 in March 2014 compared to a higher
range new Nissan Sentra at almost half the price. The Micra, which is very close to the Leaf
in terms of shape and size, retails at about a third of the price of a Leaf in SA.
Surprisingly, the Leafs price compares favourably with popular internal combustion engine
Nissan SUVs such as the X-Trail and Pathfinder. Faced with a choice of buying a Leaf at
the equivalent price of a Pathfinder or X-trail, African consumers may be biased towards a
bigger car that can navigate poor roads.
Ditching the internal combustion engine will mean that the whole world will have to search
for alternative employment opportunities in the value chain. Hundreds of thousands of
people are employed in manufacturing radiators, carburetors or direct injection systems,
flywheels, crankshafts and casings, timing chains, oils, fuels, manifolds, fuel lines and
tanks, gaskets, cylinders, pistons, engine blocks, injectors and oil rings, valves and valve
seals, engine heads, springs, plugs.
People employed in other economic sectors using internal combustion engine-based
equipment such as agriculture and mining will also be affected.
At the launch of the Nissan Leaf in SA in October 2013, Nissan SA MD Mike Whitfield
said that "the Leafs sales price of R446,000 might seem costly. However, if one includes
electricity costs of about R22,500 over a six-year period and maintenance costs of R1,500,
the total cost over the six-year period (R470,000) compares favourably to the total cost of
ownership of equivalent petrol (R484,000) or hybrid (R505,000) models."
The political will to devise new-generation green procurement policies and regulations is
picking up momentum. Tax incentives and disincentives will have a huge role to play,
including subsidies for consumers who buy battery electric vehicles and exemptions from
carbon taxes, fuel levies and e-toll fees.
Indications are 50,000 units of the Nissan Leaf could be sold this year. Toyota has been
making significant progress with hydrogen fuel cell technology mainly aimed at reducing
the cost of these vehicles to the publicly acceptable price of $50,000.
So is the transition to green growth a game changer leading to the death of the internal
combustion engine? The answer is: a qualified yes. There are indicators that this is
The real game changer is the fact that all major car manufacturers have joined the green car
race. Green consumers (and green political parties) and environmentally conscious CEOs
will play a key role.
Prof Godwell Nhamo is Exxaro Chair in Business & Climate Change at the Institute for
Corporate Citizenship at the University of SA. This article first appeared in WIT
Transactions on Ecology and The Environment and is on