The UK government is a long way from implementing enough electric vehicles (EVs) and related strategies if it is to deliver on its much-vaunted plan to bring UK greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.
This direct statement is contained in a report which indicates that the measures taken by the government do not coincide with its ambitions to reduce global warming, nor do they take advantage of the development opportunities in battery and fuel cell technology that the sectors of this country’s research and manufacturing could offer – vital opportunities in the long-term fight against global warming.
Posted by the House of Lords’ multi-party Special Committee on Science and Technology, it bluntly clarifies areas where the UK government needs to step up its emissions game and lists actions that could help.
Before we examine them, here are some facts about electric vehicles. Currently, UK roads have 570,000 plug-in electric vehicles and the number of public charging points is around 24,000. That makes about 23 cars sharing a point, although this ratio is much higher in rural areas.
Reports vary, but recently the UK competition regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority, said that ensuring a robust charging network for electric vehicles to help the country’s net zero plans would require it. 10 times more before 2030. Other sources have suggested that the UK has introduced an average of 7,000 EV charging points per year in recent years, but this rate will need to increase to 35,000 per year.
From an international perspective, the President’s Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry has publicly stated that we have less than ten years to implement environmental changes to slow global warming and that one of these measures is to increase the speed at which the world introduces electric vehicles by a factor of 22.
In addition to the deadline for meeting emissions targets, a particularly urgent 2027 deadline for the UK government and the auto industry is the rules of origin agreement with the EU. This agreement specifies that the battery and 55% of all vehicle components are made in the UK or the EU. It is therefore clear that without the necessary UK supply chains, manufacturing will move to the EU. The deadline of 2030, when the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans in the UK will cease, is tied. Without a significant increase in production capacity, the 2030 target will not be deliverable or will have to be achieved using imported batteries and vehicles.
The House of Lords’ multi-stakeholder Science and Technology, Select Committee report made it clear that it believes the UK risks losing its existing auto industry and falling further behind its global competitors in battery manufacturing. He is also concerned that the country is failing to make the most of its expertise in fuel cells and next-generation battery design.
The Committee was also alarmed by the contrast and apparent disconnection between the optimism of government ministers about the UK’s prospects and the concerns expressed by industry witnesses who fear the UK is lagging behind. of its competitors and faced significant challenges in terms of innovation, supply networks and skills.
As a result, the Committee asked for government support to develop UK supply networks and secure raw materials for battery manufacturing ahead of the implementation of UK-EU rules of origin in 2027. He also wants measures to be taken to ensure that the automotive sector has enough skilled workers to move from mechanical technology to electrical technology.
Seeing the future creation of more environmentally friendly electric vehicle technologies, he also wants increased funding to develop next-generation batteries from the UK. However, in the course of researching the report, the Committee heard that the UK’s current investment in battery research and development is lower and of shorter duration than initiatives in competitor countries.
The current funding for Faraday Institution battery research is £ 30million per year until March 2022. The institute is requesting an extension of funding and is bidding for an additional £ 20million per year to expand its work.
These figures are eclipsed by the investment plans ratified by the European Commission. Agreed in 2019, the Commission approved € 3.2 billion of investments by seven Member States to support research and innovation projects in all segments of the battery value chain until 2031. This equates to at an average of approximately 270 million pounds sterling per year and includes 960 million euros of investments by France and 1.25 billion euros by Germany.
The Committee also found that public sector funding for fuel cell research and development in the UK is low compared to its international competitors, and that funding for fuel cell research has reduced these costs. last years. It received £ 8million in 2021-2022, while Japan provided around £ 220million in 2019 for research and development in hydrogen and fuel cells.
It is not surprising that because of all this, the Committee is calling for action from the government.
It wants to accelerate the extension of the public EV charging network to deliver 325,000 points by 2032, including fast charging stations in cities and on strategic road networks.
It also calls for a swift decision following the consultation on phasing out the sale of new diesel trucks to drive innovation, and adoption of low-carbon technologies is recommended.
Clarity is also requested through the publication of the Government’s hydrogen strategy and associated decarbonation strategies.
On this last point, hydrogen can be produced in several different ways. The most commonly used method is steam methane reforming which uses heat to break down methane gas into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. However, electrolysis is the greenest and lowest carbon approach, in which electricity splits water into hydrogen and oxygen. One caveat here, however, is that the electricity used must be produced from low-carbon sources.
Some fuel cell technologies use other chemicals such as ammonia or methane, but a word of warning is needed regarding ammonia. Ammonia is toxic and some of its combustion by-products are harmful. It is made up of nitrogen and hydrogen, and upon combustion, nitrogen combines with oxygen to produce nitrogen oxide gases. Among these gases, nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide contribute to air pollution and are harmful to the ozone layer, and nitrous oxide is considered a potent greenhouse gas.
Another area that the report touched on was possible next-generation battery designs, and one of these would be solid-state technology. He believed that some of the challenges in battery performance can be solved by switching from liquid electrolytes to a solid state battery with metal electrodes.
Solid-state batteries have four potential advantages over liquid electrode batteries. This is improved fire safety, higher energy density, faster charge times and longer life.
Because of these advantages, Professor Pasta of the University of Oxford said: “Every automaker is looking at the solid state, but the development timelines are uncertain, ranging from the 2030s to the 2040s. Faraday is providing £ 15.3million over 5 years for the COBALT project which studies solid-state batteries. This project aims to remove barriers to manufacturing through new materials or processes to enable the commercialization of semiconductor batteries.
One area the report does not comment on, likely due to the gravity and breadth of the topic, is how the UK will increase its power generation to meet future electric vehicle charging demands. Some estimates suggest the UK electricity supply must at least double by 2050.
Commenting on the report, Lord Patel, Chairman of the Lords Science and Technology Committee, said: “The committee has found that the government’s ambition to achieve net zero emissions is falling short of its actions. The government must align its actions and rhetoric to take advantage of the great opportunity presented by batteries and fuel cells for research and manufacturing in the UK. “
“In addition, the government must act now to avoid the risk of the UK losing not only its existing auto industry, but also the opportunity to become a world leader in next-generation fuel cells and batteries. The government must develop a coherent successor to the industrial strategy and clearly promote its objectives, both nationally and internationally, supported by investments to match those of the UK’s international competitors.