Electric car sales are projected to more than double globally by 2026, but experts say eliminating road transport emissions by 2050 will mean throttling up efforts to decarbonize road freight and bringing an “all hands on deck” approach to support the transition away from gasoline.
The next three years will see global passenger EV sales surge to around 27 million annually, up from 10.5 million in 2022, thanks to a strong appetite in China and the United States, writes Bloomberg, citing BloombergNEF’s annual Electric Vehicle Outlook (EVO).
EV sales are going gangbusters in the U.S., boosted by the Biden administration’s “generous clean technology subsidies.” EV market share is projected to more than triple by 2026 to 28% of all passenger vehicle sales in the country.
EV share will be even stronger in Europe at 42% by 2026, but China will lead at 52%, up from 33% in April.
The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) estimated in 2021 that decarbonizing transport by 2050 will require global EV market share to be at 35% by 2030, “with higher levels in major markets.”
But a healthy market for passenger EVs hardly means eliminating all road transport emissions by 2050. BNEF noted that “eliminating emissions from road transport will require all hands on deck, including automakers, battery manufacturers, charging companies, grid operators, miners, large fleet operators, and consumers.”
There are roughly 1.3 billion internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles roaming roads today, and it will take time to retire them. “Some 30% of the global fleet will still burn gasoline and diesel by 2050.”
And expectations are that on the current timeline, only 32% of the world’s freight transport fleet will be decarbonized by mid-century. That had BNEF analyst and Outlook author Colin McKerracher urging policy-makers to make investments in zero-emission freight trucks a “priority focus.”
Canada’s Green Freight Program is attempting to make inroads in decarbonizing road freight, including the purchase of 20 new natural gas trucks. It was the type of policy decision the ICCT called “a bridge to nowhere” in a 2020 blog post.
“Trucks running on liquefied natural gas continue to be promoted by the truck and gas lobbies as a bridge technology for decarbonizing the road freight sector,” wrote ICCT heavy duty vehicles director Felipe Rodríguez. “Our findings lead to a worrying conclusion: LNG trucks provide little to no climate benefit.”
While liquefied natural gas (LNG)’s lower carbon content—25% that of diesel—and its “decent energy density” are typically proposed as solid reasons to use gas as a diesel alternative, “issues quickly become apparent when assessing not only carbon dioxide but all greenhouse gas emissions across the complete well-to-wheel (WTW) fuel chain,” Rodríguez writes. Over a 100-year time span, WTW emissions from even the highest-efficiency gas engines are just 9% lower than diesel.
And due to the powerful short-term climate impact of methane, a greenhouse gas with about 85 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide over a 20-year span, WTW emissions of LNG trucks will be “invariably worse than diesel” over the crucial years when humanity is scrambling to get the climate emergency under control.
Brussels-based Transport & Environment (T&E) echoed ICCT’s position on gas trucks this spring, urging policy-makers to recognize that “only zero-emission vehicles, which include battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell trucks, can provide for a credible long-term pathway towards the full decarbonization of the trucking sector.”
For the freight sector to move in that direction, T&E writes that the urban-and regional delivery freight segment will make the transition first, with two-thirds of road freight activity under 400 kilometres moving to battery-electrics. These trucks “are the most-competitive technology and are soon going to reach cost parity with conventional diesel trucks from a total cost of ownership (TCO) perspective.”
Whether long-haul freight will stick with battery-electric or turn to hydrogen fuel cells “is less certain,” T&E concludes. Similarly, BNEF warns that hydrogen’s “role in decarbonizing big rigs, offering fast refuelling times and transportability, remains uncertain due to its cost.”
T&E also calls on European Union policy-makers to cease all financial support for fossil fuel vehicles, including those powered by LNG. Citing the 2019 decision by Daimler, the continent’s largest truck manufacturer, to stop investing in gas trucks, the analysis states that “European authorities should make the same commitment both in the EU budget and in the European Investment Bank lending policy.”
Back in the world of passenger EVs, supply chain chokepoints—particularly for lithium—as well as logistical challenges like bringing charging infrastructure to rural areas, will require ingenuity and coordination to redress, says Bloomberg.
On lithium, BNEF “expects innovation to deliver new battery chemistries that are more resource-efficient and powerful,” but also warns of a “supply chain risk if no new discoveries are made over the next two decades.” The EVO flags the need for greater investment in this research area.
A great deal of investment will also be needed for charging infrastructure to keep pace with the push to decarbonize. Under its net-zero scenario, BNEF anticipates investment in the sector to reach as much as US$3 trillion by 2050.
“Dense public charging networks can help reduce the EV range customers feel they need, which will in turn reduce pressure on battery raw material supplies,” BNEF writes. But achieving such density may prove “particularly challenging” in the “last 10% to 20% of the market.”
“Support for charging infrastructure needs to be expanded dramatically, including for remote and otherwise under-served locations,” BNEF says.