Published 2021-04-01

This post is also available in Swedish

Electric-car boom and combustion ban — Mistra Carbon Exit on passenger-car traffic

In Sweden, transport accounts for a third of total climate emissions, and passenger-car traffic generates three-fifths of transport emissions. During Mistra Carbon Exit Week, studies on the passenger-car roadmap to zero emissions were presented and Volvo Cars spoke about its decision to sell all-electric cars only.

During Mistra Carbon Exit Week, the webinar on how to achieve zero emissions from passenger-car transport was held. In it, researchers and experts discussed solutions and challenges to reducing emissions and achieving Sweden’s set transport and climate goals.

In mid-March, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency delivered a new reference scenario to the EU regarding transport, based on policy instruments adopted for the period up to 30 June 2020. It is a bleak picture, thinks Anna-Karin Nyström, head of the Climate Objectives Unit at the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. This scenario means that we would achieve only half the target of a 70 per cent reduction between 2010 and 2030.

However, the documentation now provided by the Agency for the Government’s upcoming climate report covers all policy instruments decided up to the end of 2021, including the reduction obligation.

‘We can already reveal that we know the reduction obligation, which involves more biofuels blended with petrol and diesel, will have very powerful effects. But we also know that it involves big challenges, not least for our air-quality targets,’ Nyström says.

She highlights three important areas that the Agency has chosen to focus on to achieve the transport goals: a transport-efficient society; fossil-free and energy-efficient vehicles; and renewable fuels.

‘We usually talk about three legs, all of which are needed since they provide synergies and reduce the risks in terms of reaching our transport goals, both by 2030 and beyond.’

Record emission reduction from new vehicles

A transport-efficient society means switching to more energy-efficient means of transport; reducing the number of kilometres driven, by choosing other modes of transport; and reducing demand for travel. Fossil-free and energy-efficient vehicles are largely a matter of a boom in electric cars.

‘Here, we see that a lot is happening more or less voluntarily on the companies’ part, which means we may be able to approach the targets faster. In Sweden, we’ve had modest levels on the new car side regarding electric vehicles, but last year we went from 1 to almost 10 per cent for all-electric cars. Overall, a third of all new cars were rechargeable in some way. And last year the Swedish Transport Administration noted a record fall in emissions per kilometre from new vehicles.’

The third area of renewable fuels is a matter of both increasing the share of renewable fuels and boosting domestic production of renewable fuels.

And although the outlook for 2030 is gloomy, many exciting developments are under way to reduce passenger-car emissions, according to Nyström. She mentions numerous government initiatives. These include an investigation of a phase-out of fossil fuels and a ban on new petrol- and diesel-driven cars to be presented in June. There is also a greater focus on charging infrastructure and measures to encourage increased and safe cycling.

Reduced climate impact with ban on internal combustion engines

In view of the ongoing investigation of prohibiting internal combustion engines, Johannes Morfeldt, a researcher at Chalmers University of Technology, has looked into emissions from internal combustion engines in a life-cycle perspective, the phase-out of internal combustion engines in Sweden and how this may affect the climate.

Johannes Morfeldt, researcher at Chalmers University of Technology

‘We’ve analysed two different scenarios: on the one hand, global manufacturing that’s adapting in line with the Paris Agreement and, on the other hand, global manufacturing industry that’s based on current climate policy and doesn’t cut emissions to the same extent,’ Morfeldt says.

Since an electric car has no direct emissions, the difference in life cycle-emissions of a passenger car with an internal combustion engine versus an electric car is huge. However, emissions from production of electric cars are currently almost twice as high. The main culprit is the battery. Here, there is great potential for emission reductions in the future, Morfeldt points out.

According to the study, massive electrification resulting from a ban on internal combustion engines can lead to reduced climate impact.

‘We’re seeing that we need an early ban on internal-combustion engines if we don’t step up the blending of biofuels in passenger-car traffic. A ban would be needed as early as 2025 to reach the 2030 target and get close to zero emissions by 2045. If we include the reduction obligation, a later ban could also exceed the 2030 target if it’s combined with the increased share of biofuels. But, to meet the 2045 target, we’ll need a ban by 2030.’

Electrification may also reduce the need for biofuels after 2030, allowing biomass to be released for other sectors. And regulating the carbon footprint of passenger cars on a life-cycle basis may have a major impact on emission levels.

‘This is something that’s being discussed in the EU, but the question is whether it’ll be in place in time and be ambitious enough.’

Volvo Cars: ‘All-electric cars only from 2030’

From selling its first electric car last year, Volvo Cars has gone on to recently set a global goal of selling only fully electric cars from 2030. This is part of the company’s goal to become climate-neutral throughout the value chain by 2040.

Jonas Otterheim, Head of Climate Action at Volvo Cars

‘This is a shift from more or less zero to 100 per cent in just a decade. That’s a very rapid transition for an established car manufacturer,’ says Jonas Otterheim, head of Volvo Cars’ global climate work.

He points out that, mainly due to its range of electric cars and plug-in hybrids, Volvo is growing strongly and taking market share from other car manufacturers that are adapting less quickly.

Just like the Mistra Carbon Exit study, Volvo Cars is looking at emissions throughout vehicles’ life cycle. Here energy sources clearly play a key role. Only using an electricity mix with a high proportion of renewable energy will enable the company to attain the emission reductions required for its climate targets to be reached.

‘That’s why charging of electric cars is a priority. We need to switch to electric cars, obviously; but we also need to persuade our customers to use renewable energy. That’s not entirely easy, but it’s an important long-term priority. And, what Johannes mentioned is critical for us: we need to ensure we understand emissions across the whole value chain.’

Otterheim says this means that Volvo needs to know its suppliers’ emissions and those of the companies that supply their suppliers, and also what energy mix they are using right from when minerals are quarried to when components are shipped to Volvo. They also need access to materials that generate low emissions. After all, an electric car powered by renewable energy also involves emissions in the material phase. This applies mainly to the aluminium and steel it contains, but also to the much-discussed battery.

‘But even if we adopt these priorities, it’s still not enough for us to achieve our climate neutrality targets. We need to work on the circular economy and rethink the current value chain and our business models. That’s what makes it so exciting. We’re facing a shift and there’s a lot of momentum in the company that this is what we’ve got to do.’

The Mistra Carbon Exit research programme ended its first four-year phase with the digital. Here you can read more about the content and watch the webinars (in Swedish).