Select Committee on Environmental Audit Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from SMMT


  1.  The UK motor industry is committed to working towards sustainable development. It is one of the first sectors to have launched a sectoral Sustainability Strategy. In March 2000, 11 major vehicle and component manufacturers, representing over 40 per cent of the sector's annual turnover, were founding signatories to the strategy. The document entitled "Towards Sustainability: The Automotive Sector Strategy", outlines the industry's commitment to balance economic progress with environmental care and social responsibility in order to ensure continuing progress across the Triple Bottom Line.

  2.  Vehicle manufacturers have translated their voluntary commitment into a drive for cleaner, sustainable products. A car built today produces only around 5 per cent of the emissions of local air pollutants of a car produced in the 1970s. European automotive manufacturers are constantly improving the fuel efficiency and environmental performance of their vehicles in response to market pressures. In 1998, European, Japanese and Korean vehicle manufacturers have entered into a unique and groundbreaking voluntary agreement with the European Commission to reduce CO2 emissions from new passenger cars by 25 per cent from 1995 levels by 2008. This agreement is expected to contribute up to 15 per cent of the total reduction in CO2 emissions agreed by the EU under the Kyoto agreement. It presents continuing major technological, commercial and marketing challenges to the industry which will require manufacturers to undertake substantial additional investment in R&D.

  3.  A variety of cleaner vehicle technologies are currently being developed to meet European emissions standards and achieve the automotive industry's voluntary commitment. This paper will outline the R&D work undertaken by UK vehicle manufacturers to curb vehicle emissions through reduced vehicle weight, cleaner engine and after-treatment technology, and alternative fuel technologies.


Reduced Vehicle Weight

  4.  The weight of a vehicle has probably the greatest overall impact on its fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions. Most of the materials weight in vehicles consists of steel together with smaller amounts of other materials such as iron, aluminium, zinc and copper. The remainder is mainly non-metallic containing plastics, glass, textiles, rubber and paint residues. Vehicle manufacturers are at the forefront of research and development into the use of high strength lightweight materials.

  5.  They are working hard to reduce vehicle weight while still increasing vehicle safety and durability. Structural plastics used in bodywork can provide 40 times more resistance to damage than steel for half the weight. Plastics and plastic components currently make up about 13 per cent of a modern car's weight, and this proportion is rising as progress is made in materials development and recyclability. At the same time, vehicle manufacturers have been co-operating to mark all plastic parts with international symbols for easy identification, which aids the recycling process.

  6.  In its final report the Cleaner Vehicle Task Force (CVTF) recognises that despite the concerted efforts of vehicle manufacturers to improve engine efficiency considerably in recent years, the improvements in fuel-efficiency of new cars have not matched the considerable reductions in emissions of local air pollutants. The CVTF acknowledges that this is the case largely "because vehicles have become heavier in response to other environmental demands, safety improvements and greater consumer expectations".

  7.  Competing regulatory demands in the fields of road safety and environmental protection prove a great challenge to vehicle manufacturers in the UK. What manufacturers need from Government is consistent and joined-up thinking between departments that sets out clear, non-competing policy priorities to which they can respond in the design and manufacture of new vehicles.

Cleaner Engine and After-Treatment Technologies

  8.  The UK automotive industry welcomes the cuts and incentivisation of fuel excise duty for ultra-low sulphur petrol and diesel as announced in the Chancellor's pre-budget report 2000. The recognition within the company car tax regime of the benefits of modern diesel and alternative fuels will encourage the market for low emission vehicles. These are positive incentives for the production and use of cleaner fuels and vehicles.

  9.  Reduced sulphur levels in petrol and diesel directly influence the emission of local pollutants, acidifying gases, and ozone precursors and have a role to play in improving the fuel efficiency of new cars. Ultra-low sulphur diesel and gasoline are needed not only to achieve further reductions in pollution from existing cars, but also to allow the introduction of advanced, cleaner vehicle technologies in new cars. The effectiveness of the fiscal incentives announced in the pre-Budget report to promote cleaner fuels and vehicle technology will ultimately depend on the availability of ultra-low sulphur fuels at petrol stations in all parts of the country at a price to consumers which is not higher than that for conventional fuels.

  10.  Current EU fuel standards. Since January 2000, EU fuel standards as mandated in Directive 98/70 allow a maximum sulphur content for gasoline of 150 parts per million (ppm) and for diesel of 350 ppm. These standards will be considerably tightened from 2005 to increase the environmental benefits of reduced sulphur content in conventional fuels. From January 2005, petrol and diesel must not contain more than 50 parts per million of sulphur throughout the EU. Environment Commissioner Margot Wallström has also completed a consultation on the need to reduce the sulphur content below 50ppm in order to keep pace with technological developments in the areas of cleaner automotive engines and advanced abatement technology.

  11.  Ultra-low sulphur fuels in the UK. Following the fiscal incentivisation of ultra-low sulphur diesel in the UK about two years ago, all road diesel sold in the UK already voluntarily meets the European fuels standard for 2005. Typical roadside diesel fuel values currently are 25 to 30ppm. By further incentivising the future European standard of 50ppm maximum sulphur content for gasoline and diesel, the UK Government is effectively promoting the implementation of the standard five years ahead of the mandatory date. The UK motor industry welcomes this initiative. It urges Government to take the lead within the EU in pushing for a concerted and early adoption of ultra-low sulphur fuels below 50ppm across Europe. If the UK motor industry is to take advantage of ultra-low sulphur fuels and introduce appropriate low emission technologies, UK produced vehicles need to be able to use fuels of ultra-low sulphur standard not only in the UK but in all EU countries.

  12.  World wide Fuel Charter. The global automotive industry is responding to regulatory and market pressures towards more stringent vehicle emissions control and reduced fuel consumption. The World-wide Fuel Charter, a joint initiative by bodies representing automotive and engine manufacturers from around the world, was established two years ago to define automotive fuel quality needs and to harmonise fuel specifications world wide. The latest edition of the Charter issued in April 2000, defines the maximum fuel sulphur level required for the introduction of cleaner vehicle technologies as five to 10 parts per million (ppm).

  13.  ACEA Report on the Effects of Sulphur in Fuel. A recent report by the Association of European Automobile Manufacturers (ACEA) collated the latest in-house data from vehicle manufacturers and showed the different technological solutions that manufactures are pursuing to make their vehicles with gasoline and diesel engines cleaner (see para 14). The message sent out by the report is clear. In order to develop and apply the latest automotive engines and emission abatement technologies required to meet future European emission limits, the sulphur content in diesel and gasoline fuels needs to be reduced well below the future European standard of 50 parts per million, in line with the recommendations of the World wide Fuel Charter.

  14.  Best available cleaner diesel and gasoline technology. The in-house data compiled by European motor manufacturers show that for gasoline engines the most promising vehicle technologies to satisfy CO2 commitments and future exhaust emission legislation are the three-way catalyst (TWC) and the NOx storage catalyst. For diesel engines, the most advanced technologies include the oxidation catalyst, the DeNOx passive catalyst, diesel NOx storage catalyst, selective catalyst Reduction (SCR) systems and diesel particulate filters.

  15.  Benefits of ultra-low sulphur fuels. Ultra-low sulphur fuels will permit and optimise the application of these advanced engine and emission abatement technologies needed to comply with future European exhaust emission standards. The introduction of sophisticated PM and NOx aftertreatment devices, which do not tolerate sulphur, is predicated upon the availability of fuels containing no or extremely low levels of sulphur. The diesel NOx storage catalyst and continuously regenerative traps (CRT), used in diesel and heavy duty diesel vehicles, can only function properly when operated with ultra-low sulphur diesel. These two technologies are essential to comply with the Euro 4 exhaust emission standards for both diesel passenger cars and commercial vehicles. Due to the sulphur sensitivity of gasoline NOx storage catalysts, the full potential of gasoline lean burn engines in terms of fuel efficiency cannot be exploited unless operated with gasoline with less than 10ppm sulphur content.

  16.  Similarly, the presence of sulphur in three way catalysts and new catalyst technologies, that are suitable for retrofitting to old cars, competes strongly with pollutants for contact with the active surface. This can cause irreversible changes to the washcoat and some base metals within the catalyst. Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) technology which is highly promising in reducing tailpipe emissions depends on the use of three way catalysts. Sulphur presence at any concentration limits the efficiency of catalysts to convert pollutants, and this reduced efficiency becomes more critical at very low emission levels. Sulphur levels also have an effect on durability and accelerate the deterioration of catalyst performance.

  17.  Studies at Minnesota University show that removing sulphur from fuel almost eliminated the formation of nano-particulates. It is widely recognised that such technologies offer the potential for significant improvements in air quality in terms of NOx reductions. Major markets like the USA, Japan and several European countries have already recognised the need to reduce fuel sulphur levels. Preliminary ACEA results see the fuel consumption reduction that is attainable by reducing sulphur in gasoline from 50ppm to 10ppm to be in the range of 3-5 per cent due to the consequently available catalyst materials. The cost of reducing the sulphur content to below 10pm has been assessed at less than 2p a gallon for petrol and 3p a gallon for diesel.

  18.  Government action needed. The Government needs to follow through the policies announced in the Chancellor's pre-Budget report 2000 in order to realise the environmental benefits of cleaner fuels and vehicle technology. Reduced rates of fuel duty have to reach the motorist. Ultra-low sulphur petrol and diesel need to become available at petrol stations across the country and the EU. The sulphur content in conventional fuels ultimately needs to be reduced below 10 parts per million.

Alternative Fuel Technologies

  19.  Liquid Petroleum and Compressed Natural Gas. Other areas of rapidly developing vehicle technology include the use of alternative fuels such as Liquid Petroleum Gas (LPG) and Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). The motor industry actively supports the promotion of alternative fuels that promise substantial environmental benefits. A number of manufacturers have developed vehicles with a bi-fuel capacity (petrol and LPG or petrol and CNG) which are now available in the UK across a range of vehicles. Through the Energy Savings Trust, the Powershift programme funds between 25 to 75 per cent of the additional cost of buying a vehicle using alternative fuel.

  20.  Lack of re-fuelling infrastructure. The limited re-fuelling infrastructure for these fuels, however, currently restricts the full environmental benefits of dedicated alternative fuel vehicles from being realised, although a number of fuel companies are pursuing major expansion plans. Further problems have also been encountered when, despite Government's declared support for the use of alternative fuels, fuel suppliers are refused planning permission by Government Agencies. The Government must ensure that "joined-up thinking" is carried through if the take-up of alternatively fuelled vehicles is to increase.

  21.  Other technologies. In addition to the use of gaseous fuels in motor vehicles, manufacturers are continuing to develop hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles and fuel cell technology which all offer improved environmental benefits. The fuel cell for example is potentially the best alternative to conventional, fossil fuel burning engines and offers prospects for high efficiency and low environmental impact.

  22.  Fuel Cell Technology. The fuel cell works on the principle that energy is released on the electro-chemical conversion of hydrogen and oxygen into water. Instead of burning the hydrogen fuel as in an internal combustion engine, the fuel cell uses a catalyst to promote the conversion and produce electrical energy. During the 1980s growing recognition of the environmental impacts of the internal combustion engine and the zero emission levels offered by the fuel cell accelerated interest in fuel cell technology. Significant advancements allowed further developments, such as the proton Member Exchange or Solid Polymer fuel Cell. However, the current high costs involved mean applications tend only to be in very specialised areas.

  23.  Apart from the cost issues, no agreement has been reached between vehicle manufacturers and the fuel industry on the refuelling infrastructure. Fuel cells can only run on hydrogen, and there is currently no infrastructure capable of supporting hydrogen re-fuelling, and there are safety concerns surrounding the use of this fuel. The automotive industry is therefore investigating the technologies needed to generate hydrogen on board the vehicle through fuel reformers.

  24.  The motor industry is also heavily involved in the Foresight Vehicle Programme. The aim of the programme is to secure a globally competitive UK automotive industry by developing, demonstrating and promoting the adoption of technology and acquire the knowledge to design, manufacture and deliver to the market vehicles for 2020.


  25.  The UK automotive industry supports the use of economic instruments to achieve environmental objectives. The fiscal incentivisation of cleaner options in both fuel and vehicle technology by the Government is a highly welcome step that can send out a strong message to the market. The transformation of the UK diesel market towards ultra low sulphur fuel is a recognisable achievement. To move towards a similar shift in the petrol market and to increase the benefits offered by cleaner vehicle technology, Government policy has to be based on joined-up thinking between departments.

  26.  Safety regulations that increase the weight of new cars threaten the ability to reduce tail pipe emissions. Fiscal incentives for ultra-low sulphur fuels will only impact on the market if these fuels are readily available in the UK and across the EU, if fuel duty incentives reach the motorist and are being adapted to changing oil prices. Vehicle manufacturers are constantly working to make their products cleaner, more fuel efficient and ultimately sustainable. Tail pipe emissions of new cars have seen dramatic reductions over the last 20 years. New technology has the potential to match reductions in local air pollutants to the achievements in CO2 abatement.

  27.  To achieve further improvements on even low level emissions, ultra-low sulphur fuels, advanced engine and abatement technologies and alternative fuel vehicles need to become available and affordable in the UK. Fiscal incentives for cleaner fuels, cleaner vehicles and scrappage schemes for older and more polluting vehicles are therefore key instruments for transforming the market and making the UK vehicle park one of the cleanest in Europe.

December 2000

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