The future looks bleak for the humble motor car.
With an estimated three-quarters of a billion cars on the planet, that might sound like a strange thing to say. But take a look around and you begin to see the problems facing the automotive industry.
As if struggling to cope with the severe economic downturn were not enough, the global move to reduce greenhouse gas emissions continues to gain momentum. Internationally, negotiations on a post-Kyoto agreement are taking place while in Europe regulations to limit tailpipe emissions further will take effect in 2013.
Even the US seems to have woken up to the threat and the Obama administration is signaling that it intends to tackle climate change.
Currently, road-based transport accounts for around 22% of the UK’s CO2 emissions.
It’s expected that vehicle usage around the world will continue to climb steadily to 2030 and beyond, by which time the carbon emissions are estimated to account for about 54% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2005, total oil demand was 4Gt (gigatonnes), making petroleum the fuel in most demand globally.
Petroleum combustion generates around 10bn tonnes of CO2 which, in 2005, equated to 38% of the CO2 produced throughout the world. It’s not hard to see why politicians see this sector as a priority for change.
To add to this despairing view of the future, the latest estimates published by the Federal German Institute for Geosciences and Raw Materials predict that peak oil production is within sight.
In fact, depletion mid-point – the moment we cross the halfway mark of the planet’s entire crude oil reserves – is just 10-20 years away.
After this point, worldwide production will begin to slow even though consumption is likely to continue growing.
Inevitably, oil prices will rise far beyond what we are experiencing today.
As one of the largest users of automotive vehicles, the fleet market has a clear role to play in the future when it comes to helping reduce the effect of harmful emissions.
But what can you do right now to move your fleet in the right direction? Simply knowing your fleet’s overall environmental impact would be a start.
For most fleets, this can be achieved fairly simply via your vehicle’s CO2 emissions figures.
Presently, all manufacturers produce CO2 emissions figure for their vehicles.
These show just how much polluting gas the vehicle emits, known as the Tank-to-Wheel (TTW) or tailpipe emissions. However, emissions are also created through the extraction, processing, transportation and dispensing of the fuel and these are known as Well-to-Tank (WTT) emissions.
Combining these figures gives the full fuel cycle analysis or Well-to-Wheel (WTW) emissions figure.
For many fleets the reasoning behind this may not become immediately apparent.
With a mix of petrol and diesel-engined vehicles the WTW figures will simply be a matter of combining the published CO2 figure with the Government’s WTT CO2 emissions factor which, for internal combustion engines, is worked on an average of 14.5g/km of CO2.
But for a fleet using alternative fuels, calculating the overall emissions figure becomes more complicated.
Take biodiesel as an example. The CO2 emissions produced by burning the fuel are balanced by the feedstock for the fuel growing and absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere in the process.
The net result, however, is not zero as the emissions of planting, har-vesting, processing and transporting
the fuel have to be taken into account.
From this example it is easier to see why a WTW analysis is necessary in order to gain a true comparison with conventional fuels.
Looking at the fleet of tomorrow it is apparent that WTW figures will become the accepted norm when talking of a vehicle’s emissions.
As more diverse fuel options become available and we look at such possible alternatives as electric and hydrogen for fleets then the need to have an emissions figure that truly represents the vehicle’s life cycle polluting effects becomes relevant.
The fact that a vehicle may have low or zero emissions from the tailpipe could easily bely the real truth – that in getting the fuel supply to that vehicle a significant amount of environmental damage has been done, possibly more so than if a current petrol or diesel model were used instead.