• Ron Kotrba

UK ban on ICE vehicles highlights how 'policymakers need to pay attention to what's working today'

Updated: Nov 23, 2020


Following California Gov. Gavin Newsom's September announcement that, via executive order, he unilaterally banned the in-state sale of liquid fuel-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2035 for spark-ignited drivetrains and will require operation of all medium- and heavy-duty vehicles to be "zero emission" by 2045, the U.K.'s government announced it is going one step further by banning the sale of new spark- and compression-ignition vehicles by 2030. A two-phased approach was announced Nov. 18.


Phase 1 will see the phase-out date for the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans brought forward to 2030 while Phase 2 will see all new cars and vans be fully "zero emission" at the tailpipe from 2035.


"Between 2030 and 2035, new cars and vans can be sold if they have the capability to drive a significant distance with zero emissions (for example, plug-in hybrids or full hybrids), and this will be defined through consultation," the U.K. government stated.


According the U.K. government's own data, the largest share of fuel used to generate electricity in the U.K. in 2019 comes from a fossil fuel―natural gas―at 41 percent. Coal use was just more than 2 percent, and nuclear power generation in 2019 was more than 20 percent. Renewable electricity generation in the U.K. last year neared 37 percent.


Not only is the U.K. working through government edict to effectively shut the liquid fuels industrieswhich include carbon-cutting energy sources such as biodiesel and renewable dieselout of the on-road transport market, but it is also pledging £582 million in grants to incentivize the transition.


"The primary aim is decarbonization, so actually moving the road fleet towards electrification makes sense as long as there is sufficient renewable energy to do so," James Hygate, founder and CEO of U.K.-based Green Fuels, told Biobased Diesel Daily. "In the U.K., this should be achievable by 2030. We do have a limited toolbox for decarbonization, so the right tools should be used in the right place to achieve the most bang for your buck. The role of biofuels will move towards aviation and marine, as these sectors are difficult to decarbonize in any other way due to their requirement for a highly energy-dense fuel. ... Hydrocarbon fuelsgasoline, diesel, jet fuelare about the best things we have."


According to Hygate, replacing fossil hydrocarbon fuels with sustainable ones is the most immediate way forward. "This really should be the direction of biofuels," he said. "So, as biofuels producers, there is still a huge opportunity but we should be focused on the future and enabling the transition towards such fuelsand as custodians of the planet, we should be celebrating the fact that there is a definitive move away from fossil carbon fuels in the road fleet."


Paul Winters, director of public affairs and federal communications for the U.S.-based National Biodiesel Board, said there will be a need for heavy-duty engines in trucking, shipping and air transport well into the future. "Low-carbon fuels like biodiesel, renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel are reducing transportation carbon emissions today―a valuable step to achieving climate goals down the road," Winters told Biobased Diesel Daily concerning the growing trend of governments banning ICE engines. "For example, nearly a quarter of California's diesel pool today is made up of low-carbon biodiesel and renewable diesel. California's Low Carbon Fuel Standard program cut 14.6 million tons of carbon in 2019, with biodiesel and renewable diesel use in existing engines and infrastructure accounting for 45 percent of the cuts. Policymakers need to pay attention to what's working today."


The U.K. Petroleum Industry Association said Nov. 18 that while it supports decarbonization of transport and will continue to work with its members to deliver that aim, it does not believe a ban on certain technologies is the way to go.


"UKPIA believes that as well as encouraging EV uptake in light vehicles, government should support the uptake of a range of technologies to reduce carbon emissions in light transport without a ban, but welcomes the acceptance that hybrids have an important role to play," the organization stated. "To be ready for the end of the sale of new conventional combustion engines from 2030, a holistic plan coupled with regulatory certainty is needed from the U.K. government to enable the sector to meet this challenge. Attention must [also be focused on decarbonization of the] transport sectors―aviation, maritime and heavy-goods vehicles―where low carbon liquid fuels, which can deliver an 87 percent GHG emissions reduction ..."


Stephen Marcos Jones, director general of the UKPIA, said, “We need to work with government to make sure that low carbon liquid fuels continue to be developed. Harder-to-decarbonize sectors like aviation will rely on low carbon liquid fuels, meaning we need to develop them now to ensure they are decarbonized for 2050."


In October, the UKPIA launched a report titled "Transition, Transformation and Innovation: Our Role in the Net-Zero Challenge." The report looks at credible scenarios and proposes an illustrative pathway for the U.K. downstream sector to achieve government-mandated net-zero targets, with practical policy solutions to help overcome this challenge.


Three key findings of the report are:


  • Low carbon liquid fuels can play a key role in the U.K.'s decarbonization―and are doing so already

  • Hydrogen is a critical component of meeting net-zero―the downstream sector is the largest producer of hydrogen in the world and can maintain and grow its role in producing and delivering zero-carbon emitting hydrogen

  • A systems-based approach and enabling policy framework is required to produce low carbon and eventually net-zero liquid fuels.


"Having worked in the in the petrochemical industry prior to Parliament, I know that we need a sensible transition to help decarbonize these hard-to-abate sectors if we want to avoid the migration of jobs overseas," said Jacob Young, a member of the U.K. Parliament. "The downstream oil sector employs over 100,000 in the U.K., and so it's really encouraging to see industry on the front foot and willing spell out how we will protect these jobs, while helping us transition to a net-zero economy."


UKPIA’s members are BP, Essar, Exxonmobil, Petroineos, Phillips 66, Shell, Total and Valero.


According to the Climate Center, 17 nations have taken measures in one form or another to ban ICE vehicles, not including the U.K.

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