The COP 26 in Glasgow was the venue for the major negotiations on climate issues last October in order to agree, for each participating country, on the means to be adopted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally, to get out of fossil fuels, methane and deforestation…
However, the objectives are far from being achieved.
The commitments previously agreed at the COP21 in 2015, concerning the global reduction of emissions, have not been conclusive. As a result, global warming is expected to reach 2.7°C by the end of the century. Whether it be in relation to fossil fuels, deforestation or the danger of carbon offsetting and the selfishness of certain countries, the participants in COP26 expressed their discontent, their frustration and their difficulty in meeting the demands and challenges of the conference. The automotive sector, in particular, has expressed through its manufacturers the particularly complex challenge of achieving the end of internal combustion engines.
Indeed, as far as thermal vehicles are concerned, some thirty countries have signed the agreement ending the sale of new thermal vehicles by 2040.
Most of the major markets and manufacturers have decided to stay away and not join the agreement due to the unachievable timeframe, however, these car manufacturers are mostly already committed to green mobility, and are moving at their own pace, gradually reducing the sale of their internal combustion vehicles.
Their main dissatisfaction is linked to the electrification of the markets, which are not progressing at the same pace in different regions of the world.
Doubts about plug-in hybrids:
In addition to the many advantages of hybrid vehicles, abandoning this technology would result in the loss of 45,000 jobs in this sector. Maintaining hybrids would make it possible to avoid this consequence on employment, which is already in difficulty with the semiconductor crisis and the end of jobs linked to the production of vehicles with internal combustion engines.
But why does the EC want to see hybrid vehicles disappear? What would be the problem of a vehicle combining both thermal and hybrid engines, thus allowing the reduction of greenhouse gases?
Excess weight generates GHGs
Plug-in hybrids are confronted with the weight of their batteries. The main problem is the CO2 that this type of model emits. Indeed, a plug-in hybrid vehicle (i.e. with dual engines) that is overweight emits more CO2 than traditional models when they switch from electric to ICE. In November 2020, the NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) denounced emissions that were much higher in real-life conditions than in the homologation cycle. The hybrid vehicles tested by the association would have emitted between 28 and 89% more CO2 than the official tests. And this is with a full battery. With an empty battery, these vehicles do much worse, emitting three to eight times more CO2 than the official values.
Higher fuel consumption
Logically, the weight of a vehicle has an impact on its fuel consumption. For example, on long journeys at high speed, the electric motor is never running, so the extra weight of the vehicle will lead to higher fuel consumption. This phenomenon does not apply in all cases, only when the electric motor does not work, particularly on motorways or in the mountains.
Its specific use
The choice of a plug-in hybrid is not made at random. Its purchase is justified according to its use, i.e. if the buyer drives mainly in town. Fuel consumption will be regulated thanks to the electric motor’s intervention, which mainly affects the vehicle’s acceleration and starting phases. Conversely, if the buyer is used to driving a lot, it will be more beneficial and ecological for him to choose to use his internal combustion engine.
Recharging, a real issue
The problem is the access to sockets. Recharging the battery has to be checked and done very frequently, and recharging can quickly become a problem when charging points are lacking or broken down. It is estimated that it takes between five and six hours to recharge the batteries in a domestic socket on a hydride vehicle, and it is two or three times longer for 100% electric models. A tedious management of recharging for private individuals.
A dissuasive additional cost
The cost of a hybrid vehicle is still quite high. Its purchase price is much higher than that of an equivalent petrol or diesel model. For example, Peugeot’s compact SUV 3008 hybrid model accounts for more than 30% of purchases of this model, despite its higher cost. 45,400, compared with 34,000 for an equivalent petrol model, not to mention the price that the extra consumption can generate.
In short, the safety offered by a hybrid vehicle remains attractive for the majority of motorists who only drive 40 km a day and only drive very few long distances. However, the plug-in hybrid does not meet the new COP21 regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.
Once the batteries are exhausted, the car can continue to run on petrol, thus no longer complying with the regulations putting an end to combustion engines. At the same time, hybrid vehicles are often professional vehicles that are not very well recharged, so the few tens of kilometres of electric range allowed by the batteries, once exhausted, make the vehicle switch to internal combustion engines and therefore no longer truly ecological. Not to mention that a vehicle with a dual engine can weigh up to 300kg more than a combustion engine vehicle, thus generating more CO2 emissions, including fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.
Brussels has proposed to offer a reprieve to plug-in hybrids, which for the moment seems to satisfy France, even if the latter has decided to remove all bonuses normally granted to plug-in hybrid buyers, while maintaining those granted to electric car buyers.
What is hydrogen ?
It is the most abundant element on the planet. Chronologically, hydrogen is the ancestor of all other elements. Hydrogen nuclei were present from the very first moments of the universe and have fused to form heavier and more complex nuclei.
Hydrogen is found almost everywhere on Earth, since each water molecule is made up of one oxygen atom and two hydrogen atoms, and the Earth is 70% water. The good news is that hydrogen can be obtained by electrolysis of water, a totally clean solution.
Hydrogen is also present in hydrocarbons, which are produced by combining carbon and hydrogen atoms. Pure hydrogen can therefore be obtained by reforming: this chemical reaction breaks hydrocarbon molecules under the action of heat to release the hydrogen.
Finally, every living organism, animal or plant, is composed of hydrogen. Bioreactors” can therefore be set up to produce hydrogen from biomass.
As you can see, hydrogen has existed everywhere since time immemorial and is extremely abundant on Earth. It has the advantage of being particularly energetic. Indeed, 1kg of hydrogen releases about 3 times more energy than 1kg of petrol (i.e. 120 million joules per kilogram for hydrogen compared to 45 for petrol).
For car manufacturers, hydrogen is not the answer :
Hydrogen, considered the green, non-polluting fuel and solution to thermal engines, still raises many questions.
Indeed, it is simpler and more convenient to use than pure electricity. It is advantageous when used as a source of energy and, depending on how it is produced, hydrogen does not generate any CO2 emissions. This is the factor that makes it particularly interesting with regard to the new regulations. The problems associated with the extra weight and recharging time of the vehicle would no longer arise with hydrogen.
However, the production of hydrogen at present does not allow it to be the only fuel, which is why the French government and Europe are setting up a hydrogen deployment plan for the energy transition.
A priori non-polluting, the product can also be more practical than pure electric. The hydrogen fuel cell would be lighter than a battery. It would take 15 minutes to fill up, compared with at least an hour and a half with an electric car.
Despite its advantages, hydrogen has some disadvantages. For example, the costs involved in using this energy:
- Production cost of green hydrogen between 3 and 6 euros/kg.
- Production cost of grey hydrogen at 1.5 euros/kg.
On the other hand, its production can be (depending on the process) a source of greenhouse gas emissions. Depending on the process used, its production emits more or less CO2.
There are several forms of hydrogen that are more or less environmentally friendly:
- Green hydrogen is the most environmentally friendly. It is produced by electrolysis of water and allows the production of pure H2, without harmful emissions and without using any fossil energy, but its yield is low and its cost high.
- The grey hydrogen process consists of producing hydrogen from biomass thanks to the methane present in natural gas. This method has the disadvantage of emitting carbon dioxide, but in smaller quantities. Care must be taken to ensure that the amount of CO2 emitted is roughly equivalent to that absorbed by the plants during their growth, so as not to unbalance the ecobalance. This conversion generates carbon emissions.
- Finally, black hydrogen is particularly CO2 emitting since it is derived from coal.
Hydrogen is nevertheless a great opportunity for the ecological transition, if it is produced and consumed correctly. Indeed, only green hydrogen contributes to reducing CO2 emissions.
SNECI and green hydrogen
Aware of the importance of green hydrogen in the energy transition for all sectors, we at SNECI accompany hydrogen producers and suppliers throughout the world.
We help manufacturers to produce and supply green hydrogen with a global, agile and efficient technical approach. Our credo is performance, efficiency, cost sharing, transparency and agility.
With nearly 70 years of experience in the industry, rooted in the automotive industry, we bring our expertise to manufacturers in a wide range of sectors, from health, rail and aeronautics to energy, luxury goods, defence and mobility.
We support our clients in the deployment of green hydrogen through electrolysis installations by improving their processes and profitability while taking into account local regulatory constraints.
Our support is based on 4 axes
- Industrial diagnostic
- Definition of the action plan
- Support the implementation of the action plan
- Consolidation through a coaching of the teams
Our 450 experts in over 50 countries specialise in engineering and project management with a technical DNA and local approach to ensure our clients get the results they expect. If you would like SNECI’s engineers and experts to support you, contact us!