James Herne
Cars and CO2

What is it with the "greenhouse gas" and what are we trying to achieve?

We have heard years about car manufacturers decreasing the CO2 emissions of the new cars. The more we add CO2 around the Earth, the warmer the atmosphere and the oceans get. What exactly have we done, and what are we trying to achieve now?

First, when speaking about the CO2 emissions, we should talk about "kg/100 km" and not about "g/km". If it is 130 g/km, then it is 13 kg/100 km. A car that uses 5.6 litres of petrol (which weighs a bit more than 4 kg), emits 13 kg of CO2. How can our cars emit more than we tank at the filling station? The burning of fuel requires a lot of oxygen that becomes part of the created CO2 - clearly! When the amount of black gold pumped out from inside the Earth seems to be huge, the weight that goes into the atmosphere after it is burnt - carbon has been oxidized - is roughly three times more.

Global warming

The temperature in the core of the Earth is in thousands of degrees, but that is uncomprehensible and sort of unimportant considering our real-life concerns. The average temperature on the surface of the Earth is 14-15 °C, thanks to the Sun and the natural "greenhouse gas" in the Earth's atmosphere. It has been calculated that in the case the Earth would not have the natural greenhouse gas surrounding it, it's average surface temperature would be around -18 °C.

The thicker the greenhouse gas gets, the warmer the surface of the Earth gets. The rise is minimal, but the problem is it seems we - the mighty humans - have initiated it and it is not possible to stop it. And its effect is exponential – the temperature will start to rise quicker the more time passes. We are currently talking about a rise of up to a degree and likely a few more this century. The impact is not worth mentioning during our lifetime, but if we love our children, then we love also their children and the question is about how we treat our loved ones.

The inanimately small rise in temperature seems to be rather influential to the biosphere – we should anticipate unpredictable weather, but also the decrease of the land in low coastal areas and the increasing extinction of species in the future. The nature has designed and fine-tuned itself in a very very long period and therefore it is fragile. Everything that's finished to the last detail is fragile.

Greenhouse gases

The main "greenhouse gas" is the water vapour, but it is difficult to measure the change of its amount. It sounds logical that when the temperature of the ocean rises, more of it evaporates, which in turn might help to warm the ocean. But on the other hand, clouds help to minimize the warming effect of the Sun. It is super complex and I don't have the knowledge to dissect it. The second gas causing the greenhouse effect is the carbon dioxide. Its share is somewhere between one fourth to as low as a tenth. The third one is methane, which only makes up up to a tenth of the greenhouse gases. At the same time, its amount has grewn the most. Naturally, there are more greenhouse gases, but we are unable to deal with everything at once.

Carbon dioxide

The CO2 is the result of every burning. Of course, natural forest fires happen and some people use wood to heat the house, but we are talking about the burning of fossil fuels which are not a part of the historical carbon cycle. CO2 emissions also come from cement production - for every kilogram of cement produced almost a kilogram of CO2 will be emitted. Think about the volume of a kilogram of a gas! Cement production amounts to around 5% of man-made carbon dioxide emissions. Vegetation and oceans are unable to absorb the amount of carbon dioxide we create, so it accumulates in the atmosphere. Deforestation makes it worse.

Fossil fuels including petroleum-based fuels

The largest amount of CO2 emissions comes from burning coal, then comes oil (petroleum-based fuels), then natural gas. The share of CO2 emitted by burning of oil is about a third among fossil fuels. Gasoline and diesel are the most known to a common man, but the petroleum-based fuels also include jet fuel, heavy fuel oils for ships and other types of fuel.

European Union is the Real Hero

The world's greatest polluters are China overall and USA per capita among large nations. They don't care much about the planet, EU is the hero here. Even if EU cannot make an impact strong enough, it is important to praise the initiative. It is the way to future life, while many other nations pave the way to future death. One-way processes end with death. Pumping fossil fuel out from the Earth's crust is a one-way process.

Europeans are the most responsible people in the world. Europeans really do something to pollute less, they fight for the cleaner world for the future generations. One world means you fight as much for the people living on the other side of the planet as much as you do it for your own offsprings.

EU is contributing with about a tenth to the global CO2 emissions. USA pollutes approximately 1.5 times more and China 3 times more than EU. Some nations pollute significantly more than others, per capita and/or overall. The CO2 emissions are dependent of every single person, including me and you. In the per capita pollution China is similar to EU. USA pollutes 2 times more agressively per person.

In addition to minimizing the CO2 emissions, it is an important issue worldwide to improve the air quality in the cities. There were times when the sales of diesel engined cars were aggressively pushed in Europe. At the same time diesel engines were never too popular in USA and they have been banned in China for longer than one can remember. The mayors of Paris, Madrid, Athens and other cities have announced to ban diesel engined cars from entering their cities from 2025. That's a really great news. Inhaling the diesel engine's smelly gases in a traffic jam is a real life experience that makes life worse.

Pollution-free energy

The ultimate target must be a world that is not increasing the amount of greenhouse gases, otherwise we are killing our future relatives. The energy from the Sun alone could cover all the energy needs of the world, it just takes time before the systems of using solar, wind, wave and geothermal energy advance. It is almost stupid that we are so stupid that we cannot extract and save enough energy from these sources. We see the energy, but are unable to take advantage of it. Come on!

EU's measures for carbon dioxide reduction from passenger cars

Currently, cars are responsible for about a tenth of EU's greenhouse gases and EU is responsible for about a tenth of world's greenhouse gases which means EU's cars are responsible for approximately one per cent of world's CO2 emissions. Just? The fuzz is so big about it!

Somebody has to show the way, even if it is a sector as small as personal transportation of an ecomony that is not the biggest. The total worldwide pollution is giga. Already looking at the cars on your own street you can imagine how much they pollute in one day, not to say in a year or a decade. Now look at the hundreds of millions of cars of the whole of European Union - and consider - they together make only ~1% of the world's CO2 emissions. This shows the real scope of worldwide pollution of the atmosphere. What EU is trying to achieve with the reduction of the passenger car emissions, seems pointless and would not make an impact if the world does not follow - both in the sector and generally in minimizing the emissions in every part of life. Common sense makes to believe that one day the rest of the world will follow EU. They have to and they want to - the alternative is a deathtrap.

In 2007 the fleet average of new passenger car CO2 emissions in EU was 158 g/km (15.8 kg/100 km).

The EU's 2015 target of 130 g/km (13 kg/100 km) had corresponded to a fuel consumption of around 5.6 l/100 km of petrol or 4.9 l/100 km of diesel. Diesel as a heavier fuel pollutes more per litre burnt. The average emissions level of a new passenger car sold in EU in 2016 was 118 g/km (11.8 kg/100 km). By the end of 2020, the fleet average to be achieved by all new passenger cars is 95 g/km (147 g/km for vans). 9.5 kg CO2/100 km translates to a fossil fuel consumption of around 4.1 l/100 km of petrol or 3.6 l/100 km of diesel. This means almost all new passenger cars will be hybrid or fully electric from 2020. They will start to arrive earlier than 2020. As only the fleet average is regulated, there can be cars above the limit as long as they are balanced out by the cars under the limit. It was started in 2012 that manufacturers had to pay excess emissions premium for cars sold in EU if the fleet average didn't fit inside the allowed level set for that period. The fine is typically €95 for every gram over the fleet average paid on every car produced – for example if the fleet average was 10 g CO2/km over the limit, then the manufacturer had to pay €950 fine for every car sold that year. This is a very simplified explanation of the rather complicated rule system that has many exceptions, mostly related to incentives to motivate the manufacturers to develop new technologies. The rules allow manufacturers to group together and act jointly to meet the emissions target. This perfectly serves the giant car conglomerates which typically have brands starting with 3-cylinder cars to brands with 8-, 12- or even 16-cylinder cars under the same wings.

Manufacturers selling under 300,000 cars per year - for example Porsche - could apply for a fixed target of a 25% reduction from their 2007 average emissions for 2012-2019, and a 45% reduction from the 2007 level as of 2020. I do not know if Porsche follows that special system or will it meet the requirements in one pool with Volkswagen, Skoda and SEAT. It is clear, Porsche does not have to go to exactly as low as 95 g/km, but still really low compared to what their products have historically been. Porsche sportscars are helped out by the Porsche-badged 4-door cars, more exactly their already launched hybrid versions. The Porsche Panamera e-hybrid officially emits only 56 g/km and Porsche has shown the impossible - such a low emitting car is capable of going from zero to 100 km/h in 4.6 seconds thanks to the help from the electric motor and despite the over two ton weight! The weight of the hybrid system does not allow to hybridize the sportscars - as an example we can use the same Panamera which' hybridization costed 320 kg in gained weight.

Porsche Panamera 4 e-hybrid (340 kW combined power and 56 g CO2/km), Panamera Turbo S e-hybrid (500 kW combined power and 66 g CO2/km)

Manufacturers selling under 10,000 cars per year (for example Bentley, Lamborghini) can propose their own emissions reduction target that is subject to EU's approval. Manufacturers selling fewer than 1000 cars per year are excluded from the scope of the legislation - this means we don't have to worry about the extinction of Bugatti.

If you have wondered why the switch to electric vehicles - initiated by General Motors EV1 in 1996 - takes so much time, it just isn't that important for the world considering the other more polluting areas of life-supporting activities. This doesn't mean it isn't an important issue - it is!

While sports and super cars are seen as the top polluters, they might be not. It depends more on how much you drive, than what you drive. Therefore it is no wonder if the V8- and V12-engined Ferraris pollute less than for example these smaller-engined cars that are in use for too much time because of, for example, not so good decisions involving work and home location etc. The joys of life must remain and for many driving fun is one of them. After all, the meaning of life is to feel yourself well (with a clause that others don't suffer because of you having fun)!

What can we do?

Pollution is capita-based, the amount of it depends from everyone. Until we create the pollution-free world, the more the Earth's population rises, the worse it gets in terms of the sustainability of the Earth. There are things we can personally do in preserving the Earth for the future generations, starting with the number of new people we make. Also, we should not accept for granted that it is normal to live far from work and school. It is not. Commuting for hours every day doesn't make us heros, it makes us wasters. It is wise to do some calculations before the decisions for the job and home locations. If we can save 15 minutes travel time from home to work, it amounts to 30 minutes a day, 2.5 hours a week and 100 hours a year.

In terms of personal transport, it would be exemplary to get an electric car next time there's the need to buy a new car. Opponents might say that a lot of electricity is not produced in a clean way, but in the long term that is temporary and improving every day. For a couple of decades, the temporary transition-period solution are the hybrid cars, but they don't save the future. The only way for the future is to stop pollution. Although personal transportation counts to only around a tenth of worldwide pollution, by choosing not to pollute with your next car is a powerful tool to show your mindset - for the world to follow in life's every area. Preserving the Earth for the descendants of our descendants is in the hands of me and you and the EU 2020 CO2 rules make it easier. It's proud to be European!

© 2017 James Herne

E-mail: info @ jamesherne.com