The UK is moving carefully to maintain its position and reputation as a global leader in the field of ecofriendly vehicles and transport innovation. In March 2011, one of the largest scientific funding bodies in the UK, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) announced that it had set aside £10 million to fund exciting new research. This could lead to new developments and outstanding innovation in the area of low carbon transport.
Low Carbon Vehicle Research
Low carbon vehicles are an ideal way forward for the future but the technical difficulties are substantial. Currently, we rely heavily on fossil fuel powered cars and it is not just a matter of putting a different fuel in the tank. To be able to take low carbon fuels, vehicles need to be completely redesigned from scratch, with engines and moving parts that would with new fuels.
Alternative fuels also need careful research. Biofuels were thought to be the answer a few years ago – the concept of producing transport fuel from plants seemed ideal. Unfortunately, the land use to grow the raw materials for such fuels proved to be a major sticking point. In developing countries and areas where there is a narrow gap between survival and starvation, putting aside large swathes of land for biofuel crops disrupted the delicate balance there and threatened to create food shortages. Some experts believe that the increased production of biofuel crops is an important factor in the rise in food prices seen over the last 5 years or so.
Aims of the New Research
The EPSRC’s funding will go towards projects that intend to develop new types of hybrid car that combine use of a fuel with electricity to power the car’s movements. A key goal is to improve efficiency, so the cars do not need refuelling as regularly. Another major objective is to increase the amount of recycled materials that can be used in the vehicle manufacturing process. This will go a long way to cutting down their overall carbon footprint and will involve stretching the efficiency of every component and process used in the engine and vehicle design.
A total of three research projects will be supplied with funds from the overall pot of new research money. These will be taking place at three UK universities – Brunel, Warwick and Loughborough – all have very strong transport innovation teams. The projects will all focus on some use of electricity as a fuel as the project will go hand-in-hand with the UK government’s commitment to creating a new supply system for electrical charging for vehicles on major routes throughout the country. This project, known as Plugged in Places, has already received major tranches of funding and should expand significantly over the next 5 years.
Making Strong Progress
Close on the heels of the new announcement of funds for low carbon vehicle research was the publication of a report by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders in the UK. The statistics produced as part of the research that went into producing the report make interesting reading. Emissions produced by cars on UK roads have been falling year-on-year recently, and there was a further reduction of almost 4 per cent in 2010 compared to 2009.
This was good, but slightly lower than the reduction recorded between 2008 and 2009, but the greater reduction of 5.4 per cent then was partly explained by the UK’s scrappage scheme. This enabled people to trade in a car that was at least 10 years old and that they had owned for at least a year, against the cost of a new car. This incentive was designed to take cars off the road that were the most likely to produce the highest exhaust emissions – and to revitalise the UK new car market.
That year may have been unusually good but it doesn’t take away from the fact that the average carbon emissions of new cars in the UK have dropped by a fifth – nearly 20 per cent – between 2000 and 2010. With the help of the new technology that comes from the research that has just been given funding, the results may be even better in the next decade.