May 30, 2024

The EU’s war on cars is destroying its economic foundations

The industry won’t be permitted to sell the product that European customers do want, but can’t compete on price with a product it appears to have enough of. So far, so (depressingly) obvious.

But what is little known is how specific and vindictive the EU has become in its attack on the car.

For this is not actually a war on the combustion engine, so much as a war on personal mobility. The EU has relaxed its dogmatic insistence on alternative hydrocarbons for maritime and aviation – but not for road vehicles.

To understand this, recall that the phrase “fossil fuel” is actually very misleading. Hydrocarbons are not only dug up and refined – they can also be made from scratch, using biology or chemistry.

The most “organic” method is to use algae. But you need a lot of it, and attempts to engineer them to produce higher yields have failed to scale.

Then there’s chemistry. The Fischer-Tropsch process converts carbon monoxide and hydrogen into a complex hydrocarbon – an e-fuel that can replace petrol.

You do need energy both to unlock the hydrogen, and then to create sufficient temperatures for the process itself to work. However, if these inputs are “zero carbon” then so is the e-fuel that emerges.

In December, I reported how Porsche is using wind power in Patagonia to produce petrol and diesel. Or, if we had lots of nuclear capacity, we’d use the off-peak electricity. By day the plants would keep us warm and at night they could create the petrol, diesel and oil we need.

In fact, Japan’s HTTR reactor design even produces the required hydrogen as a by-product.

In short, in fields where hydrocarbons are superior or simply irreplaceable, we can swap the ones we dig up with ones we make and still hit climate targets. And the infrastructure of pipelines and filling stations is already in place, which cannot be said for hydrogen or electric charging.

Industry is responding. Infinium, which is backed by both Amazon and Bill Gates, recently broke ground on a new plant that uses both carbon capture and renewables to create hydrogen. There are many more. But the EU is stubbornly refusing to allow cars and trucks to use them.

It’s baffling, because the Eurocrats at ‘DG-MOVE’ (the Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport) have already conceded that synthetic hydrocarbons are green.

In July, the EU permitted the maritime sector to use “renewable fuels of non biological origin (RFNBO)”, as it calls e-fuels. In October, it allowed the aviation sector to use them too.

Perhaps it’s ignorance, or simply dogma. However opposition to the car has become one of the sustaining grievances of modern policy making.

Just look at how vehemently our councils, our planners and our architects detest four wheel freedom, too. A low-intensity civil war is breaking out over low traffic neighbourhoods, or zoning schemes as in Oxford.

Nicholas Boyes Smith, the design czar for whom the “Office of Place” was created, issues a stream of anti-car Tweets.

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