This article is part of our special report Electric Vehicles.
The European Commission has approved a new strategy to promote clean and energy-efficient vehicles in the EU, primarily focusing on the role of electric cars rather than biofuel-powered vehicles.
In a communication published today (28 April), the Commission stresses that it does not favour any particular technology. However, the document sets out the limits of engines run on biofuels, such as ethanol or biodiesel.
"Liquid biofuels can be blended with conventional liquid fuels and burned in existing combustion engines up to a certain ratio. However, a higher blend requires modification of the fuelling system and the engine of the vehicle," the Commission says.
On the other hand, the paper underlines the potential of electric engines, quoting a study by forecasting company IHS which predicts that the global market share of electric vehicles in new car sales could hit 20% by 2030. Electric cars are currently a niche market.
"The ultra low-carbon electric power trains and hydrogen fuel cells are the most promising options," according to a Commission memo on the way forward for clean vehicles.
Indeed, the development of electric cars is seen by Brussels as complementing the increased deployment of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which also use electric motors but generate electricity on board the vehicle itself.
Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani acknowledged that many EU countries are deciding to opt for electric cars. "This is a positive solution," he said, remarking that electric cars were being pushed forward on a global scale, notably in the United States and Far-East Asia.
"However, this does not prevent the Commission from looking at other solutions," Tajani stressed, dismissing concerns that the lack of a clear industrial choice at EU level could tip the race towards green cars in favour of Europe's international competitors.
To support the massive deployment of battery-powered cars, the EU executive suggests encouraging the widespread installation of accessible charging points, as is the case now for petrol vehicles.
"The EU should take a leading role by working with member sates at national and regional levels on the build-up of charging and refuelling infrastructures," reads the document adopted by the Commission, which also remarks that "the European Investment Bank should explore how to provide funding to stimulate investment in infrastructure and services build-up for green vehicles".
The adoption of common standards across the EU is also crucial to make recharging possible across the continent.
The take-up of electric vehicles is expected to have a massive positive effect on the environment in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. However, in order to achieve these results, the Commission underlines that the electricity consumed by the new generation of smart cars must come from low-carbon energy sources.
Detailed legislation is also needed to regulate the usage and recycling of batteries, which could have a detrimental effect on the environment if not properly managed.
The strategy for electric cars falls within a wider plan to increase the overall uptake of green vehicles across the EU. The financial side of the strategy plays a key role in effectively replacing traditional cars with cleaner vehicles.
By the end of the year, the EU executive intends to present guidelines on financial incentives for consumers to buy green vehicles. Member states are encouraged to support the deployment of such cars, provided that they do not violate EU rules on state aid.
Brussels also intends to review the Energy Taxation Directive in order to increase "the efficient use of conventional fuels and the gradual uptake of alternative low-carbon emitting fuels," the communication reveals.
The Commission accepts that the replacement of traditional vehicles will not happen overnight, and acknowledges that it is necessary to work on improving the energy efficiency of the models currently in use.
This "twin-track approach" will include a number of measures to address the negative environmental impact of traditional vehicles with measures ranging from regulation of two- and three-wheelers to a plan to reduce emissions from heavy-duty vehicles.