Green Deal, Net-Zero 2050 and the future of mobility – what are the expectations of politicians and business leaders regarding the drive technologies of the future (batteries, fuel cells, e-fuels) and do they all share the same views? In the face of competition from the US and China, how can Germany maintain its reputation as a leading economic and technological nation, secure jobs and incorporate the public at the same time? The new mobility study “Drive portfolio of the future” from VDE provides answers to these questions. For the first time, the technology organization has compiled the assessments and expectations of leading experts from politics (across multiple parties) and business (e.g. car manufacturers, OEMs, suppliers and energy providers). The main message: only with an intelligent technological mix of all available climate-neutral drive technologies – batteries, fuel cells and e-fuels – can the EU’s ambitious zero-emission climate goal be met.
Keeping the population’s needs in mind
According to respondents from politics and industry, the drive portfolio for road transport in 2030 and beyond comprises the following: battery-electric drives for passenger cars, battery and fuel cell drives in commercial freight and heavy-load transport (depending on the application) and e-fuels for existing vehicles and as a niche technology for vintage cars and motor sports. “This technology mix underlines the specific strengths of the drive concepts for their respective applications and highlights the broad positioning of the German automotive industry. Only if we implement the transformation of mobility jointly and decisively can we maintain the reputation of ‘made in Germany’ in the future and secure jobs in Germany,” says Dr. Ralf Petri, head of the Mobility Division at VDE. The respondents from politics and industry agree: in order to achieve the climate targets, the mobility of 2030 and beyond must be geared primarily to the needs of the population. “Individual transport and local public transport must be and remain comfortable and affordable,” Petri insists, also stressing the importance of getting the population on board and promoting the development of e-fuels as climate-neutral fuel for existing vehicles.
Capacity bottlenecks in charging infrastructure
For cars, there is consensus among leading experts from politics and industry that the battery-electric drive will be the future alternative to vehicles with internal combustion engines. The reported reasons for this are the widespread use of the vehicles, the good level of energy efficiency and the comprehensive existing power infrastructure. However, the experts also recognize that the greatest challenge lies in constructing and expanding a charging infrastructure capable of meeting demand. The respondents from politics and industry are expecting capacity bottlenecks in the future as the number of electric vehicles increases. For this, solutions must be developed for network expansion and intelligent load management. “In particular, the number and distribution of both public and private charging points must be rapidly expanded in a user-oriented manner. Only with an optimal charging infrastructure density can we achieve a high level of acceptance among the population,” says Petri.
Fuel cells in heavy-load and long-haul freight transport
In the opinion of the surveyed political and industry actors, the fuel cell shows its strengths most clearly in heavy-load and long-distance freight transport as well as in the areas of rail, shipping and aviation, where weight and range play a significant role. Today, the transport of heavy goods accounts for around one third of CO2 emissions for the entire transportation sector. For this reason, the fuel cell is an important component on the path to locally CO2-neutral mobility in these applications, provided that the applications use “green” hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources. But here, too, the challenges lie in expanding the infrastructure. The question of whether the existing natural gas network can be used to distribute hydrogen has not yet been resolved, nor has the feasibility of importing green hydrogen from suitable regions to diversify geopolitical dependencies.
E-fuels later for enthusiast purposes
The major advantage of e-fuels is that they can be easily fed into and used in the existing infrastructure of pipelines, transport vehicles, filling stations, gas pumps and conventional internal combustion engines. However, generating e-fuels requires on average six to eight times the amount of primary energy compared to the battery-electric drive. The expected prices for e-fuels are correspondingly high. “It’s therefore conceivable that e-fuels will still remain relevant for a niche market of existing vehicles with internal combustion engines – particularly where consumers are prepared to pay a lot, such as enthusiasts wanting to drive vintage cars or motorsport cars,” Petri states.
The biggest challenge: synchronizing politics and business
To achieve the climate policy objectives, the dialog between politics and business must be intensified and continuously advanced in order to jointly address the transformation of mobility: the roll-out of adequate charging and distribution infrastructure on the part of politics and the expansion of the vehicle model range on the business side. A single-minded focus on one innovative drive type would be just as much of a dead end as uncoordinated action by individual actors or ignoring user views and behavior. We will only be able to achieve the 40-percent reduction in energy consumption in the transport sector by 2050 envisaged in the energy strategy if all gears mesh together smoothly. Starting with the production of energy sources, through to the production of vehicles and all the way to the development of sustainable infrastructure and a new awareness of mobility among the population,” Petri says, explaining the essential vision, but also the crux of the challenge.
About the VDE study
The VDE study “Drive portfolio of the future” is a research and development project of the collaborative ELSTA project for promotion of electromobility through standardization and standardization funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). The participating project partners include members of the German Institute for Standardization (DIN), the standardization committee of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA-NA Automobil) and the German Commission for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies of DIN and VDE (DKE). Their work is closely coordinated with the National Platform Future of Mobility (NPM), which was founded to coordinate national activities. The study was conducted between April 2020 and March 2021. The project work involved coordinating and leading a dialog process between the political and business stakeholders as well as documenting, summarizing and publishing the results and findings. The study (in German) is available free of charge at www.vde.com/shop.