Automotive propulsion in the face of decarbonization

24.03.2021
The Repsol Foundation and Polytechnic University of Madrid organized, alongside the Spanish Association of Automotive Professionals (ASEPA), the webinar Automotive propulsion in the face of decarbonization, an online event encompassed in the Repsol Foundation - UPM Energy Transition Education and Research Program, which analyzed the evolution of propulsion systems of road transport vehicles over the next 30 years.

Four experts in propulsion systems took part in this event: from the university to institutions and businesses. The conference was opened by Francisco Aparicio, ASEPA president, and the Program director, Óscar García Suarez, Director of the Polytechnic University of Madrid's Technical School of Industrial Engineering.

The conference, moderated by Jesús Casanova Kindelán, Professor of Heat Engines at the Polytechnic University of Madrid's Technical School of Industrial Engineering and INSIA Researcher, firstly analyzed the technological alternatives in light vehicles with Jose María Desantes, director of the Polytechnic University of Valencia CMT - Heat Engines University Research Institute. He gave an introduction about what we understand by GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions and neutrality, followed by a reflection about the current situation of existing technologies for automotive propulsion systems from the point of view of energy sources and the energy chain. José María stated the contradictions and the continuous change of course that does not make clear the disappearance of the combustion engine, since it is technologically unfeasible. Likewise, he stated the importance of changing the emissions measuring concept, as the problem is not only the power plant but all the energy consumed, with a holistic method that quantifies C02 from cradle to grave.

Arancha García, Director of the Industrial and Environment Area at ANFAC, focused on the profound change that the automotive sector is experiencing and that is taking shape in an environment of crisis and uncertainty that must respond, amongst others, to the environmental challenge in its two aspects: climate change and air quality. Arancha emphasized the importance of technology as a solution in the new mobility scenario, through the improvement of internal combustion engines (ICE), alternative fuels, the connected vehicle, the autonomous vehicle, and mobility as a service, with carsharing amongst others. Looking ahead, she highlighted the need for a strong and sustained increase in the demand for zero and low-emission vehicles, in addition to the acceleration of the decommissioning process for vehicles older than 15 years.

For his part, Pablo González Pinillos, Frontier Economics Manager, delved into how the decarbonization of transport is achieved at minimum cost, describing the challenges that emissions regulation faces in the transport sector and setting out a long-term vision of the regulation, the difficulties in reaching said vision, and some measures that may be useful in the short term. During his talk, he stated that a perspective limited to the use of the vehicle could make some technologies seem to have lower emissions, and therefore, it is necessary to define a believable and harmonized scheme for CO2 pricing as the main driver of decarbonization.

Lastly, Dolores Cárdenas, Product Design Advisor at the Repsol Technology Lab, showed us a comparison of the different mobility options in terms of CO2 emissions in life-cycle analysis, including combustion engine vehicles and emphasizing options that offer low-carbon footprint fuels: first-generation biofuels, advanced biofuels, negative footprint biofuels, synthetic fuels, and hydrogen fuels. Within the challenges that low carbon footprint fuels face, she stated the importance of liquid fuel decarbonization, compatibility with infrastructure and current vehicles, the capacity to serve all mobility segments, to obtain a high energy density for long-distance applications, and to overcome the limited potential of synthetic fuels.
In summary, this webinar showed various realistic points of view about the evolution of propulsion systems of road transport vehicles over the next 10, 20, and 30 years, favoring scientific debate in the most technologically neutral way.

The vision of the future was presented based on the current reality and on the conviction that the solution to the full decarbonization of mobility will not happen thanks to a single technology or energy vector, but the combination of many solutions.