Karl McCartney is the MP for Lincoln and a Member of the Transport Select Committee
Over the past 18 months, the Transport Select Committee has been collecting evidence and speaking to experts about how the Government plans to meet its 2050 Net Zero targets whilst ensuring the transport sector has fuel. Our report ‘Fuelling the Future’ was published last week and it made a series of recommendations.
These include: speeding up the electrification of the UK’s railways, supporting the development of sustainable aviation fuels, and to move at pace with respect to fuel options for heavy-goods vehicles (HGVs). The Committee felt compelled to make these recommendations because the Government is not providing enough direction on its journey towards Net Zero. It is hoping these areas will be addressed, without providing sufficient direction as to how they will be.
However, when it comes to cars and other private vehicles, it has taken a different view and says it has picked a winner – or it thinks it has. Even though there are other runners in the race who could be the better bet.
The Government’s position is that by 2050 all cars will be electric vehicles (EVs) fuelled by batteries, with draconian impositions on new vehicles from 2030. This is rather than, in parallel, supporting the development of sustainable fuels such as biofuels and synthetic fuels.
These are already being developed and increasingly used including in motorsport, high-performance cars, and a RAF test flight. It was Boris Johnson’s government that planned that new cars and vans powered wholly by petrol and diesel will not be sold in the UK from 2030. This needs revising.
The potential of these fuels is being overlooked and it is hard not to believe it is anything but deliberate. The key benefit of these fuels is their ‘drop-in’ capabilities, meaning they are usable in existing vehicles. They can be engineered over time to improve efficiency and reduce particulates and other emissions while taking advantage of ever-more efficient engine technology. They can also be blended with fossil fuels until production ramps up sufficiently to replace them.
The Government has given in to groupthink. Everybody believes this is the right approach without sufficiently assessing the evidence. Too many decision-makers have become brainwashed. It is clearly unacceptable to place all our eggs in one basket when there are alternatives. Why is this so hard to see?
My chief concerns about battery EVs being the only solution for cars is that it is hugely risky and does not match the reality of the technology in terms of cost and availability. There is no guarantee the number of batteries or charging points needed will be ready given worldwide demand, especially from China.
It is also worrying to see China’s growing ownership of the companies mining and processing the raw materials required such as lithium, graphite, and cobalt. Why rely on going down a path that plays into China’s hands? Nor is there any guarantee that enough affordable electric cars will be available or there will be enough charging points that could fuel such cars very quickly.
The cost of introducing EV charging infrastructure is completely unrealistic and will require massive amounts of taxpayers’ money through government subsidies for electricity generation, infrastructure provision, and storage. This also includes basic raw materials for battery production. This is just to get near the targets – and our taxes are high enough already.
The Government needs to change tack. We need it to take its head out of the sand and actively support the development of synthetic fuels in parallel with the development of battery EVs.
As Greg Smith, my colleague, has said: “The reality is that many, many people will still be driving their own internal combustion engine vehicles well after 2030, 2035, 2040 and 2050. The virtue-signalling around vehicle fuel types and electric vehicle evangelism has led us to an uncomfortable place that cannot be seen as realistic.” I agree.
This headlong and naïve rush by the Government into all private cars being electric by 2050 does not make sense. Even more so, when there are alternatives that are already being used and developed which are also as environmentally friendly. We need to have a choice and also not place our fuel future at risk as the Government is currently doing.
If it goes wrong and reality bites, as it surely will, then the Government position will be like the Emperor and his new clothes: all bluster about how this is the future, but when the time comes, it will be revealed to be not all there. Individuals, businesses, and the nation’s economic well-being will suffer.
The Government needs to rethink its approach for all our sakes.