Is The End Nigh for the Internal Combustion Engine?

Today it was announced that petrol and diesel cars will not be on sale in France after 2040. This comes soon after the news that Volvo will only make electric or hybrid vehicles after 2019. I have also just discovered a biodegradable car made from bioplastics this week. All major developments in policy and practice for the automotive sector.

There is also now a refrigerated lorry that runs off nitrogen and Waitrose have a small fleet of biomethane fueled lorries. So is this the end of the internal combustion engine? Whilst we will certainly be relying on petrol and diesel for some time into the future it looks more and more that the technical (and some of the market) challenges of decarbonising transport are being addressed.

As with all things that can move us into a more sustainable future, the answer lies in lots of technological applications, industry innovation and often policy support, not just one silver bullet.

Still problems

This all sounds great, and they are real positive moves forward, but there remain negative impacts. Petrol and Diesel vehicles are coming lighter through materials substitution using more aluminium or carbon fibre and are therefore more fuel efficient. However such materials are substantially more energy consuming than steel to process, with a consequent greater global warming impact during the construction phase. Lithium found in electric vehicle batteries has to be mined creating its own environmental and social impacts and is not universally available (most of the mines are in Africa, but the resources are owned by China), elements found in hydrogen car fuel cells are also rare. The bioplastic car is made from plastic derived from flax and sugar beet which raises the issue of using land to grow something that is not for food. Charging your electric car, whilst producing less carbon dioxide per mile, is still generating carbon emissions unless you’re using a 100% renewable energy generation source, the manufacture of the vehicle creates carbon emissions and there is still oil used in the fabric of cars and (clearly) for its operation.

Vehicle manufacturers are increasingly moving towards a circular manufacturing model where all components are recycled, this however requires energy, if renewable energy then the impact is greatly reduced, if not then it is still much better than the status quo, but not carbon free.

What to do

We will always want to move ourselves and goods around in the ways modern society expects, but in order to live in a more sustainable manner we really do need to reduce this as much as possible. Whether it’s: buying locally made or grown products; walking and cycling more; car sharing your commute or work from home; trying to get all your errands done in one journey and asking your neighbours while you’re at it if they need anything; taking the train or bus (where you can do some work and be more productive); doing business by conference call, or; learning via a webinar.

Can you manage without a car? Join a car pool for when you need a vehicle, a car sat on the drive doing nothing for most of its life is a huge waste of money and resources.

Why do it

Many people say to me what fantastic thing oil is. Our modern world would not have developed without it. This is exactly why we should preserving what we have left, for the important things for which there is little alternative e.g. specialist pharmaceuticals, and not burning it inefficiently in an internal combustion engine to make a journey we perhaps don’t need to.

If you would like advice on how to save money being greener, the circular economy, life cycle analysis or carbon footprinting please feel free to call us on 01746 552423 or email




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