European appetite for big cars underpins ethanol sales

25 Jun 2019 | John McGarrity

Carbon reductions from new passenger cars registered in the EU rose for the second successive year, driven in large part by sales of petrol-fuelled SUVs that are a major demand source for ethanol.

According to provisional data published June 24 by the European Environment Agency (EEA), the average carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new passenger cars registered in the EU rose for the second consecutive year, reaching 120.4 grammes of CO2 per kilometre, up 2g/CO2/km from last year.

“The main factors contributing to the increase of new passenger cars’ emissions in 2018 include the growing share of petrol cars in new registrations, in particular in the sport utility vehicle (SUV) segment,” the report said, adding: “Moreover, the market penetration of zero- and low-emission vehicles, including electric cars, remained slow in 2018.

The report noted that much faster deployment of cars with low emissions is needed across Europe, citing the requirement by the EU of a 2021 target of 95 g CO2/km that is fast approaching.

While the data will be regarded a setback for climate policy, for advocates of biofuels the findings underline the point that despite an expected shift towards electric vehicles, ethanol can play an important role in cutting carbon emissions during the immediate to medium term, particularly from larger vehicles that are popular with consumers.  

In terms of climate policy, high sales of SUVs (almost a third of total vehicle sales) are a problem because these types of vehicles are typically heavier, have more powerful engines and larger frontal areas, all of which contribute to higher fuel consumption and CO2 emissions that are on average 13 g CO2/km higher than the average emissions of other new petrol cars.

Meanwhile, the average CO2 emissions from new vans also increased, partly because the size of vans sold is growing.

Further evidence that the average fuel consumption of vehicles in the EU remains high comes as member states contemplate another ramping up of mandates next year to meet a 2020 target of 10% renewable energy in transport for each EU Member State.

The data also showed that a shift to battery-operated cars was happening slowly, with 150,000 registrations of battery-operated models last year, compared with 4.5 million vehicles sold overall.  

Transport & Environment, an NGO, said the figures were further evidence that the car industry has not been serious in reducing carbon emissions and had prioritised profits rather than innovation in genuinely low carbon vehicles.  

“When it comes to the environment, carmakers only do what the law tells them to do. So they’re all waiting for 2020 when the CO2 standards kick in to roll-out enough plug-in [hybrid] cars to comply with the EU CO2 law. Aided by cheaper batteries and better performance," said Julia Poliscanova, T&E’s clean vehicles manager.

T&E said the EEA data also reflected that realworld emissions tests that replaced the rigged tests used by carmakers earlier this decade, which the NGO said "can no longer hide the problem".