The diesel is dead! Long live the e-car? The euphoria deserves a closer look – and those who are open to facts may view the issue skeptically.

Elon Musk, founder of the innovative e-car manufacturer Tesla Inc., has undoubtedly turned the automotive industry and its market on its head. For too long, the top dogs of the automotive industry have slept through future-proof, sustainable drive technologies. The debate about drive types, triggered by the fraudulent diesel scandal of certain manufacturers, is unfortunately poor in facts. The debate tends to be emotional and interest-driven – and also under time pressure due to the problematic air quality in many cities. The decision by the German Federal Administrative Court that diesel driving bans in cities are permissible causes further frenzy. A verdict that is unlikely to affect Germany alone.

So we'll just drive an e-car, they say right away. E-mobility comes across as a miraculous solution for the future, on which the European automotive industry is now predominantly relying – which is no wonder in view of the drive from politics and the media. But the electric car is not only short-sighted in terms of sustainability. Numerous other difficulties are hardly in the light of discussion, although they are extremely important.

Sure, we need to address the challenge of climate change and environmental protection as quickly as possible. A global approach is necessary. We are pointlessly spending billions to achieve certain local, but globally minimal effects. Therefore, we should act more wisely and with reasonable priorities to ensure that we do not destroy our excellent and solid economic, technological and social living conditions in Europe. According to BP's Energy Outlook 2020, the total transportation sector consumes 21% of global energy, while the industrial sector consumes 45% and the residential and commercial building sector consumes 29%. Of the final energy demand in the transport sector approx. 42% to trucks, 35% to passenger cars, 8% to shipping, 2% to rail, and 13% to aviation.

We should also consider that about 3 billion people still heat and cook by an open fire in their homes. Solar powered low cost heating or cooking devices could dramatically improve living conditions for such people, but they can't afford them.

The first hybrid is from 1912


Did you know that the first electrically powered car was ready for series production as early as 1902?? The Lohner-Porsche "Semper Vivus" was the world's first hybrid – with 2.7 hp and 35 km/h top speed. E-cars existed earlier. At that time, 40 percent of U.S. Cars ran on electricity. The reason was also the annoying cranking to start internal combustion engines, with more often severe injuries in the event of a setback. In 1911, however, the first Cadillac with an electric starter started up, and so began the triumphant advance of the internal combustion engine. By the way, gasoline was still available in pharmacies back then.

So it wasn't only Tesla founder Elon Musk who brought electromobility closer to feasibility, even if he is credited with being the disrupter that sent the entire car market into a tailspin. And as cool as Tesla's cars may be, Tesla is still posting gigantic losses quarter after quarter. Even investments announced by glossy marketing will hardly disguise this fact. It has yet to prove that it can make money on a sustained basis. It is obviously not as simple as it seems.

The globally leading European automotive industry would have had plenty of time to develop ecological and sustainable technologies at full throttle. But it did not. People have preferred to focus on the interests of shareholders, often oil producers, and on profits and shareholder value. This is a disservice to ourselves, to the climate and to ourselves – because now the solutions that we need and that could possibly have been available long ago are missing. And that's how we will continue to live with transition for decades to come-. Compromise solutions must live.

But let's consider how the development of drive technologies will look in the near future when we look at it objectively.

Nitrogen oxides and particulate matter – a relative problem

The problem emissions that always stand out are carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. It's good to put this in perspective: it's not just the internal combustion engines in our cars that emit these substances into the air. House fires, industry, aviation and shipping also contribute massively to this pollution. Particularly as the polluters in road traffic are also still tires. Brakes with their abrasion are – in the cities especially. So we have this fine dust also with e-mobiles.

Then just put the old Mini Cooper – first built in 1959 – and today's MINI from the BMW Group side by side, and you have the next polluter: our need for ever larger and heavier cars, which is becoming more and more obstructive in cities and parking garages (stationary traffic, waste of space – "space pollution"). Of course engines need power – but the more fuel an engine consumes, the higher the emissions. Especially since consumers are increasingly asking for more powerful engines anyway, without considering how displacement and power affect emissions. And it is this complete contradiction that the engine power is getting bigger and bigger and the achievable speeds are getting smaller and smaller in the daily traffic due to increasing traffic density and speed limits, we actually need less and less power.

The diesel will be preserved – thanks to efficiency

But how is the diesel to be evaluated now? First of all: In general, the diesel engine is here to stay. Because of the high efficiency of diesel, trucks will be. Excavators will hardly run on solar energy or electricity in the future. Even modern diesel technologies, which meet the latest Euro 6-d TEMP or. Meeting Euro 7 standard requirements are in themselves once again respectable. Even more so their future developments, because the diesel engine and its exhaust gas cleaning system are continuously being optimized and improved. Contrary to what is being proposed by German industry and politicians, the Euro 7 emissions standard will not lead to the end of gasoline and diesel vehicles. A final draft of the European Commission in this regard is to be adopted in November 2021. The "Euro 7 standard is a feasible effort that will make engines somewhat more expensive, but will probably not be mandatory until 2027. In this respect, the diesel is very likely to remain in service, especially for larger passenger cars. Finally, fuel consumption is 15 percent lower than that of gasoline engines, which benefits the global climate.

And there is another point: diesel engines can now reach the nitrogen oxide limits of gasoline engines – This costs money, but it is possible. In addition, the highly upgraded direct injection gasoline engines produce significantly more ultra fine dust than diesel engines. After all, more gasoline engines on the road instead of diesel engines inevitably means higher carbon monoxide emissions.


Of course we need alternatives, not only for environmental reasons alone, but also to diversify our transport energy security to escape sole oil dependence. The most modern diesel in itself is therefore not to be demonized. All this is not meant to be a hymn of praise to the diesel, because overall the gasoline engine is still better in terms of emissions. Although a serious problem is undoubtedly older diesel engines (Euro 4 and earlier). Retrofitting, even for Euro 5, i.E. With an existing particulate filter, should be viewed skeptically for a number of reasons and will probably only be effective from Euro 6 onwards.

However, manufacturers such as Fiat and Toyota have already announced the departure from diesel production, Volvo the full switch to electric starting in 2019. Above all, however, the industry is now focusing on the e-car.

But there are subtle but important differences to understand. About which E-car, for example, we are talking? A battery-only electric vehicle (BOEV) or a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) with a battery-based electric drive in addition to an internal combustion engine, which can also be charged from a power socket? Or are we talking about hybrid vehicles that charge their battery also or only via the combustion engine? About cars that partially recover energy via the brakes (recuperation)?

The disadvantages of the e-car

Well, the electric drive itself is not the problem. The big question is, where will the traction current for this come from?? Because even the still very expensive hydrogen fuel cell ultimately generates electrical energy. At first, it sounds pretty tempting that there is currently no more efficient drive than electric: To have a mechanical kilowatt-hour in the vehicle, "only" 1.4 kilowatt-hours are needed from a photovoltaic power plant, for example. A loss of only 30 percent from the source of generation of the current to the wheel is considered as comparatively extremely small.

The problems lurk elsewhere:

– In general a E-car boom to make electricity massively more expensive, because demand is rising. – For electricity generation, we will continue to need non-renewable, i.E. "Dirty", energy for many years or even decades to come Energies. So With the battery-based e-car, we largely just shift the exhaust gases from the tailpipe to the chimney of fossil-fuel power plants. The citizen just does not see it. Only the pollutant load at knee height (exhaust) in z.B. Cities are declining, and the chimneys in the power plant have better filters than a car. – Basically, the components of the rechargeable batteries for electric cars consist of the standard rechargeable batteries (called battery cells) that we also use in the household – only bundled en masse to form a large battery. A weight of up to 750 kilograms is quickly added up. And notoriously There are highly questionable innards in batteries. The steel casing contains a mixture of resources that are often mined under inhumane working conditions all over the world and have to be brought together with enormous logistical effort – lithium from Chilean salt lakes, graphite that usually has to be cleaned in an environmentally harmful way, cobalt mined in child labor, and many more ingredients that make the battery a product in the first place. Similarly with electronics and capacitors, which require coltan, tantalum, etc. The copper for the cables. Most of it is anything but sustainable and fairly produced. To produce the battery cells for an electric car, an immense amount of energy is needed. Does this energy come from ecologically non-renewable ("dirty") sources, produces as much carbon dioxide as driving an internal combustion engine for seven to eight years. To the use of the sacrilegiously manufactured batteries this stands in no relation, since the batteries last only about four years – they become rapidly weaker. Just remember the outcry of Apple's iPhone customers when it became clear that the performance of previous iPhone models was intentionally throttled to compensate for the performance degradation of the batteries. The energy balance is already alone therefore clearly worse than with the internal combustion engine, and thereby evenly the driving current, the loading of the batteries, is not yet considered, is thus still not driven a single kilometer. In short: The energy balance of the e-car is a disaster. But hardly any politician wants to admit this. – Strategically, the European auto industry needs at least ten plants for battery cell production, each with an investment volume of around three billion euros. Otherwise, the industry will become as dependent on Asian battery producers as it has been on oil-exporting countries. Leaving the technological know-how and the associated competitiveness to other continents would be fatal – we have known this at the latest since the fate of the European photovoltaic manufacturers. The Asian competition has outsmarted them. Largely swept from the global market. – If the batteries are then at the end, follows a costly recycling or disposal, which in turn is harmful to the environment. At best, this is followed by secondary use as a battery with a lower output, for example as energy storage for photovoltaic systems. – This means that another trap lurks: the average lifetime of a car with combustion engine of dzt. An e-car will probably only reach the halay mark in about 17 years because of more electronics, faster technology change and the battery – and that only with expensive battery replacements. Accordingly, considerably more new vehicles have to be produced. This may please the industry, but it is hardly sustainable: according to BP Energy Outlook 2018, the number of passenger cars will in fact double to around two billion by 2040 anyway, particularly because of rising prosperity in China and India; the number of units will rise from around 84 million new vehicles a year at present to an expected 100 million in 2030. – Finally, imagine, that almost every e-car has to park at the socket for several hours every day. Apart from the rush, the question arises at this point at the latest how our power grids and electric plants are supposed to withstand this gigantic energy supply. In Norway – the country with the largest electric car market share in the world, thanks to government subsidies – the electric lobby has been advising against buying a Stromer since September 2017, unless you can charge the car at home. Too little capacity!

The snail's pace of broadband expansion for high-speed Internet and the problems and resistance to the expansion of power lines in Germany for transporting wind power from the north to the south alone show that an all-round supply of charging stations for all rather illusory is.

The Norwegian example shows that the e-car hype is a revolution that has not been thought through to the end. In the long run, only a technology based on hydrogen will solve our problems concerning clean energy and energy storage in a real and sustainable way. In the light of this, it is understandable why Toyota and Hyundai have also been offering hydrogen vehicles for some time and continue to invest massively in this technology and its future.

The misconception that hydrogen is dangerous

The problem with Hydrogen, incidentally the most common element in the universe An electric vehicle with a hydrogen-powered fuel cell needs about twice as much output energy as a battery-based e-car. In the fuel cell, oxygen from the ambient air reacts with hydrogen from the pressurized tank in a controlled manner to form water – and releases electrical energy and some waste heat in the process.

As long as the energy for hydrogen production (electrolysis) – whether liquid or gaseous – does not come predominantly or only from renewable sources such as wind, hydropower and sun, the ecological balance of this technology is not yet correct. This, although such energy sources would be available almost inexhaustibly. The range of hydrogen and fuel cells is similar to gasoline and diesel, and refueling is fast; but because hydrogen is mostly produced by steam reforming of natural gas, it is not attractive enough, with a loss of about 70 % to the wheel. But with a 15-17 year balance already today in the total consideration at least better than an E-car.

If renewable energy sources, which are unlimited in themselves, are one day used throughout and permanently available to us as energy – i.E. Stored in the form of hydrogen even at night and when there is no wind – this will certainly be a breakthrough.

By the way: the spectre of the horrendous costs of setting up an infrastructure for a hydrogen filling station network is completely negligible Given the huge cost of irretrievably burned fossil fuels. And also two more persistent legends about hydrogen are wrong:

– The tanks are not a problem – the pressurized tanks are now denser than those of gasoline cars. – In the worst case, the tank does not explode, but deflagration follows, i.E. A rapid burn-up.

Whereby also batteries are not harmless – think only of media reports over exploded Handyakkus, as a result there was a Smartphone prohibition of certain models on flights, and over fires of whole parking garages released by E-Bikes at the loading station. In addition, the batteries in the e-car are high-voltage batteries with a correspondingly higher short-circuit risk due to the large amount of energy in a confined space. That's why there are always stories about e-cars suddenly catching fire while driving.

It is just generally true that one should act carefully with all larger amounts of energy in high density, whether hydrogen, gasoline, diesel or also with batteries, in the worst case everything could explode. E-car sits (battery operation) is not to be ignored. Possibly harmful to health in the long run.

Hydrogen in the internal combustion engine

An interesting transitional solution could be, what graduate engineer Dr. Ulrich Bez, probably one of the most outstanding car bosses in the world, demonstrated at the Nürburgring. Dr. Bez was CEO and chairman of British luxury sports car maker Aston Martin from 2000 to 2014, and before that was a top executive at Porsche, BMW and Daewoo. Dr. In 2013, Ulrich Bez successfully drove one of the world's first hydrogen-powered race cars to second place in its class for the 24h Nürburgring race in a near-standard Aston Martin, Rapide model, so in a recognized race. He was able to switch to gasoline as an alternative at any time and even drive in a mix. This hydrogen internal combustion engine (HICE), as it were, is a transitional technology that could enable zero-emission capability (ZEV) with existing technology and spur the development of a hydrogen distribution network.


With this solution one could for example in cities – where such a network of filling stations can be set up more quickly, easily and cheaply – drive swiftly with predominantly hydrogen, emissions to a large extent and continue to rely on tried-and-tested fuels such as gasoline or diesel for cross-country trips.

As a welcome side effect, the automotive supply industry, one of our key industries in the EU, would not get into trouble so quickly: after all, a car with an internal combustion engine consists of around 2.500 parts, an e-car only from far below 1.000 parts. At the same time, such a model would soon give us more experience when it comes to hydrogen, the necessary infrastructure and sustainable propulsion technologies of the future as a whole.

Anyway, we will see a mix of different propulsion technologies on our roads in the near future and then for a long time, probably a kind of 25/25/25/25, BP Energy Outlook 2018 predicts over 300 million e-cars by 2040, which would represent a global share of 15%. What will ultimately prevail in the long term is still written in the stars.

By the way, I also owe it to my highly esteemed friend Dr.-Ing. Ulrich Bez, one of the most outstanding and experienced international car bosses, that I have learned so much about this topic. My thanks for the support on the fact check for this article are also due to my osterr. Friend Prof. Dr.-Ing. Manfred Weissenbacher, a professional in the field of energy and especially batteries, from the Institute for Sustainable Energy at the University of Malta.

Gladly I hear your comments or questions …


Reinhold M. Karner, FRSA (RMK Think Tank)

(March, 2018 – last update in May 2021)

Reinhold M. Karner, FRSA is a management consultant, entrepreneur, lecturer at colleges and universities, popular science author for media (u. A. Times of Malta), board member, advisor and chairman of companies and investment firms, and Fellow and Fellowship Connector of the world's oldest think tank, the London-based The RSA (the Royal Society for Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, est. 1754) for Austria and Malta.

P. S. I am glad if you share my articles. For a media publication resp. The reprint is a short request for approval prerequisite. A copyright notice with the reference to the author. The link to this website www.RMK.Org is always required.RMK.Org is always required.

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