Will the world be saved if everyone drives electric cars? Will climate change be halted if we put biofuel in our tanks instead of petrol?
‘There are, of course, many different indicators, but often the arguments made when discussing emissions are quite closely connected with who happens to be speaking at the time’, says Mika Aho, Director of Public Affairs and Communication at St1. One year ago, he was involved in initiating together with three Aalto students a master’s thesis project aimed at producing decent tools to serve as a foundation for emissions discussions.
‘Matteo Giacosa and Mathias Westerholm joined the project having only general energy sector expertise, and Eero Kilpeläinen came from the School of Business’s Information and Service management (ISM) programme. It was great to follow their learning process’, Aho says.
‘As supervising professor it was great to witness their joint effort: the students got support from each other and the result was outstanding,’ says Professor Martti Larmi from Aalto University.
The master’s theses examined scenarios for heavy goods traffic in Finland, Sweden and Norway and the differences between different forms of propulsion for personal transport, and involved constructing a quantitative model into which different assumptions and parameters can be input.
Three main reasons
The main outcome of the master’s thesis work was clear: based on current scenarios, none of the three countries will reach the emissions targets they have set for road traffic.
‘There are three main reasons’, Mika Aho explains.
‘The first is the strong growth in the amount of traffic, both for personal vehicles and goods traffic. The second is a slowing in energy efficiency improvements – SUVs, which consume more fuel, are popular with consumers, and so more and more car brands are offering them. The third reason is the slow uptake of alternative forms of propulsion. At the moment, there are a couple of thousand electric cars in Finland, while the target is to have 250 000 electric cars here by 2030. This is not a realistic target. In practice, this would mean that 20–30% of all cars sold would need to be electric cars. In Finland, around 125 000 new cars are sold per year.’
Finland’s goal is also to raise the biofuel mandate to 30%, with the figure currently standing at 10%. Aho thinks it is most unlikely that raising the proportion of biofuel will be a viable solution, as the limits of sustainable production will soon be reached. Finland, Sweden and Norway already use 40% of the world’s HVO production, and if the 2030 goal will be reached, this share would rise to 70%.
‘In that case, others would have just the leftovers’, Aho concludes.
‘According to our calculations, sustainable production of biofuels that are not derived from edible crops could reach a maximum of 50 million tonnes a year by 2030, which is only half of the annual increase in demand for crude oil.’
Fortunately, there are many other things that can be done. For example, St1 is involved in a global afforestation programme. Aho also believes that emissions reductions would be furthered by support for public transport and for bicycle and pedestrian traffic and by limiting maximum speeds for cars to 120–130 kph.
‘Cars do not need to be designed for German motorways. With smaller motors, less materials will be needed and cars would be lighter, which would in turn reduce dust on the road, tarmac erosion and traffic deaths. Nothing but positive results than – but of course hardly likely to be doable, as it would mean facing up to Europe’s largest industrial sector.’