With electric vehicle sales reaching new records each year, the de-carbonization of the automobile industry in the process, the cost of batteries falling or the charging network expanding, there is no space for doubt that the automobile sector is going towards zero emissions. This is a turning point for the guests of the second session of the Portugal Mobi Summit, held in the TSF studios. But that doesn’t mean that the work is done.
Increase the re-usage and recycling of batteries after their short period of life in electric mobility, developing other technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells, expand infrastructures in regions with a lower demographic density or reduce bureaucracy in the concession of public space and new charging stations are the challenges that Aira de Mello, Consumer Experience Director of Volvo Cars Portugal, Pedro Vinagre, Executive Board Member of EDP Comercial and José Mendes, Managing Director of the Fundação Mestre Casais, brought to the debate focused on the path towards de-carbonization of the automobile industry.
A good part of that path looks promising, with prices of batteries falling about 13% between 2019 and 2020, stated Pedro Vinagre. Being the costliest element of the automobile industry, its decrease in the production cost will also be decisive for the “democratization” of emission-free mobility. But we also need to think about the different number of applications where batteries can be useful after they reach their end-of-life cycle in electric vehicles: “Today, that is a priority for all of the market’s players as well as being one of the most critical aspects on this process”, warns Vinagre, reminding us about “the huge potential of batteries” in other usage that can go from solar panels to the recycling of their most valuable components for other ends.
There are still large investments to be done in this particular sector, but although the recycling industry is finally winning space, José Mendes points out that there are still other technologies that need to gain terrain, such as the fuel cells technology in hydrogen: “It’s a little-explored technology that could potentially help to reduce the size of batteries, in its volume as well as in the intensity of its usage.”
The hydrogen comes up as the best alternative for those cases where the battery is not a solution, highlights José Mendes, reminding us about the limitations that batteries represent for heavy and passenger transportation. “When we look at the total cost of the operation, we verify that the hydrogen is an advantage”, defends the also former Deputy Secretary of State for Mobility.
The Fundação Mestre Casais is currently concluding a study that will function as a recommendation for the government and companies to renew their urban public and goods transportation “We need to play with different technologies and the State must also make an effort to push these growing tendencies”.
In a process of fast transformation such as the de-carbonization of transportation there will always be space for improvement, be that through more investment in isolated regions or facilitating the legal mechanisms to expand the charging networks. There are still some details to be refined, but not less important it’s the need for the automobile industry and the state to be more successful in their awareness programs.
“Although consumers are increasingly more informed, what we can see through our research is that they are still much more motivated by the discounts and fiscal incentives than the actual environmental issues” explains Aira de Mello, defending that the change of paradigm cannot be reached only by economic interests. Also, – as stated by José Mendes – we need to take into account the “total cost of vehicle ownership” – electric cars today have many more advantages in urban traveling. “The perception of that advantage can contribute significantly to accelerate the energy transition” concludes.