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EU and European Technology Platforms lead Green Cars discussion

Hundreds of delegates gathered in Valencia, Spain, to discuss the role of Public-Private Partnerships in the European economic recovery. On the agenda was the European Green Cars Initiative, providing financial support for research into the green technologies that will propel the cars, trucks and buses of the future.

The PPP Conference in Valencia © Peter Gutierrez
Valencia welcomes European Green Cars
© Peter Gutierrez

As the automotive industry is a major employer, any disturbance to the industry risks affecting the whole economic and social fabric of Europe, which is why the European Commission made the car industry a key focus of its November 2008 recovery package.

"The recovery package has already had an important impact," said András Siegler, Director of Transport at the European Commission’s Research Directorate-General. "The results of the first Green Cars calls for proposals will soon be in and we are all expecting to see some very important and exciting work coming through. We are taking a three-tiered approach to new greener solutions for road vehicles, covering research and innovation but also demand-side measures."

The European Green Cars initiative was one of the three Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) included in the Commission's recovery package. It makes available €5 billion to boost the automotive industry in a time of economic hardship, and to support the development of new, sustainable forms of road transport. Of this sum, €4 billion are being made available through loans by the European Investment Bank. The remaining €1 billion is being provided under the EU's Research Framework Programme and by the private sector.

Demand-side measures involve a concerted push for regulatory action by Member States and the EU, such as the reduction of car registration taxes on low-CO2 cars to promote their purchase.

Support for electric cars

András Siegler © Peter Gutierrez
András Siegler
© Peter Gutierrez

Under the European Green Cars Initiative, electrification of road vehicles is a clear priority, Siegler explained, but underlying that technical work is strong coordination. "The European Technology Platforms, including ERTRAC, EPoSS and SmartGrids, are playing a very important part here," he said, "interfacing between industry and policy-makers, and working with the Member States."

Seizing the potential of electrified mobility for climate and resource protection and turning it into opportunities for Europe’s automotive and energy industries requires the action of all involved parties. Working together, the European Technology Platforms (ETPs) ERTRAC, EPoSS and SmartGrids have already issued recommendations aimed at reaching the goal of electrification.

Key European Technology Platforms

ERTRACexternal link
One of the seminal ETPs, the European Road Transport Advisory Council (ERTRAC) has already provided valuable input to the Transport Work Programme of the Union’s Seventh Research Framework Programme.

EPoSSexternal link
The ETP on Smart Systems Integration (EPoSS) brings together European private and public stakeholders to formulate a commonly agreed roadmap for action, updating, assembling and completing existing materials and approaches.

SmartGridsexternal link
The aim of the SmartGrids ETP is to promote electricity networks that can intelligently integrate the behaviour and actions of all users connected to them, in order to efficiently deliver sustainable, economic and secure electricity supplies.

Power for tomorrow's Green Cars

SmartGrids Forum Chairman Ronnie Belmans outlined a number of scenarios for supplying energy to the all-electric vehicles of the future, including home-based recharging, recharging at dedicated stations or battery swapping schemes.

"Whatever the final solution is," he said, "whatever the business models that we ultimately decide, these will have specific kinds of impacts on the grid." SmartGrids, he said, sees battery swapping as a leading candidate, "but it is also the solution that would require the most from vehicle manufacturers, as the batteries used would have to be standardised and made perfectly interchangeable between makes and models."

The bigger picture

ERTRAC Chairman Wolfgang Steiger touched on a number of issues currently being grappled with by the ETPs and other stakeholders, including infrastructure needs, decarbonisation of energy supplies and safety. "Green means more than just electric," he said. "Road transport is a systemic problem and it needs a systematic approach."

For ERTRAC, he said, the most direct route to higher efficiency is the battery-powered electric car, but he also sees a need for the development of a range of powertrains to serve the full range of road transport needs.

Steiger emphasised education as another key priority. "We have to understand the importance of this issue for Europe. This is going to require innovation and imagination, and we have to ensure that we have the engineers with the skills and expertise that we need."

He also stressed the importance of maintaining industrial competitiveness. "Green cars are about expertise and employment. We need to be successful to stay alive." Europe, he said, must decide that it is going to be a leader in the development of the next generation of road vehicles. "But this is extremely urgent," he added, "because our competitors in the US and Japan have already committed themselves to being the leaders. Well, we can't all lead, so someone is going to lose out."

EPoSS Executive Committee Chairman Günter Lugert agreed. "We do not want to be just a consumer market for green cars," he said. "We want to be a supply market, a manufacturer."

Stimulating interest across sectors

The European Green Cars discussion © Peter Gutierrez
European Green Cars session draws interest
© Peter Gutierrez

The work of the ETPs provides a clear example of how, through innovative partnerships, the European Commission and industry are joining forces to foster the development of clean technologies and to position Europe at the top of the automotive sector.

And the approach seems to be drawing attention.

Arnoldas Milukas, Head of Unit at the European Commission's Transport Research Directorate, called the conference a great success. "All of the presentations have been very interesting and informative," he said, "and it is obvious from the level of attendance that there is a great interest in the PPPs and specifically in the Green Cars initiative."