Sweden in favor of synthetic fuels, but future of diesel cars uncertain
22 October 2002
The Swedish National Road Administration (SNRA) wants Sweden to invest in the production of synthesis gas from biomass, which could be the basis for new environmental friendly fuels for vehicles. This was revealed at the recent expert seminar “The Diesel Engine - Environmental Problem or Solution for the Future?” in Stockholm, organized by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA), SNRA and the Swedish-German research association, STYFF.
Conventional fuels, such as diesel and gasoline, are considered to be the dominating fuels for a long time in the future. The alternatives in Sweden today are only RME and ethanol in small quantities. However, the production of RME and ethanol is expensive and can continue only due to subsidies. Therefore, these are not fuels destined for large investments, said Olle Hådell, environmental expert at the vehicle department of SNRA. Synthesis gas is a good solution while waiting for the possibility to use hydrogen fuel, which will take many years, said Hådell.
Synthesis gas could be produced from natural gas, waste or biomass. The advantages of synthesis gas are that it can be used to produce various fuels that could be used both in the cars of today and in the future. The production methods are efficient and could become inexpensive. But in Olle Hådell’s opinion, Swedish production could not start until 2010.
The diesel, as well as gasoline, engine technology is currently developing very fast. In 2001 Swedish car manufacturers introduced a completely new generation of diesel engines. However, only 6% of the newly registered cars in Sweden last year were diesel-fueled, while the corresponding figure in the EU was 36%. At the same time, Sweden has a higher share of carbon dioxide emissions than other countries. Considering the Swedish passenger car market of a quarter million vehicles per annum, increasing the diesel share is considered an important factor that could reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide. Experts from DaimlerChrysler and VW who attended the seminar agreed with the statements of Mr. Hådell.
Low population of diesel cars can be attributed to their very bad reputation in Sweden, as well as to taxation policy in favor of gasoline cars. A Volvo V70 diesel has a yearly tax of SEK 6832 (US$730), which is almost four times as much as the corresponding gasoline model. Some experts at the seminar said, the bad reputation of diesels in Sweden is undeserved. Therefore, the auto industry should do more to inform the authorities and the public about the advances in the technology.
However, according to Swedish engineering magazine “Ny Teknik”, the SEPA agency has a more reserved position in regards to the promotion of diesel cars. SEPA has been making objections against the higher emissions of NOx and particles from the diesel engine. From the environmental perspective, diesel is better than gasoline only if when equipped with a particulate trap, claimed SEPA. Only when all diesel cars have such equipment, SEPA could envision a tax change in favor of diesel.
For more information contact Ulf Svensén, STYFF, +40.70.926 27 14.