Britain announced Wednesday that it would be putting £37 million ($48 million) into a network of centers intended to electrify the country’s transport network, in an effort to steer the U.K. towards its national target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
Announcing the investment, Alok Sharma, the secretary of state for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), said the money would be used to fund four centers around the country to research and develop technologies and materials for electric and hybrid planes, ships and cars.
“The electric revolution is an opportunity for our transport sectors to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels,” Sharma said. “The UK is leading the way in developing cleaner technologies to help us reach our target of zero emissions by 2050 and these new centers will play an important part in that.”
The same day, the government revealed that gasoline blended with 10% ethanol would begin replacing standard petrol from next year in a further effort to reduce emissions.
The plans are a tacit acknowledgement of the changing reality of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) in the U.K.: just 10 years ago, the energy sector produced by far the largest proportion of GHGs, with almost 40% of CO2 being emitted by energy generation in 2010. But the U.K.’s energy sector is decarbonizing rapidly, turning away from coal (the country cut a whopping 88% of its coal-fired generation in just six years, from 2012 to 2018) and moving towards natural gas, renewable energy and nuclear power.
Transport is now the largest and dirtiest emissions offender in the country. The vast majority of commercial, public and private vehicles rely on some form of crude oil derivative, usually petrol or diesel. The engines that burn these fuels have changed little over the last century: manufacturers have tinkered around the edges, but the internal combustion engine in 2020 still operates on the same principle as it did in 1920.
The shift to more efficient, less polluting modes of transport has been sluggish. While the market for electric and hybrid passenger cars is approaching 10% of all car sales, Britain’s trucks, buses, ships and trains are largely powered by old, fossil fuel-burning tech.
That inertia is one reason for the new scheme, titled Driving the Electric Revolution (DER). Essentially a stimulus package intended to speed up the switch to electric vehicles, the program will inject £30 million ($39 million) into research and development centers in Glasgow, Sunderland, Nottingham and Newport. The DER centers, so called, will develop systems and materials for manufacturing machines and electronics that will be used in low-carbon transport tech, from charging stations to electric garbage trucks.
The remainder of the investment will go towards 14 projects around the country that won a competition to develop supply chains to support electrification of transport networks, with a particular emphasis on semiconductors—sophisticated materials that are central to the production of electronic circuits.
Also on Wednesday, the government’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said Britain would introduce a new gasoline blend, E10, from next year. E10 is named for its 10% ethanol content, a biofuel that produces less CO2 than gasoline. Shapps claimed that switching to the new fuel could result in a sizeable reduction in CO2 emissions from the U.K. car fleet.
“Before electric cars become the norm, we want to take advantage of reduced CO2 emissions today,” Shapps said. “This small switch to petrol containing bioethanol at 10% will help drivers across the country reduce the environmental impact of every journey.”
The transport department claims that switching all petrol-driven cars to E10 could have the emissions equivalent of removing 350,000 cars from the road.
The plan is not without its critics, however. The Royal Automobile Association (RAC) says as many as 600,000 cars in the U.K.—some 8%—may not be able to run on E10, and that drivers should check with their car manufacturer before using it.
The RAC also notes that while E10 is already the standard form of gasoline in the U.S., the U.S. Energy Information Administration has found that the fuel is on average about 3% less efficient than gasoline with no ethanol content.