Why are you not yet driving an electric car?

Written by  Femke Kools Thursday, 13 January 2011 10:10

Since the sixties the electric car has been known as ‘the car of the future'. But why is such a car still not widely used in the year 2011? How sustainable are they really and what can the government do to effectively promote their use? Marc Dijk explored these and other questions while reading for his PhD at Maastricht University. For his follow-up research he was awarded the Edmond Hustinx Scholarship, which included 7,500 euros for a stay abroad. At the end of this year he hopes to conduct research at Oxford.

Fossil fuels are finite, and conventional cars pollute the environment with their CO2 emissions—all the more reason to look for alternatives like the electric ‘car of the future'. But according to Marc Dijk, how sustainable the widespread use of electric cars really is, is difficult to predict. The battery technology will improve, but to what extent? And how well will the future versions of batteries be able to be recycled? "Therefore, we cannot say that electric cars are by definition more sustainable than conventional cars", says Dijk. "What is essential is the question of where the extra electricity needed will come from. Only if it comes from renewable sources like wind, sun and water, will electric transport offer significant CO2 benefits. "


And then there are car manufacturers, who are not encouraged to invest based on consumer demand for durable cars. They now work mainly on improving existing technologies (petrol and diesel) to ensure that their vehicles continue to meet the standards for CO2 emissions. That is cheaper. "Only when the standards are so strict that they’re difficult or impossible to meet with conventional technologies can completely electric models offer an attractive alternative for manufacturers", says Marc Dijk. One of his recommendations is for the government to significantly reduce CO2 emissions standards.

He also suggests that the government start one or two large pilot projects in urban areas. "By creating a high density of charging stations we can gain experience with the use, supply and infrastructure for electric vehicles. This way our country can prepare for when the price / quality ratio of electric cars really comes close to that of conventional cars."


His follow-up research focuses on how different car technologies - gasoline, diesel, hybrid, electric and hydrogen - compete with or even enhance one another. "Based on the future scenarios that I'm going to develop, the government can re-visit its policy. It will help them answer questions like: when is it useful to implement a particular technology or to encourage consumers through tax breaks? The type of policy that is most effective depends on the phase that a particular development is in."

In the near future he hopes to do this research at the Institute for Carbon and Energy Reduction in Transport of Oxford University. "The combination of economics, engineering and social sciences makes them very attractive to me."

Dr. Marc Dijk attained his PhD on October 24, 2009 with his dissertation Innovation in Car Mobility, co-evolution of demand and supply under sustainability pressures at the research insitute ICIS (International Centre for Integrated assessment and Sustainable development).

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