In June of this year, 171 so-called experts signed a letter from the International Association of Sustainable Drivetrain and Vehicle Technology Research addressed to the European Commission to dispute claims that electric cars are better for the environment. That letter stated the Commission made a miscalculation when it assessed the effectiveness of electric vehicles at cutting greenhouse gas emissions and that eliminating internal combustion engines would not effectively cut emissions.
But according to DeSmog, a third of the signatories have past or present affiliations with automobile manufacturers while 71% are internal combustion engine specialists. None have any apparent expertise in electric vehicles. In addition, eight of the signatories were duplicates while several names could not be verified online.
Responding to the data, Julia Poliskanova of environmental organization Transport & Environment told DeSmog it was “clear that IASTEC are not ‘independent scientists’ but rather a group that, at best, has no authority to criticize electric cars and, at worst, is driven by vested engine interests.”
She cited the work of science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, which documents the efforts by the oil industry to promote climate science denial and called the group “merchants of doubt” who use the well established tactics perfected by tobacco companies to sow seeds of doubt and twist facts to suit their commercial objectives.
On its website, IASTEC purports to be “in the process of founding” and describes itself as “an international association of professors and researchers worldwide working on vehicle and drivetrain research at famous universities.” In their paper, the group draws on a study published in a mathematics journal, claiming that a standard analysis of electric vehicles’ emissions footprint “extensively underestimates real CO2 emissions.”
The group instead recommends replacing petrol and diesel with carbon-neutral equivalents called “reFuels,” which it describes as “CO2 neutral synthetic fuels” that can be blended with fossil fuels, and are aimed at reducing emissions from road transport until electric vehicles have developed further.
While the paper was widely cited in by German news media, EV experts were quick to dispute its findings. Eindhoven University researcher Auke Hoekstra accused the group of “combustion engine lobby gaslighting” and using “convoluted and amateurish” math to make inaccurate claims. He added that the report also ignored future improvements in EV benefits, such as the ability of cars to charge in off-peak hours to avoid overloading the grid.
A Strong Whiff Of Diesel Fumes
DeSmog has found a number of the signatories disputing EV effectiveness have a history of promoting or working in the diesel engine industry and are strong supporters of diesel technology.
Professor Thomas Koch, one of the paper’s lead authors, worked for 10 years in engine development for German car manufacturer Daimler, and was an expert on the parliamentary committee of inquiry during the German diesel emissions scandal in 2014. While head of the Institute for Piston Engines at the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology (KIT), he claimed in a 2018 interview that “diesel is better,” saying that he owns two diesel cars and did not plan to replace them “anytime soon.” He told DeSmog the funding of the group was “an academic initiative without any interaction of industry.”
When asked about the high proportion of the group working with ICEs, Koch said that all authors of the paper worked in academia, and that “the complexity of the technology and especially the complexity of the development processes require experience in industry.”
Christian Beidl, head of the department of mechanical engineering at the Technical University of Darmstadt in Germany, said in an interview that the debate around diesel had become an “ideological discussion in which the diesel engine is condemned across the board” and that diesel engines “have a very good CO2 balance.”
Poliskanova, of Transport & Environment, said that independent research “has proven that electric cars today are already significantly better for the environment than the oil engines they replace. It doesn’t mean that we should not work to source materials sustainably or that we should not switch to 100 percent renewables. But it does mean that it is time to stop the questioning, and instead hurry to accelerate their uptake for the sake of the warming planet.”
We can clearly see the roots of the diesel cheating scandal that broke over Volkswagen in 2015 in this latest “position paper.” Many don’t remember that Daimler and BMW were also implicated in that disaster after they helped pay for a study in the US that piped exhaust fumes from a clapped out Ford F-250 with a diesel engine into a plexiglas chamber. The purpose was to show that a monkey inside the transparent box could breath the toxins without suffering any overt damage. Almost every manufacturer of diesel powered vehicles has been drawn into the fray.
Germany in particular has embraced diesel technology ever since the OPEC oil embargoes of the 70s, largely because diesel engines allow a vehicle to go further on a gallon of fuel than gasoline engines do. The kicker is that they also have far more fine particulates in their exhaust stream and those particulates lead to illness and premature death for humans who breathe them in.
The vaunted German engineering community was supposed to invent ways of sequestering those pollutants but choose instead to design electronic work arounds that shut off the controls except when emissions testing was in progress. Yet diesels have a place in some quarters of the German engineering industry akin to a religion.
No climate emergency, no suffering of humanity, no destruction of habitat is enough to convince them to turn away from the altar of diesel. They have devoted their lives to promoting diesel technology and cannot be deterred from singing its praises. Are the seas rising? Why, we will design diesel powered pumps to put that nasty old ocean back in its place!
When the Götterdämmerung finally comes, these well intentioned folks will be pleading for more time to make just one more generation of Rudolf Diesel’s wondrous invention before the waves close over the world’s cities.
One of the questions DeSmog didn’t answer is where the money comes from to pay the salaries of these shills. The odds of them not being underwritten by Big Oil are small. But anything’s possible, right? Sure it is, grasshopper.