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Diesel Engines Will be With Us For at Least the Next 50 Years

“Diesel engines will be with us for at least the next 50 years,” reckons Des Evans OBE, who together with his twin brother Dennis Evans co-wrote the book The Road to Zero Emissions. This bold statement is an example of how passionate the two men are about the combustion engine, and how at odds they are with the UK Government’s current strategy towards reaching net carbon zero.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” says Des. “The pressure on vehicle manufacturers to bring about this change is enormous, expensive, and we’re not ready for it.”

In terms of ‘not being ready for it’, the pair cite two huge hurdles that the UK government faces.

The first relates to vehicle assembly, and whether or not the UK plans to retain the 1.5 million vehicles it builds every year (currently with internal combustion engines, but soon to be with battery power packs). If so, Des and Dennis says it needs to build three 35GW gigafactories, each producing 500,000 battery units per year, and ideally located close to vehicle assembly.

“But it takes five years to build a gigafactory, and it takes $157m to produce one gigawatt,” explains Des. “So, multiply that by 35, and it gives you some idea of how much it will cost. It’s in the region of $15.6bn for three of them.”

Dennis adds that there are currently (summer 2023) 136 35GW gigafactories either being designed or fully operational right now in the world.

Dennis Evans

“China has won the battery arms race as they have got about 110 of these,” he says. “Europe has eight, America has six and Britain has zero. So, we’re not even in the race anymore. And if you look at what the Faraday Institution has forecast, and this is a government-sponsored organisation looking into technology of the future related to the electrification of fleets, they believe at least 200,000 direct automotive industry jobs, and maybe up to one million direct and indirect jobs in the supply chain, will be lost. If we don’t manufacture powertrain in the UK, we will definitely not assemble vehicles.”

“But there’s no point in building electric vehicles when there’s no infrastructure,” interjects Des, moving onto the second hurdle. “We need 400,000 charging points, yet today we have less than 40,000. And they need to be in the right locations.”

He reminds me that a typical car charge has to replace a 40-litre tank fill, which takes two minutes and gives a vehicle a 500-mile range. “How long will charging take to give you a 500-mile range on a current electric vehicle?” he asks.

The brothers have a possible solution, which they refer to as ‘Freight Ports’.

“The government has, in my opinion, missed a massive opportunity,” says Dennis, explaining the concept. “They should be focussed on brownfield sites that existed, and built business parks of the future, where a coalition of green technology industries could coexist.”

He believes such places could incorporate a solar farm, a gigafactory, a recycling centre for batteries and vehicles, recharging facilities for 2,000 vehicles, logistics companies, warehousing, a university campus, and test centres for fully autonomous vehicles. The pair have identified 12 suitable 1,000-acre sites around the UK, including ex-car manufacturing factories. All are located near to current, or soon-to-be low emission zones.

“If one of these had been commissioned three years ago, it would be up and running by next year. It would have demonstrated progress in transitioning to a net zero strategy,” says Dennis. “But without the right infrastructure, saying we need to stop production of combustion-engined vehicles is just so short-sighted.”

Des Evans and Dennis Evans

Des adds: “Over the next 100 years we will develop a greener society, but it should be based on an evolution as opposed to a revolution. The timeframe of 2030 and 2035 is for the birds, it is just not realistic, and will be delayed.”

Finally, both men are keen to remind me that the UK plays a tiny part on the world stage in terms of its carbon footprint. “Based on 2022 figures, 37 billion tonnes of CO2 is emitted by the planet each year, and the UK is responsible for 1 per cent of that,” says Des. “Until and unless China, India, USA and Russia collaborate and operate at the same level, whatever we do will not make a difference. We can probably salve our conscience, and say we’ve done the right thing, but there will be a very big price to play for not moving the dial. Why aren’t Just Stop Oil protesters active in Beijing, Moscow, Jeddah or Riyadh?”


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