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Aleksandar Vesić, Assistant Minister In The Sector For Environmental Management, Ministry Of Environmental Protection

What Are “Eco Vehicles”?

We all know what a “sports car” or “allterrain vehicle” is, while some who are better informed know what the “B-segment” of European car classification is, or what a “crossover” is in terms of an all-terrain vehicle intended for city driving, but what’s an ‘Eco Vehicle’?

In order to answer this question, we will have to “park” and head out into the field of environmental protection.

If we understand the term ‘Eco Vehicle’ as referring to a car with a reduced environmental impact, the first question will impose itself: reduced in relation to what? This leads us to the point at which we need to establish the basis for our research.

Considering that we live and work in the Republic of Serbia, the basis could be the ‘FIAT 500L’, bearing in mind that it is a medium-class vehicle that it is also produced in our country.

Now we can take hold of the tool called “product life cycle”, which is used in today’s economy as an excellent basis for product development and customising products to suit customers’ demands. As a product, on one side we will have the ‘FIAT 500L’ and on the other our ‘Eco Vehicle’. We will observe both vehicles through the phases of their “life cycle”, which means through “design and production”, “use” and “post-use” following the end of the vehicle’s life.

At the design stage, we will take into account performance, vehicle size and the purpose for which it will be used. We will envisage materials from which the car will be made, with special limitations (minimisation) in the use of harmful and hazardous materials and substances. We will also focus on the fact that in the production of both types of vehicles most of the materials such be envisaged as originating from recycled materials rather than raw materials taken from the environment, as well as that special measures are taken for their production and later use to be designed with reduced energy consumption – creating an energy-efficient vehicle.

In the phase of the vehicle’s production, we will take care to ensure that the consumption of raw materials and substances, energy and water consumption are energy and materials efficient. It is particularly necessary to bear in mind that the production of these vehicles, both the ‘FIAT 500L’ and our ‘Eco vehicles’, utilises materials that are essential to obtain such a product: steel, aluminium for the chassis, paints and varnishes, various types of non-ferrous metals for electronics and electrical installations, rubber for pneumatics and seals, plastics, adhesives, lead for the production of accumulators/starters, acids etc.

The process of producing the actual materials used for the production of vehicles contributes to environmental pollution, which then raises a question as to whether it is possible at all to achieve all the norms, in terms of the life cycle of the product, for our ‘Eco Vehicle’ to have a significant advantage over other vehicles.

The usage phase is the most difficult for monitoring and evaluating, as it can last 10 years or more. During this period we should take into account: Fuel consumption per 100 km, emissions into the air (especially carbon dioxide – CO2, but also sulphur oxide – SOx, and nitrogen oxides – NOx, soot particles etc.), but also the replacement of tyres and other consumable materials, frequency of service and other maintenance requirements, noise in the environment and longevity.

This is a good juncture to note that when assessing individual ‘Eco Vehicles’, which do not have exhausts and do not emit gasses in the air, there must also be consideration for whether the electricity itself is produced from renewables, i.e. whether that electricity’s generation itself has a negative impact on the environment, given that electricity in the Republic of Serbia is mostly obtained from thermal power plants, and that in this regard the emission factor of the network must be taken into account, as a factor for the calculating of kilowatt-hours in the emitted CO2 to be comparable to a classic car.

Finally, for the usage phase, there remains a comparison and assessment of the recyclability of certain vehicle components, the ease of disassembling the motor vehicle into recyclable components, as well as the handling of waste materials, both non-hazardous and especially those characterised after usage as “hazardous materials”, i.e. “hazardous waste”, especially taking into account the types and quantities of hazardous substances that must be disposed of as hazardous waste and which are an integral part of the ‘FIAT 500L’ and our ‘Eco Vehicles’.

Nobody knows for certain how long it will take to completely transition to ecological vehicles, but it is certain to happen, and the Republic of Serbia should be ready to take on its obligations in terms of environmental protection and preserving natural resources in this field

On the basis of the aforementioned, we can conclude that every car has an impact on the environment, to a greater or lesser extent. The measurement and comparability of these influences make it possible for us to really say for some car that it is an ‘eco vehicle’.

What are the ‘eco vehicles’ with the reduced environmental impact that are currently represented, both on the world market and in Serbia? These are vehicles powered by electricity (electric cars) and a combination of a standard internal combustion engine, which is used as required, and an electric motor that has primacy in operating the vehicle – hybrid cars.

Which ‘eco vehicle’ would currently be closest to the ideal from the aspect of environmental protection, and which are currently under-represented on the world market? These are hydrogen vehicles, which essentially operate very simply, with hydrogen from the tank “merging” in the fuel cell with oxygen from the air, releasing electricity to power the vehicle, and instead of the harmful gases, water vapour is released from the exhaust system into the atmosphere!

Recently, major markets like the United States, Germany and Canada are increasingly seeing the emergence of “hydrogen pumps”, while these vehicles are increasingly present on the road.

The biggest problem – particularly pronounced in the Republic of Serbia – related to the use of electric vehicles and hydrogen-powered vehicles concerns a lack of infrastructure to support the use of such vehicles. This is primarily about charging stations, a developed service network and related services.

Other problems that can be noticed are an economic power, reluctance to embrace new innovations, poor environmental awareness and insufficient promotions of such vehicles, which are just some of the reasons for the lack of ecological vehicles on Serbian roads.

In accordance with the conclusions of the UN on climate change prevention, which reads: “It is necessary to exclude carbon dioxide emissions and change the pattern of fossil fuel use if we want to save the planet”, some European countries (e.g. Norway and the Netherlands as of 2025, and the UK and France as of 2040) are considering the decision to ban sales of cars powered by fossil fuels (diesel and petrol).

The concept of ecological cars has certainly taken a major step in the world. Nobody knows for certain how long it will take to completely transition to ecological vehicles, but one thing that’s for sure is that we are moving inexorably towards that and the Republic of Serbia should be ready to take on its obligations in terms of environmental protection and preserving natural resources in this field.