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#64. Felix Leach and Kelly Senecal on Racing Toward Zero: The Untold Story of Driving Green

06.07.21 | Podcast | By:

For this video podcast, I spoke with Dr. Felix Leach, Associate Professor of Engineering Science at Oxford University and Dr. Peter Kelly Senecal, Co-Owner and Vice President, Convergent Science on their just-released book, Racing Toward Zero: The Untold Story of Driving Green. Following are a couple of excerpts from our discussion, which you can view or download below, or listen to in ITunes, Spotify, Google Podcasts or TuneIn.

Kelly on the Role of Battery Electric Vehicles: 

“Certainly Felix and I, we talk about this in the book, we are advocates of battery electric vehicles. We think they definitely hold a firm place in the future transportation solution, and there’s definitely a time and a place for them. But we don’t feel, at least in the near term, maybe to medium term, that they are the silver bullet solution. If we’re really going to decarbonize quickly, which I think is in all of our best interests, we have to take a look at this mix of technologies, and that’s really one of the core themes of the book.”

Felix on the Range of Light-Duty Transportation Options Available:

“It just seems that there’s now so many options, particularly for light-duty transportation, that there weren’t even two or three years ago. I felt that, given this kind of choice that was available, people seemed to be picking one technology or their favorite technology or maybe the one they’re invested in or whatever and saying that this is the best solution. I think it’s a bit more nuanced than that and that the best solution maybe depends on the application, where you are in the world, and so we try and bring together what’s a hugely diverse topic to try and discuss the pros and cons of every solution because no solution is a silver bullet. No solution has the perfect outcomes for everyone.”

Kelly on the Need to Get Past the Silver Bullet Idea in Transportation Energy:

“Driving a hybrid, a full hybrid vehicle in the U.S. in most of the states, is better from a CO2 stand point than a BEV. Now, certainly there are states in the U.S. where a BEV is cleaner. We’re not advocating for ‘We should be banning everything but hybrids.’ Again, it feeds into this eclectic mix, this diversity approach where for different regions different solutions make more sense. If I’m a consumer and I live in Wisconsin, and I do and I am, what choice can I make to help the environment with my next car? It’s going to be buying a hybrid to be perfectly honest. If I live in Washington state? Probably a BEV, so it just depends on where you live.


The idea of getting past this silver bullet idea and embracing, ‘Look, we need to keep improving all of these things.’ We don’t have to pick one or the other. We should be improving all of them, and if there is a batterygate at some point in the future, what we don’t want to do is look back and say, ‘Hmm… That ICE technology. We froze that back in 2021. We should have kept improving that because now we could have something even more efficient and cleaner that we could fall back on.’ We run the risk of not doing that, so it’s very important to kind of take this eclectic approach and push all the technologies forward.”

Felix on How “Pollution” Is Not A Helpful Word: 

“I think people are learning, speaking from a British or maybe European perspective. Dieselgate had a profound influence. Over here in Europe there’s a very, very high penetration of diesel vehicles and that fell off rapidly. People said, ‘If we get rid of the diesels, we get rid of the pollution.’ I sort of coined this phrase, which I talk about quite a bit in the book, which is ‘Pollution’s not a helpful word.’ What is pollution? Do you mean NOx? Do you mean particulate matter? Do you mean CO2? What do you mean?


I was having this conversation with a local policymaker recently where we’ve had so much focus in the UK on NOx. We’ve got clean air zones and all these things focused on NOx, and they said, ‘Why aren’t our particulates coming down?’ I said, ‘Because you’ve not made any policy interventions around particulate matter.’ I mean, a lot of diesel vehicles are fitted with diesel particulate filters so their particulate emissions are very, very low. But, this relentless focus on a single pollutant, whether its CO2 or NOx or whatever. Actually, I think we are now beginning to make an impact that people have seen, certainly in Europe, that focus on NOx hasn’t actually changed the whole picture. Yes, one pollutant has come down but not everything has, so I think this lifecycle approach has people receptive to it. I think even with electric vehicles people are focusing on ‘Hang on. We know the electricity doesn’t just come from the plug. Where does it come from up stream?'”

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