A visionary approach to delivering low-emission mobility

Europe’s refining industry can help meet the challenges of climate change and contribute to European industry’s overall competitiveness over the next 30 years, reports Rory Watson.

| Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Rory Watson

28 Jan 2019

There is no “silver bullet” for delivering low-emission mobility across all forms of transport.

It will require a holistic policy approach, effective industrial cooperation, the right R&D framework and a range of technologies.

That was the clear message from John Cooper, FuelsEurope Director General, at an event organised by The Parliament Magazine and hosted by Bulgarian S&D MEP Peter Kouroumbashev on 5 December.


Kouroumbashev reminded his audience of the political sensitivity of energy prices; while the focus may be on France’s gilets jaunes, Bulgaria, with 38 per cent energy poverty - Europe’s highest - is also experiencing fuel price protests.

Changing the energy mix, he insisted, requires joined-up thinking and an open mind. Ambitious targets for renewables and energy efficiency need improved connectivity, just as hydrogen cars depend on the required infrastructure.

“When you create a model, you must see the market behind it. My hope for this evening is discussing how we keep all the options open; when assessing different energy scenarios, the EU must not exclude any type.”

Alexander Paquot, Head of Road Transport Unit, DG CLIMA, European Commission, gave an overview of the recently-adopted strategy for a climate neutral Europe by 2050.

“My hope for this evening is discussing how we keep all the options open; when assessing different energy scenarios, the EU must not exclude any type” Peter Kouroumbashev MEP

“This is a long-term vision of the different elements and options to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The strategy does not offer a single answer, but different scenarios and building blocks,” he explained.

The Commission had examined eight scenarios; Paquot focused on five of these.

The benefits from energy efficiency, deploying renewables and electricity to fully decarbonise energy supply, a competitive industry using technology within a circular economy, bio-economy contributions and the hydrogen in the fuel mix of tomorrow.

Allied to this, he identified three mobility challenges: vehicle efficiency improvements, fuel decarbonisation and an efficient mobility management system.

The aim, he explained, “is to start a debate in Europe”.

Asked from the floor what specific contribution industry could make, he replied: “Be part of this long-term strategy. It is helpful to continue our dialogue and come back to us with your thinking.”

John Cooper, Director General of FuelsEurope, which represents 41 member companies responsible for 100 percent of EU refining – seven of which were present – pointed to the need to satisfy both society’s and companies’ needs.

“The strategy [for a climate neutral Europe by 2050] does not offer a single answer, but different scenarios and building blocks” Alexander Paquot, Head of Road Transport Unit, DG CLIMA

He presented, as an industrial opportunity, the organisation’s Vision 2050: A pathway for the evolution of the Refining Industry and Liquid Fuels.

There is progress in replacing petroleum with non-liquid sources. However, he explained, this alone would be insufficient on its own.

“It is unlikely we will ever replace liquid fuels and hydrocarbons in aviation,” he said.

For example, at take-off, a Boeing 787 weighs 230 tonnes, 100 of which is jet fuel. This is the energy equivalent of 2,000 tonnes of batteries.

FuelsEurope recognises the need to address climate change, satisfy the demand for energy from millions of customers and limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Yet the EU refining industry can make two highly effective contributions by gradually moving to new feedstocks combined with more efficient vehicles and by reducing refinery GHG emissions.

The elements of such a transition include more efficient refineries, carbon capture and storage technologies, green hydrogen, improved fuel quality, sustainable and advanced biofuels and power-to-liquids.

“To have options in 20 to 30 years’ time, industry needs strong policy support … Customers really need a choice” John Cooper, Director General of FuelsEurope

“We have the technologies; we believe they are affordable. None alone is a silver bullet, but multiple technologies taken together do add up to a substantial contribution,” Cooper explained.

He presented the results of a Ricardo Plc study prepared for Concawe (the European Petroleum Refining Industry’s scientific and technical body). These show that liquid fuels remain by far the most important form of energy for light duty road transport.

From 2030, fossil diesel and gasoline will decline steeply, increasingly replaced by biofuels and e-fuels.

The studies show that a low-carbon liquid fuel strategy could reduce net transport CO2 emissions by up to 87 percent compared to 2015 – similar to that achieved by an ambitious electrically-powered vehicle scenario.

The evolution in refineries is already underway; they are increasingly becoming important energy hubs within industrial clusters.

“Refineries are the perfect place to deploy these technologies,” Cooper explained.

Concluding, he called for the EU’s industry and technology strategies to encompass refinery and low-carbon transition, provide a policy framework and regulatory system for long-term investor confidence and to retain refineries’ economic viability in the face of tough international competition.

“We believe this is about reinforcing European climate leadership through technologies and industrial strategy. To have options in 20 to 30 years’ time, industry needs strong policy support. This is a multiyear plan,” he said, adding: “Customers really need a choice.”

During the open discussion, one attendee emphasised the need for policy makers to ensure the public is on board as climate change strategies start pushing up fuel prices.

Another raised concerns about the impact of a low carbon agenda on Europe’s international competitiveness.

Pacquot replied: “We are operating on two fronts: make sure others act and our own industry remains leader in this field.”

Closing the event, Kouroumbashev said: “We need to strike a balance between climate policy and industrial policy in Europe. Now is the time to think what kind of sustainable industry we want for Europe, without losing our competitiveness.”

That, he suggested, could be a role for the next European Parliament via a sustainable industry intergroup and own initiative reports.

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