An alternative solution for climate neutrality?

Low-carbon fuels made from anything from wood pellets to garbage could hold the key to reducing CO2 emissions in the transport sector. Jonathan Benton reports on a European Parliament event looking at the potential benefits.

From left to right: Maria Spyraki (EL, EPP), John Cooper, Director-General of FuelsEurope, and host Elissavet Vozernberg-Vrionidi (EL, EPP) | Photcredit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Jon Benton

Jon Benton is Content Editor at The Parliament Magazine

30 Jan 2020


Climate change has become the defining issue for the European Union as it enters the new decade under the new leadership of Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission. The recently unveiled ‘European Green Deal’ calls for bold action across Europe to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

FuelsEurope, which represents the EU’s refining industry, believes that the alternative low-carbon fossil fuels that its members are developing could play a key role in Europe’s transition to a post-carbon future, especially in the transport sector.

This was one of the main messages from an event in the European Parliament last November entitled “Vision 2050: Alternative low-carbon technologies, the role of liquid fuels.”


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Greek EPP MEP and host Elissavet Vozemberg-Vrionidi set the scene, saying, “climate change concerns all of us and everyone can and should take action for the climate.”

She added, however, “there is not one single solution” but many – including low-carbon liquid fuel technologies that “can reduce emissions and could be part of the solution for the transport sector.”

Marta Yugo, a modelling science executive from refining research institute Concawe, explained that low-carbon liquid fuel technologies are “sustainable, liquid fuels produced by different types of feedstocks” such as biomass, instead of oil, for example.

“We know how to make petrol, diesel, jet fuel, very low-carbon on its lifecycle. You put this into a modern European internal combustion engine car, it becomes a near zero-emission car. We think we should recognise this as a technology; it’s part of the future” John Cooper, Director-General of FuelsEurope

But, she noted, “the key point is being able to really reduce CO2 emissions across the whole value chain, from the production to the final use of these fuels across all transport segments.”

She explained that what also separates them from conventional fuels is their ability to store energy more efficiently by taking advantage of increased energy density, and the fact that they can be produced from just about anything.

Another advantage is that vehicles would neither have to be renovated, nor their powertrains changed for the fuels to work. In fact, the fuels can be put into vehicles in the same way you would fill up with petrol or diesel. Second-generation low-carbon fuels can now be made by processing biomass from agricultural and forestry residues and specific crops that do not compete with food.

Meanwhile, plastic and municipal waste are also being converted into low-carbon versions of diesel, kerosene and other fuels in a number of sites across Europe.

There is even a project in Germany that uses CO2 as a feedstock to produce fuel, which, when combined with hydrogen, produces between 70 and 90 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than conventional diesel and gasoline.

Yugo said that the main challenge now is being able to ensure that “the supply chain is there” for these fuels to be produced and delivered, adding, “in order to do so it’s clear that cooperation is key.”

“The key point is being able to really reduce CO2 emissions across the whole value chain, from the production to the final use of these fuels across all transport segments” Marta Yugo, Modelling and Science Executive at Concawe

For FuelsEurope Director-General John Cooper, when it comes getting these fuels onto the market, “Road transport is the place to start and we can make it work” because of the abundance of existing legislative framework that simply does not exist in other sectors such as aviation.

However, before approaching policy, there is a lack of political consensus on the issue to contend with first, he argued.

Cooper quoted each of Parliament’s biggest political groups and remarked that none of them shared the same view on what the future of cars should be - including whether to go for zero-emission vehicles or cars that do not run on fossil fuels.

Cooper highlighted that there is variation in the wording as to what vehicles should be and by when.

He pointed out that, “We know how to make petrol, diesel, jet fuel, very low-carbon on its lifecycle. You put this into a modern European internal combustion engine car, it becomes a near zero-emission car. We think we should recognise this as a technology; it’s part of the future.”

But for this to be successful, Cooper said, “We need to work this at European level, keep the Single Market, and have a consistent approach.”

A good place to start would be fuel tax, he said. Current legislation treats all liquid fuels equally, whether they are renewable or not, and this is something Cooper took issue with, saying, “If we put a liquid fuel into a car, whether it is made of 100 percent petroleum or a 100 percent from renewables with really a zero-carbon footprint, it is fully taxed. We think that that’s wrong.”

“Climate change concerns all of us and everyone can and should take action for the climate” MEP Elissavet Vozemberg-Vrionidi (EL, EPP)

He also highlighted the cost to the consumer being a factor, saying that when you pay for petrol at the pump, as much as 55 percent of the cost is tax, therefore a tax reform that would enable these fuels to be affordable at competitive prices would be “attractive for the investor and for the consumer.”

Cooper also argued that low-carbon fuels could realistically help Europe achieve greater emissions reduction more quickly in vehicles than electrification, pointing to 2018 and 2019 European car sales – of which between 2 and 2.5 percent of the total were electric vehicles and all of which were purchased in just the six wealthiest countries.

However, he explained, “if you start to introduce low-carbon liquid fuels it goes into all the vehicles, not only the new vehicles.” Another concern highlighted by several MEPs was the issue of Sustainable Finance and whether these fuels would be included in the taxonomy file.

Cooper defended the fuel industry saying, “as it invests in renewables, it is still somehow stigmatised because it is continuing to supply the remainder of petroleum, then we think that is unfair. The electricity industry is also evolving and has a mixture of renewables and fossil-powered electrification. With the scale of our industry, that kind of a transition is key.”

Closing the event, Greek MEP Maria Spyraki warned, “you have to consider then what you do because as an industry you face a danger of being marginalised in terms of legislation and in terms of the market as well,” to which Cooper replied, “We agree and that’s exactly why we are reaching out to you to make the case that these solutions are needed.”

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