The debate, organised by The Parliament Magazine and in association with the European liquefied petroleum gas association (AEGPL), heard that petrol and diesel will make up 80 per cent of the market share for many years to come.
The discussion came in the wake of the commission's 'clean power for transport' package, specifically the proposed directive on the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure.
MEPs are due to vote on the draft law, which aims to facilitate uptake of alternative fuels, at committee stage in November. The main objective is to break the oil dependency of transport and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by accelerating market uptake of alternative fuels and vehicles adapted to their use.
But key questions, including costs and meeting strict EU targets for building up infrastructure to support the use of alternative fuels in transport, remain.
Breaking the over-dependence
Opening the debate, Italian EPP deputy Carlo Fidanza, said he had hoped the commission had "done a slightly better job" on addressing financing issues in the directive.
Fidanza, who is parliament's rapporteur on the draft legislation, said that while electric vehicles had a role to play it was important to consider "all types of different technologies" in the future.
Outlining the details of the directive, Daniela Rosca, who heads up the commission's clean transport and sustainable urban mobility unit, said that if Europe is to break its "over-dependence" on fossil fuels, then alternatives such as LPG and fuel cells will inevitably play an increasingly important role.
The EU legislation, she said, endeavours to "advance" the case for alternative fuels, adding, "We have tried, and I hope succeeded, to take all transport modes and fuels into account in the directive."
Turning to the thorny issue of financing alternatives and the required infrastructure, she said, "I still believe that this is a good time for the market to start investing in this sector."
She also conceded that more is needed to be done to raise awareness of the availability of EU funding, under its Horizon 2020 initiative. "We need to make industry aware of this and encourage the private sector to apply for funding," she said.
The right incentives?
Jeffrey Seisler, CEO of Clean Fuels Consulting and an acknowledged expert on the natural gas industry, seized on the issue of finance, calling for "incentives" to be made available, warning that the private sector alone could not be expected to foot the bill.
He said, "It will take billions of euros to achieve the targets being set by the EU and the question has to be: 'Where's the money going to come from?'
"It is not just a matter of building re-fuelling stations for LPG vehicles. One problem is that currently much of the infrastructure is actually owned by oil companies which are not necessarily massively enthusiastic about promoting alternative fuels because of the traditionally low profit return."
He was also critical of the timeframe of the commission's legislation, which he branded "unrealistic".
The proposal requires member states to adopt national policy frameworks for the market development of alternative fuels and their infrastructure and sets binding targets for the build-up of alternative fuel infrastructure.
But Seisler, whose company seeks to facilitate the commercialisation of 'clean' fuels, cautioned that it would be impossible to meet the 2020 target set by the commission.
He pointed out that in Europe it takes an average of 15 months just to get approval to build a re-fuelling station, and in Italy, this can take up to two years.
"The commission-set timeframe for all this is unrealistic. I would much prefer transitional targets up to 2030. That would be far more credible," he said.
Generally, though, he welcomed the commission's initiative, calling it "long overdue."
Seizing the opportunity
While not opposed to binding targets, Samuel Maubanc, general manager at AEGPL, told the packed debate he fears the directive could turn out to be a "missed opportunity".
What was necessary, he argued, was more "flexibility" which would enable member states to set up their own "comprehensive" action plans and targets.
Although he admitted there was "no silver bullet" for de-carbonising the transport sector, he described LPG as a "success story", pointing out that, currently, some seven million vehicles in Europe run on autogas, an 80 per cent increase in the last five years.
Over the same period, he said the number of LPG re-fuelling stations in Europe had risen by 60 per cent to 27,000.
He added, "If all this sounds like a success story, that is exactly what it is. But we still have a long way to go to make LPG vehicles mainstream."
Henry Wasung, senior communication manager with the European association for hydrogen and fuel cells and electro-mobility in European regions, said alternative fuel use in transport still faced "consumer acceptance" issues.
Citing opposition to the commission's proposals from some member states, Greg Archer, of Transport & Environment, said he hoped the draft directive would "not be buried" in the coming months.
He also questioned the assertion that public money should be used to support the deployment and uptake of LPG technology.
Archer stressed that LPG is a mix of two gases, butane and propane, before asking, "Why should we subsidise fossil fuels? We shouldn't be supporting this from the public purse."
In response, Seisler said, "Fossil fuels are not the evil guys that some would have you believe. The plain truth is that the planet, for now, simply cannot survive on alternative fuels alone. In any case, at the end of the day, it is customers who will decide which type of vehicles to buy."