Biomethane’s boundless potential to decarbonise heavy-duty transport in the EU market

The European Commission’s has ambitious plans to reduce Heavy Duty Vehicle (HDV) emissions by 90% by 2040, but how can the industry get there?
The Parliament Partner Content

By The Parliament Partner Content

The Parliament Partner Content team works with organisations from across the world to bring their stories to the eyes of policy makers and industry stakeholders across Europe.

12 Dec 2023

Decarbonising heavy-duty vehicles (HDV) is a critical component of the EU's climate goals. Biomethane, with its low-carbon to carbon-negative profile and compatibility with existing infrastructure, is already making substantial progress in reducing emissions from Heavy Duty Vehicles. When combined with battery technology for short-haul urban transport and hydrogen for long-haul logistics in the future, a comprehensive approach emerges that can revolutionize the industry, provided that it’s backed by a robust legal framework. These were the major takeaways from the event held on 8 November, with Hexagon.

MEP Peter Vitanov, the event host, was keen to consider a bold spectrum of perspectives leading to a cleaner future without compromising the competitiveness of the sector: “We need a more comprehensive strategy where all available technologies are incorporated, including the use and uptake of alternative fuels,” said the policymaker. The picture is daunting: heavy-duty trucks represent around 25% of global road emissions and 97% of trucks sold in the EU today are running on diesel. Hexagon Composites, a company dedicated to driving energy transformation,  is committed to slashing CO2 levels caused by HDVs. A global market leader in clean fuel systems technology, including renewable biomethane, batteries and hydrogen fuel cells, Hexagon offers several clean solutions for short-and long-distance vehicles for both light and high-payload cargo. Jon-Erik Engeset, CEO of Hexagon since 2013,is optimistic that by mid next decade, when the supply chain is more developed, light commercial transport will go fully electric, in city and regional segments. 

With the FitFor55, we strangled our industry. Modernise or die.

MEP Radan Kanev (EPP, Bulgaria)

For medium and heavy-duty transport, however, batteries alone will not fix the problem, especially taking into account the ambitious targets of 45% reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030, leading up to 90% from 2040. “The European Commission’s proposal is doomed if it doesn’t consider the utilisation of all existing technologies to accelerate the decarbonisation of HDV,” said Engeset. MEP Maria Grapini said the EU’s ambition must be matched with correlation and possibility. Currently, the share of green gas in transport within all natural gas vehicles — buses and trucks on the road — is around 20% in Europe, said Harmen Dekker, the European Biogas Association’s (EBA) CEO. Some countries boast a share as high as nearly 100%. “By 2050, about 15bcm is projected to be needed for the long-haul HDV transport. If we are currently producing 2/3 of the gas demand of the future, the need for the Heavy Duty Vehicle sector is only a fraction of the total,” explained Dekker.

No clean solutions, no targets

Adding to the challenge, the EU doesn’t have sufficient raw materials to develop clean technology timely in scale. And the deployment of charging infrastructure presents yet another hurdle. In order to reach 2030 targets with zero emission vehicles only, ACEA estimates 370 megawatt chargers need to be installed per month as of 2024. But access to charging infrastructure is particularly challenging for Heavy Duty Vehicles due to their diversity, long-distance travel, and high energy consumption. “This will only be feasible if there is a level of market deployment of these vehicles,” said MEP Radan Kanev, shadow rapporteur for the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation, noting that because charging stations for Heavy Duty Vehicles are extremely costly and without market incentives, the burden will fall on the governments.

The European Commission’s proposal is doomed if it doesn’t consider the utilisation of all existing technologies to accelerate the decarbonisation of HDV

- Jon-Erik Engeset, CEO Hexagon Composites

Raluca Marian, Director of EU Advocacy and General Delegate of International Road Transport Union (IRU)’s Permanent Delegation to the EU, expressed serious concerns regarding the targets currently backed by a majority of the ENVI Committee: “If the 45% target becomes a reality, it means that six years from now all the trucks need to be zero-emission. The whole burden for the infrastructure is on transport operators and shippers.” MEP Kanev agreed: “With the FitFor55, we strangled our industry. Modernise or die.” Policymakers in the room and industry backed the need for the introduction of a Carbon Capture Factor (CCF) through the CO2 Standards Regulation. Once the benefits of renewable fuels are recognised, their decarbonisation potential can be leveraged through already available mature technologies and infrastructure that utilize these alternative fuels. In practice, the CCF would adjust CO2 emissions based on fuel type thus helping scale up renewable fuels like biomethane. For MEP Kanev, the introduction of this mechanism “will help, but it’s not enough.”

Unlocking the power of biomethane

Engeset believes in a mechanism that allows for the full spectrum of technologies to contribute to the CO2 reduction objectives in heavy transport: “When you move to heavier vehicles and longer distances, nobody knows what the future will bring. In order to move the needle, we need to make use of renewable biomethane in the next 10-15 years.” EBA’s Dekker signalled a similar vision, urging policymakers not to block this renewable fuel as an alternative to decarbonise long-haul Heavy Duty Vehicles “in favour of another potential propulsion not yet suited for this specific segment.”

Biomethane could be the game-changer to reduce nasty GHG emissions from the heavy-duty sector, Engeset pointed out, noting that an alignment with the EU’s existing aspirations to reach 35bcm of production by 2030 as part of the REPowerEU is essential to reach the climate targets. This alternative fuel has below zero GHG emissions when sourced from organic waste, Engeset explained, referring to the double importance of capturing it. “Methane that is released in the atmosphere is much worse than CO2. Renewable biomethane is compatible with existing infrastructure,  can be sourced locally, and is aligned with the REPowerEU’s goals of strategic autonomy and energy independence,” Engeset added.

By 2050, about 15bcm is projected to be needed for the long-haul HDV transport. If we are currently producing 2/3 of the gas demand of the future, the need for the Heavy Duty Vehicle sector is only a fraction of the total

- Harmen Dekker, CEO EBA

As part of the EU’s intention to regulate methane emissions, it’s important to capture greater quantities of methane that is escaping to the atmosphere, highlighted Eric Bippus, EVP Sales & Engineering at Hexagon. “Today around 3.5bcm of biomethane is produced in the EU.  This figure could be much higher if methane coming from agriculture and waste production is captured and processed to remove impurities and then injected to the pipeline,” explained Bippus.  When looking at the current status of fuelling infrastructure and biomass availability, Bippus is convinced that there is no market better positioned than the EU to develop biomethane. “If Europe is able to achieve the 35bcm of biomethane production, a portion of that could power heavy-duty transport. There are estimates assessing that roughly 15bcm would support heavy-duty transport,” noted Bippus. Talking based on a sustainable projection, Dekker concluded: “The availability of sustainable biomethane is “right under our feet”. We just have to unlock it for a circular future. Apart from being sustainable and fully circular it also makes economic sense.”

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