Alternative fuels could gradually replace fossil energy sources and make transport sustainable by 2050, according to a report presented to the European Commission.
It says the European Union (EU)needs a fossil fuel-free and largely CO2-free energy supply to reduce road transport’s impact on the environment and boost the security of energy supplies – and its experts say this is possible.
However, Roddy Graham, chairman of the Institute of Car Fleet Management (ICFM) and commercial director at Leasedrive Velo said it cannot come at the expense of service efficiency.
“Currently, from ICFM’s standpoint, the success of operating a green fleet that works is contingent on following proven fleet management principles,” explains Graham.
“Central to this is the importance of stakeholder buy-in to the business case for a greener fleet and pursuing a ‘technologically neutral’ approach. This aims to promote the lowest CO2 emitting vehicles but places equal emphasis on vehicles being ‘fit for the purpose’.”
The report, which has been written by the EU’s expert group on future transport fuels, concedes that while single-fuel solutions could be possible with liquid biofuels and synthetic fuels, feedstock availability and sustainability considerations constrain their supply potential.
Therefore, one single fuel is unlikely to be the answer – other solutions, such as hydrogen, will probably play a key role.
The group thinks that all sustainable fuels will be needed to resolve the expected supply-demand tensions.
And it is possible, according to Graham, that technological change could enable fossil fuels to be used with an acceptable carbon footprint.
“To state in 2011 that by 2050 alternative fuels will replace fossil fuels is too strong a statement and may not hold true,” he says.
“After all, vehicle manufacturers have made huge strides forward in making the internal combustion engine cleaner and more fuel efficient.”
Electric/hybrid vehicles are often deemed an option, but questions are still being asked about how green they actually are, plus recharging and cost issues.
Paula Maxwell, fleet manager at the housing company, the Longhurst Group, says: “At the present time electric cars are not convenient for our company car fleet as they only drive 100 miles before needing to be recharged and most of our drivers do over this in one day.”
Paul Hollick, general manager – sales development at Alphabet, believes new fuels and new vehicle technologies alone will not be sufficient to shield fleets from increasingly volatile and upward-trending prices for liquid fuels - a process that is already under way.
He says: “Businesses therefore need to be working on new fleet strategies already, as there isn’t a magical ‘techno fix’ coming along – at least not in the next 5-10 years – that will solve the growing cost problem.”
The EU report suggests that road transport could be powered by electricity for short distances, hydrogen and methane up to medium distance and biofuels/synthetic fuels, LNG and LPG for long distances.
“For vans and cars, the solution offered by the report is complex. The suggested mix includes petrol, diesel, electric, hydrogen, biofuels, synthetic fuels, natural gas, biogas, LPG etc. This is a very confusing state for anyone trying to plan a fleet,” explains Simon Graham, environmental strategist for office services company Commercial Group.
“The fact that all of them are possible does not make them all necessary. It is likely that one technology will dominate and so it is essential that transport managers keep their eyes wide open to see which way it will go.”
Alternative transport fuel options
The Expert Group Report identifies a number of alternative fuel options for substituting oil as the energy source for propulsion in transport:
- Electricity/hydrogen – electricity and hydrogen are universal energy carriers and can be produced from all primary energy sources: a main option
- Biofuels (liquids) – another main option
- Synthetic Fuels – as a technology bridge from fossil to biomass based fuels
- Methane (natural gas and biomethane) – as complementary fuels
- LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) – as a supplement
Biofuels and renewables
The UK uses 1.6 billion litres of biofuel annually, representing 3.3% of the total road fuel market. Currently all UK biofuel is made from conventional or so called first-generation feedstocks and nearly 80% is imported.
The EU’s renewable energy directive and fuel quality directive bring all EU biofuel policy under centralised legislation. The EU believes that biofuels could realistically contribute 14% of the European transport fuels market by 2020 – the equivalent of 43 million tonnes of fossil oil a year.