European clean fuel: solutions and alternatives

European clean fuel: solutions and alternatives

Government Europa explores European clean fuel initiatives and alternative solutions to oil in the transport industry.

Europe is constantly aiming to reduce its carbon emissions in a bid to help slow down the rate of climate change. Fuel is one of the worst CO2 producers and, according to the European Commission, oil is the main fossil fuel used in transport – supplying nearly 100% of road transport fuels. However, finding clean fuel alternatives is more important than ever, as oil is expected to reach depletion by 2050.

Maroš Šefčovič, vice-president of the European Commission and leader of the Energy Union, said in a recent speech at the 20th anniversary gala of the European Metropolitan Transport Authorities (EMTA) in Paris, France, that: “Road transport alone is responsible for over a fifth of Europe’s CO2 emissions and is the main source of pollution in our cities. It is therefore responsible for diseases and premature deaths of millions around the world every year. We can no longer stand by and watch.”

The European commission has released a number of initiatives to boost clean fuel usage across Europe. The initiatives aim to satisfy the commissions long-term objective; an overall reduction on CO2 emissions of 80-95% by 2050.

The European Union’s main transport policy objectives include:

  • To reduce the dependence on the import of fossil fuels for transport;
  • To reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport by 60% relative to 1990 emissions;
  • To tackle problems related to air quality and congestion; and
  • To improve the competitiveness of the EU industry.

Finding alternative, clean fuel is vital for the success of the transport policy objectives, therefore, there are a number of European funded research projects which are currently investigating alternative fuels and how beneficial they can be in making Europe more environmentally friendly.

Electric vehicles as a clean fuel solution

Electric cars are said to be the greenest option for transport at the moment, however, even they pose threats to climate change. Electric cars are only as clean as their power supply; if the cars are using electricity from renewable sources, such as wind and solar, they are ultimately emission free. According to the commission, renewable energy sources accounted for a 13.2% share of the EU-28’s gross energy consumption in 2016. Although this number is increasing, more renewable energy produced in the EU will mean that more can be used in the powering of electric cars.

The commission supported a Europe-wide electromobility initiative called Green eMotion, in partnership with 42 other partners, which included electric car manufacturers, universities, and technology and research institutions. The initiative aimed to combine knowledge and experience from supporting partners to develop information on the market roll-out of electric vehicles in Europe. The project successfully ended in 2015, concluding that more electric vehicles throughout Europe would eventually be more cost-effective, whilst providing a cleaner alternative to oil.

Despite this, in the first six months of 2017, just 1.2% of cars which were sold in the EU were electric powered cars, with the majority of the remaining cars being fuelled by petrol or diesel. At the start of 2018, Europe had 200,000 charging points, but in order to reach targets, by 2020, that number needs to be at almost 800,000.

The European Commission’s focus on biofuels as an alternative to oil

The commission has had a tight focus on biofuel, such as biodiesel or bioethanol, when considering research, policy and initiatives. Biofuels are produced either from the fermentation of plant-based materials or the breaking down of animal/plant fats. They are known to be biodegrade, meaning they produce less pollution than burning fossil fuels. By 2020, the EU aims to have 10% of the transport fuel of each EU country come from renewable sources such as biofuels. It has also been stated that fuel suppliers must reduce the intensity of greenhouse gas in the EU fuel mix by 6%by 2020 in comparison to 2010.

The EU currently has sustainability criteria for biofuels in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without affecting the environment or social sustainability, these include:

  • Biofuels must achieve greenhouse gas savings of at least 35% in comparison to fossil fuels. This savings requirement rises to 50% in 2017. In 2018, it rises again to 60% but only for new production plants. All life cycle emissions are taken into account when calculating greenhouse gas savings. This includes emissions from cultivation, processing, and transport;
  • Biofuels cannot be grown in areas converted from land with previously high carbon stock such as wetlands or forests; and
  • Biofuels cannot be produced from raw materials obtained from land with high biodiversity such as primary forests or highly biodiverse grasslands.

However, there are also issues with burning and producing biofuels, these include the concept of using plant-based material to create energy adding to deforestation issues, which in turn are adding to climate change challenges.

Research into electric planes is now taking off

Hybrid planes could break into the industry, helping to eliminate the extortionate amount of fossil fuels that planes burn. It is estimated that a Boeing 747 burns roughly four litres of fuel every second, and so electric planes could play a crucial role in reducing the tonnes of fossil fuels being burned every hour.

The European Commission have noticed the desperate need to make passenger planes cleaner and have supported projects for this. Modular Approach to Hybrid Electric Propulsion Architecture (MAHEPA) is an EU-funded project and is developing prototype planes using electric motors. The project is running from 2017-2021 and initially the planes have been developed to only carry four passengers. However, the project believes that the modular system should be scalable to larger aircraft designs.

There are still many factors which need considering, including advances in systems integration and engineering in order to meet aviation safety standards, airport infrastructure and regulatory implications.

The European Commission are still working hard to make transport cleaner, these alternatives to oil for fuel will become vital as the depletion of oil is nearing, and research into biofuels and electronic vehicles will continue to be an ongoing process at forefront of the commission’s mind.


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