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25 April 2022

Fact: An ICE can be climate neutral

Society is currently facing a time in which the ways we move, and transport goods, must undergo significant change: ‘carbon neutrality’ has become not only a keyword, but a main requirement for all vehicles. This situation has led us to the start of a necessary, yet challenging path which European consumers must follow. Specifically, legislation such as CO2 emission standards for cars & vans, which is currently being discussed in Brussels, will play a key role in paving this route.

The industrial, social and environmental challenge ahead of us is tremendous. Therefore, we cannot afford to put all our eggs into a single “electromobility basket,” but rather we should adopt a strategic approach by utilizing synergies between all solutions that are already on the table and ready to play their role. Such a holistic approach should not blindly take engine technology into account alone, but rather fully integrate the aspect of fuels and energy, as fuels produced from various renewable sources will have an essential role to play in the transition.

In order to be fully future-proof and effectively lead to a transition towards emission-free transport, new vehicles will need to be clean, affordable to all, and immediately ready for use.

In the following, we want to discuss the requirements for a future proof car and discover why gas-powered vehicles would already tick all the boxes today:

  • Vehicles must be low emission and transitioning towards carbon neutrality 

    We must achieve the objective set out in the Paris Agreement for ensuring the global temperature increase remains well below 2°C while pursuing efforts to keep it to 1.5°C. This starts by reaching the targets of the European Green deal and cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030. When discussing the future of transport, the main focus and goal must be carbon neutrality in transport. Unfortunately, today’s major legislative shortcoming stems from the adopted methodology and approach wherein emissions are measured only at the tailpipe of a vehicle. Now, as a consequence people have the wrong assumption that a vehicle will not generate emissions simply because it has no tailpipe. We are forgetting all emissions generated when producing fuel, or energy.Compressed natural gas (CNG) – powered cars, running on biomethane, have similar – or better – total emissions to those of an electric-powered vehicle when measuring the emissions on a combined Well-to-Wheel (WtW) and manufacturing emissions basis. Moreover, running a gas car on pure biomethane even enables negative WtW emissions, depending on the feedstock used to produce said biomethane.

  • Renewable fuels and energy must be available and scalable 

    To harness the environmental benefits of all vehicles, renewably-produced fuels are key. The quantity of biomethane which can be fuelled and used as bio-CNG vehicle fuel (and bio-LNG for trucks) is growing exponentially. To realize this, sustainable production pathways based on the circular economy are largely available. In fact, more than a quarter of the gas used in road transport is already renewable. The European Commission further estimates that there will be at least 44 bcm/467 TWh of biogas and biomethane available in 2030; sufficient for the decarbonisation of all sectors.

  • Vehicle technology must be technologically mature, available and affordable 

    In order to achieve wide-scale customer acceptance and uptake, and thus benefit from the offered (environmental) advantages, such vehicles must be readily available, technologically mature, affordable, and easy to use. Gas vehicles have been on the market for many years now and are widely available across the different market segments, while internal combustion engines (ICEs) are a highly developed technology for which Europe is the industrial leader.

  • Future proof vehicles must be able to be refuelled/recharged easily, rapidly, and anywhere 

    Customers want to fuel their vehicles anytime, anywhere, and in a timely manner. Therefore, when it comes to infrastructure, we must not only consider quantitative aspects, such as the existence of (or potential for) a robust, wide and geographically homogeneous fuelling station network. But also qualitative aspects such as the fact that road users must be familiar with the refuelling technology so that they can refuel easily and quickly.Today in 2022, the European gas refuelling infrastructure network consists of more than 4120 CNG (and 420 LNG) stations for which a significant amount of biomethane is already available.

    At the same time, fuelling a CNG-powered vehicle is as easy, fast and safe as fuelling a petrol (or diesel) vehicle. Millions of consumers trust this solution already. 

  • Not only about vehicles: fuel sources must be local and renewable 

    Producing fuels and vehicles locally will not only grant independence over strategic economic sectors, but also create jobs and boost innovation. Navigant’s study ‘Job creation by scaling up renewable gas in Europe’ already concluded in 2020 that the production of biomethane alone can create about 1 million direct and indirect jobs in Europe by 2050, which will empower new business opportunities for start-ups, SMEs, large companies and citizens alike. The fulfilment of this prediction is accelerated by the recent proposal of the European Commission to scale up biomethane production to 35bcm by 2030 and to boost the production of renewable hydrogen in Europe.

With its proposal to revise the CO2 emission standards for cars & vans, the European Commission set a high level of ambition to decarbonise the European vehicle fleet. Yet, by adhering to a pure tailpipe approach to measure GHG emission reductions, this proposal fails to establish a much-needed holistic framework to decarbonise road transport and seemingly incentivises electrification as the only way forward. Crucially, this overlooks the fact that biomethane can enable zero carbon solutions for large parts of the transport fleet. Vehicles powered by low carbon bioCNG (and bioLNG) are widely available, affordable, proven in operation and ready to play their role.

In order to achieve rapid and considerable GHG emission reductions at a reasonable cost, all transport solutions will be needed, including the further uptake of renewable fuels such as biomethane, an undertaking that can be realized—for example—through the inclusion of a voluntary crediting system.

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This article was published on EURACTIV on 25 April.

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