Maritime not road transport should have first call on e-fuels report finds

Research commissioned by environmental NGO Transport & Environment (T&E) suggests e-fuel would be wasted on cars while it is badly needed to decarbonise planes and ships.

Many car and truck-makers want to use e-fuels such as hydrogen and e-diesel to clean up road transport, but new research shows that powering just a fraction of vehicles with e-fuels in 2050 would require new offshore wind-farms covering an area the size of Denmark. The study by Ricardo Energy & Environment finds that electro-fuels should be prioritised for ships and planes, most of which cannot use batteries to decarbonise and will generate huge demand for e-fuels.

Powering just 10% of cars, vans and small trucks with hydrogen and 10% with e-diesel would require 41% more renewables in 2050 than if they were electric vehicles running on batteries, according to the study. If half of heavy-duty trucks were run on hydrogen and half on e-diesel, they would consume 151% more renewables in 2050 than if they were directly electrified. T&E said the figures show hydrogen and e-fuels need to be deployed first where there are no alternatives – in aviation and shipping.

Geert De Cock, electricity and energy manager at T&E, said, “The EU has the renewable electricity potential to achieve economy-wide decarbonisation, but the scale of the challenge should not be underestimated. The choices we make today could have massive repercussions on power demand in the future. For example, running just a fraction of vehicles on e-fuels would require offshore wind turbines covering all of Denmark. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Powering Europe’s ships with ammonia and hydrogen and planes with e-kerosene would consume more renewables by 2050 (1,275TWh) than all of road transport directly electrified  While ships can run on batteries to decarbonise short sea journeys, they will need hydrogen or hydrogen-based ammonia for longer voyages. As batteries will only be viable on short flights, planes will need to run on e-kerosene or hydrogen to decarbonise.

De Cock added, “The EU wants to deliver 330TWh of hydrogen to the market in the next decade, but for hydrogen to really take off we’ll also need lead markets. Our study shows the aviation and shipping sector alone would create a sizable, new market for green hydrogen, helping to scale the technology and pave the way for zero-emissions shipping and flying.”

T&E said that the EU should set CO2 standards that require ships to operate more efficiently and use clean technology including ammonia and hydrogen. It will also be necessary to mandate aviation fuel suppliers to deliver zero-emission fuels to airlines.

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