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Call for renewable fuels to have greater role in plans for green motoring

Date: 27 November 2020   |   Author: Sean Keywood

Those planning the future of UK motoring need to consider cleaner fuels, rather than just cleaner vehicles, according to a new report.

Decarbonising Road Transport: There Is No Silver Bullet argues that applying a range of green technologies will achieve road transport decarbonisation faster than a narrow focus on battery electric vehicles.

One such technology it highlights is renewable fuels - zero and low carbon fuels designed for use in internal combustion engines.

It says these can either be biofuels, produced from sustainable biomass or waster using chemical or thermal processes, or E-Fuels, which are synthetic fuels manufactured using captured carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide together with hydrogen, and get their name as they are made from electricity, which can be from renewable sources.

The report says an advantage of these fuels is that they use existing filling station infrastructure, and that they could have a role in decarbonising the 'legacy fleet' - used petrol and diesel cars that will remain on the road after new ICE sales are banned in 2030.

The report, commissioned by companies including Honda, Aston Martin, Bosch and McLaren, with contributions by bus company Optare, the Renewable Transport Fuel Association and the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, states: "Making all new vehicles zero emissions at the tailpipe only works if the energy grid is zero emission. 

"It also only addresses those new vehicles sold each year (circa two million per annum in 2019), whereas introducing renewable fuels impacts on all vehicles in the car parc, circa 40 million.

"There is a golden opportunity in a post-Brexit, post-coronavirus world for the UK to become the global leader in state of the art zero emission technology, but we must find a way to support both the technology development and the industrial development that follows."

Speaking in a panel debate to coincide with the launch of the report, Andy Eastlake, managing director of the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, said: "We need to do more than just electrify the fleet.

"We are still selling diesel and petrol cars, the engines of which could play out until 2050, so we have to look at decarbonising fuel."

Matt Western MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Groups for Motor and Electric Vehicles, said while a clear target for ending the sale of petrol and diesel cars was vital for the industry to prepare for a managed transition, this alone would not solve the problem.

He said: "We need to address the decarbonisation of both vehicle and fuel to have any real hope of meeting our CO2 reduction ambitions.

"The UK is home to some incredibly innovative companies and research institutions. We should foster their creativity by taking a technology neutral approach to our emissions reduction ambitions, allowing the industry to do what it does best; innovate."

Among the report's other recommendations is that car manufacturers should be more transparent about the emissions produced when their vehicles are made, rather than just tailpipe emissions once they hit the road.

Optare chairman and former Aston Martin CEO Andy Palmer said: "You can demand zero CO2 from the tailpipe but a lot of CO2 is then produced in manufacturing. And while synthetic fuels are not CO2-free at the tailpipe, they can be at production and expulsion. 

"There are lots of solutions and it's important we make that distinction."