Europe's top scientists reach consensus on need to electrify transport and tame demand

T&E welcomes the EASAC's Decarbonisation of transport: options and challenges paper. The focus of the study is specifically road transport. Unlike T&E's own work on this, measures are not explicitly modeled, and there is little discussion of the cost.

It shows a wide and comprehensive view of policy measures to reduce demand and to shift passengers and freight to cleaner modes, but correctly notes that these measures face many challenges. Any reduction in demand will have to be implemented with great care to ensure social equity through this transition.  

As a reduction in demand will not decarbonise the sector, the report calls for a fast transition to zero emission vehicles. It rightly points to the limited potential of sustainable biofuels and to an approach of efficiency first, which favours direct electrification through batteries or electric road systems. For example, trucks running on overhead wires through a pantograph would require on average 2.5 times less primary zero carbon electricity generation compared to green hydrogen fuel vehicles, and 5 times less than e-fuels (hydrocarbons produced from hydrogen and direct carbon capture from the air).

The paper calls for green battery production in Europe, which T&E strongly supports. The paper also calls for policies to promote e-fuels in aviation, which is inline with T&E's own aviation decarbonisation strategy, so long as the carbon is directly captured from the air. However, its use in shipping and long-haul trucks would in practice be prohibitively expensive. These synthetic fuels are assumed to be produced abroad, which runs counter to Europe's vision of energy sovereignty. 

The paper points to LNG as a transitional fuel, as it could, theoretically, deliver 20% savings from the tank-to-wheel. Although the paper clarifies that natural gas is still a fossil fuel and thus must be phased out, the push for its use as a transitional fuel is disappointing, as many studies show that in practice there are no GHG savings. The caveats for using gas include requiring strict monitoring of gas suppliers to Europe, which may not be politically or technically feasible. 

Thomas Earl, senior data analyst with Transport & Environment, said: "This report shows that there's scientific consensus on the need to tame the rise in demand for mobility and electrify a large segment of the industry, in order to decarbonise transport in Europe. However, it does not focus on how to decarbonise aviation and long-distance shipping, where renewable, sustainable hydrogen and synthetic fuels are needed."

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Nico Muzi
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