A Reality Check on Clean Mobility

FROM THE SEPTEMBER ISSUE: EPure's Emmanuel Desplechin emphasizes the important role ethanol must play in reducing Europe's transportation emissions.
By Emmanuel Desplechin | August 15, 2018

The EU has high hopes for lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from cars and light-duty vehicles in the coming decades. But in Brussels, most of the talk on this important issue focuses on electric vehicles as a so-called “zero-emission” solution.

That’s an admirable goal, but the real story is not quite so clear cut. Two new studies offer a timely reality check on what kind of cars are likely to be on Europe’s roads between now and 2050—and what will be needed to decarbonize them. The message from the research is clear: With a high percentage of cars with internal combustion engines still in circulation, sustainable low-carbon fuels such as renewable EU ethanol will play a vital role.

A Ricardo Energy & Environment study looked at the makeup and emissions of the potential EU auto fleet mix for the coming decades. It found that use of low-carbon fuels like renewable EU ethanol could provide additional GHG reductions that would otherwise not be achieved. It also found that the use of sustainable ethanol could lessen potential long-term uncertainties associated with the deployment of electrically chargeable vehicles (ECVs).

The other study, from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), looked at barriers hampering the uptake of electrically chargeable cars in the EU, concluding that market penetration is low and “very fragmented.”

Even under the most ambitious scenario examined in the study, with 40 percent of the new passenger cars sales in 2030 being electric vehicles, those vehicles would make up just 15.7 percent of the EU passenger vehicle fleet in 2030.

The study also looked at the related direct and well-to-wheels GHG emissions of these different scenarios depending on the amount of low-carbon fuels in the energy mix.

The report states: “The additional [carbon] savings generated by the increased use of low-carbon fuels mean that even with low electrification rates, reductions achieved under a low-carbon fuels scenario are greater than a scenario with high electrification but no increased use of low-carbon fuels. This is true even if electricity decarbonizes more rapidly than in the reference scenario.”

The ACEA study notes that ECVs currently make up 1.5 percent of total new car sales in the EU and identifies key barriers holding back wider consumer uptake of ECVs: affordability, infrastructure availability, and lack of investment.

The affordability of electric cars remains a strong deterrent for customers across the EU, according to ACEA. Its analysis shows market share is close to 0 percent in countries with a GDP below 18,000 euro, while it is no more than 0.75 percent in half of all EU member states.

“The market is essentially driven by customers,” says ACEA Secretary General Erik Jonnaert. “A natural shift to electric vehicles will simply not happen without addressing consumer affordability.”

The European Commission has proposed a benchmark for the share of zero- and low-emisions vehicles registrations at 15 percent by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030. But battery-electric cars accounted for just 0.7 percent of total EU car sales in 2017. “We are worried that some policymakers have completely unrealistic expectations regarding the pace of market development,” Jonnaert says.

These studies clearly show that betting only on one solution for Europe is not enough to reduce transport emissions. We need a variety of tools to decarbonize the majority of the existing and future fleet still running on liquid fuels.

A more realistic approach to achieving EU clean mobility goals requires incentivizing sustainable renewable low-carbon liquid fuels as an immediate, cost-effective solution to decarbonizing new and future transport.

As the process of deciding on the post-2020 light-vehicle carbon-dioxide standards begins, the EU should consider a technology-neutral approach in the transport sector, ensure policy consistency by maintaining the Fuel Quality Directive requirement to lower the carbon intensity of transport fuels, and promote deployment of renewable, low-carbon liquid fuels.

The EU needs clean transport that offers motorists viable options and reduces harmful emissions. But we shouldn’t have to wait decades for the uptake of electric vehicles and installation of new infrastructure. With renewable ethanol, we can deliver results now.

Author: Emmanuel Desplechin
Secretary General
ePURE, the European Renewable Ethanol Association