Sustainable fuels could play an important role in reducing transport emissions even as electric vehicles become cheaper, says a new study from VTT and the University of Cambridge.
While electric vehicles are becoming cheaper, sustainable fuels could also play an important role in reducing transport emissions in order to meet climate-change goals, says a new study by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the University of Cambridge Judge Business School.
Sustainable fuels have much potential to help decarbonise
road transport in the near term, particularly for use by long-range
vehicles, says the study just published in Joule, a leading journal
focusing on sustainable energy published by Cell Press.
The research says, in effect, that while policymakers are
rightly enthusiastic about the potential for electric vehicles to cut road
emissions, we should not lose sight of the limitations of such vehicles for
long-haul transport and the corresponding need to also develop sustainable
The study and its conclusions are based on what the authors
believe is the first like-for-like comparison of near-term costs of various
road-transport decarbonisation options including battery electric vehicles
(BEVs) and carbon neutral synthetic fuels (CNSFs), which can be divided into
fuels produced from biomass via gasification and electrofuels produced from CO2
and water using electricity.
“Although already competitive over short distances, we
find longer-range BEVs are likely to remain more expensive than CNSFs even if
low battery costs are achieved,” the study says.
The study says it is therefore a priority to develop and
test a “portfolio” of different CNSF options in order to identify the
most promising future technologies to cut transport emissions. There are
currently no commercial-scale CNSF projects.
Of the fuel options examined in the new study, synthetic biofuels
produced from woody biomass were identified as being more competitive than
electrofuels at the present time.
“Converting CO2 from being a pollutant to a
fuel has immediate appeal to many,” says the study’s lead author, Dr Ilkka
Hannula of VTT. “However, electrofuels will remain expensive in the near term
and are difficult to scale up in the longer term. Although wind and solar have
already reached cost parity with fossil energy in electricity in certain
regions globally, they are still far from reaching cost parity with crude oil
The research shows that we need to “pursue all transport decarbonisation options far more aggressively,” says study co-author Dr David M. Reiner, University Senior Lecturer in Technology Policy at Cambridge Judge Business School.
“These efforts should be technology-neutral as to
whether breakthroughs happen with wood chips, CO2 utilisation or
electric vehicles, as long as they meet basic sustainability standards. At this
stage, the important thing is to have a wide portfolio where we focus on
learning-by-doing and economies of scale.”