Low-carbon liquid fuels are sustainable liquid fuels from non-petroleum origin, with no or very limited net CO2 emissions during their production and use compared to fossil-based fuels. They have a strategic role to play in the transition to a climate-neutral economy.
First blended with conventional fuels, low-carbon fuels will progressively replace fossil-based fuels. The carbon intensity of the fuels will depend on the share of low-carbon liquid fuels blended in the end-product. Only once the fossil component in the fuels sold at the pump is completely replaced by low-carbon liquid fuels, will these fuels be carbon-neutral.
Low-carbon liquid fuels as they come on the market will enable to progressively decarbonise the entire car fleet, existing and new vehicles, on the road. Alternative technologies such a Battery Electric Vehicles or Hydrogen Fuel Cells will require instead a progressive replacement of the car fleet.
Therefore, low-carbon liquid fuels will, for the foreseeable future, provide a competitive solution compared to alternative technologies, and reduce pressure and cost of achieving complete fleet turnover to ensure climate neutrality, also supporting a just transition across Europe.
Internal Combustion Engines powered with low-carbon liquid fuels* (biomass, waste, renewables and recycled CO2) will be as sustainable as Battery Electric Vehicles powered by green electricity.
*These will be climate-neutral through recycled or biogenic CO2 and low-carbon technologies in the production phase (CCS & H2).
A recent study by studio Gear Up and commissioned by FuelsEurope shows that in Western EU countries, only 40%-60% of the population is able to afford a new car, while in Central & Eastern EU countries, less than 20% of the population is. This means that a large part of the population in those countries rely on second-hand vehicles for their mobility needs.
Low-carbon liquid fuels will play a critical role in the energy transition of all transport modes and will give customers a choice between low-carbon technologies, ensuring that low-carbon transport is accessible to all.
The EU’s 2050 climate neutrality objective will only be reachable if all enabling technologies are available.
Only a combination of electrification and other low-carbon technology options for cars and vans will allow faster decarbonisation of road transport while benefitting the European economy, industrial system, and society. Moreover, having a broader mix of technologies during the transition is a more resilient approach in facing implementation challenges, such as limited availability of raw materials, access to charging infrastructure and public acceptance. Find more about the study here.
Capitalising on our technological know-how and flexible infrastructures, we will increasingly switch to new feedstock to progressively reduce net carbon emissions of liquid hydrocarbons.
Food-crop based biofuels
Feedstock: Sustainable food- and feed-crop (e.g. feedstocks such as sugar crops, starch crops), and sustainable vegetable oils;
Technology: Transesterification, fermentation, hydrogenation of vegetable oils. e.g. Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO), Ethanol, FAME (Fatty acid methyl ester).
Hydrotreated Vegetable Oils/Biodiesel, Biomass-to-Liquid and Waste-to-Liquid
Feedstock: Non-food-crop based such as lignocellulosic biomass including wood and residues from forestry, agricultural residues (straw and stover) and energy-crops or waste materials (e.g. waste from industry, waste oil & fats – e. g. waste cooking oils – or solid waste);
Technology: Multiple routes, including fermentation (Ethanol), hydrogenation (HVO) or transesterification of waste oils & fats (FAME), thermochemical conversion routes such as BTL (gasification and Fischer-Tropsh synthesis) or pyrolysis/hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL).
Note: the difference between sustainable 1st generation biofuels and advanced biofuels is related to the feedstock.
Power-to-Liquid synthetic fuels:
Feedstock: Renewable electricity produced from wind, solar or hydro and captured CO2.
Technology: Water electrolysis + fuel synthesis (e.g. Fischer-Tropsch; methanol route).
E-fuels are synthetic fuels, resulting from the synthesis of green hydrogen produced by the electrolysis of water, using green electricity and carbon dioxide (CO2) captured either from a concentrated source (flue gases from an industrial site) or from the air (Direct Air Capture).
The Commission Communication “A hydrogen strategy for a Climate-neutral Europe” of July 2020 outlines the need for other forms of low-carbon hydrogen in the short and medium term, primarily to rapidly reduce emissions from existing hydrogen production and support the parallel and future uptake of renewable hydrogen. This low-carbon hydrogen, also known as blue hydrogen, is produced from gas and Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS)/ Carbon Capture & Use (CCU).
They will live side by side, as there is no silver bullet, no single technology that will address the challenge of decarbonising the entire transport sector. Low-carbon liquid fuels are part of the energy mix in their own right. The global demand for liquid fuels will remain strong, notably for commercial transport, aviation, marine, petrochemicals, where electrification is not technologically possible.
They are produced from new feedstocks, notably biomass, renewables, waste and captured CO2, which are compliant with EU sustainability standards and are close to zero CO2 content. However, as long as they are blended with fossil fuels, low-carbon liquid fuels cannot be labelled as zero-carbon fuels, even if they reduce their CO2 intensity.
The production of low-carbon liquid fuels implies emissions (Scope 2) which we will compensate by the use of clean hydrogen and Carbon Capture Storage (CCS), ultimately enabling negative emissions by 2050. The switch from fossil-based to non-fossil feedstock in using low-carbon liquid fuels (Scope 3) will allow further cuts in carbon intensity.
They are made from solar, wind and hydro, all renewable energy sources. The CO2 component of these fuels is captured from the atmosphere, and released when the fuel is used. This net-zero CO2 cycle makes e-fuels climate-neutral. E-fuels made from low-carbon hydrogen, produced from gas and Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS)/ Carbon Capture & Use (CCU) can also be labelled as climate-neutral fuels.
The refinery of the future will become a hub where all these different fuels will be processed in a way that complies with the automotive industry’ specifications.
The industry stands ready to start building the first commercial operating plants at scale as soon as the enabling policy framework is implemented.
Liquid fuels are highly taxed, regardless of their carbon intensity. This needs to change. We need an enabling policy framework, achieving the double objective of keeping fuel prices socially acceptable and making a business case for investments, hence providing incentives comparable to other low-carbon technologies, such as electrification.
Air quality is not determined by the fuel, but by the vehicle. The latest EURO 6d and EURO 7 vehicles are extremely clean. Recent tests under real driving conditions have shown that EURO 6d vehicles are fully compliant with EU emission level limits (for PMs & NOx), whereas existing emission-control technologies will enable the offset of the remaining emissions.