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What are low-carbon liquid fuels?

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.

Contributing to reducing the GHG intensity of all existing and new vehicles

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.



Making the Internal Combustion Engine a net-zero emission vehicle

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).

Internal Combustion Engine with low-carbon liquid fuels give consumers more mobility choices

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.

The technologies driving the transition

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.

Sustainable 1st generation biofuels

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).

Advanced biofuels

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).

A combination of technologies must be deployed in many plants across Europe to deliver low-carbon liquid fuels at scale