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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.

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 vegetable oils).

Technology: Transesterification, fermentation, hydrogenation. e.g. Ethanol, FAME (Fatty acid methyl ester).

Hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO)

Hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO), depending on their feedstock, can be either classified as 1st generation biofuels or advanced biofuels.

Feedstock:

Sustainable 1st generation biofuels:  Sustainable vegetable oil;

Advanced biofuels:  Waste oil & fats (e. G. Waste cooking oils).

Technology: Hydrogenation of vegetable oils, and waste oils & fats.

Advanced biofuels

Biomass-to-Liquid and Waste-to-Liquid

Feedstock: Lignocellulosic Biomass including wood and residues from forestry, waste-wood from industry, agricultural residues (straw and stover) and energy-crops – option to use other feeds in niche areas, such as municipal solid waste.

Technology: Multiple routes, including thermochemical conversion routes such as BTL (gasification and Fischer-Tropsh synthesis) or pyrolysis/hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL).

E-fuels

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.

Myth-busters