In 2021, transport accounted for 37% of the total CO2 emissions produced by end‐use sectors, amounting to nearly 7.7 Giga tonnes, according to the International Energy Agency. In line with the European Green Deal, the continent plans to reach net zero by 2050, transport playing an important part.
‘Green mobility and decarbonization’ was the main theme on the second day of the Transport Research Arena 2022, taking place in Lisbon. While the plenary session discussed the challenges of decarbonising transport in the face of ever-growing demand, one of the more in-depth strategic sessions presented the available tools and next steps for boosting the uptake of zero-emission vehicles, vessels and aircraft, renewable & low-carbon fuels and related infrastructure.
The European Commission is investing 7 billion euros in innovation to decarbonise transport by 2030 (50%) and 2050 (90%), with an at least matching contribution coming from the industry, according to the partnerships made in the Cluster 5 of the Horizon Europe Programme, explained Philipe Froissard, Head of Unit Future Urban and Mobility Systems at DG Research and Innovation.
For decarbonising aviation, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is not enough, explained Henri Werij, Dean of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering, TU Delft. Reducing emissions from aviation has to be a holistic approach, including reducing fossil fuels, introducing extremely fuel-efficient aircraft, using energy efficient and clean propulsion systems, optimizing cruise altitude and speed and having alternative transport available.
For replacing fossil fuels, the uptake of SAF needs to be complemented by the use of hydrogen and, more importantly, green energy. Aviation can be electrified, although at this point batteries are still too large and, in the best-case scenario, would only be able to fly maximum 300km, Werj said. Additionally, only replacing fossil fuel with SAF would require 22 Gigawatts of energy, so having reliable renewable sources is essential.
The amount of hydrogen we would need to power the whole aviation fleet in 2050 is equal to the amount of energy we currently need to power the entire European continent.Luca Bedon, Head of R&T at AvioAero
Rail is already known as the better alternative to aviation and road, at least for passenger transport, but its full potential in the decarbonisation of transport has not yet been reached, said Markus Hecht, Head of Chair of Rail Vehicles at TU Berlin, who highlighted that rail can also have a great impact on reducing the carbon emissions from cargo transport.
A study on the potential of high-speed rail freight in Europe, published in January 2021, found that although high-speed rail freight is about 70% more expensive than the conventional lorry, it emits 80% less CO2 for the baseline parameter setting. Despite the benefits, the infrastructure for high-speed rail freight is missing in Europe, Hecht mentioning that, currently, there is only one high-speed, high-capacity cargo railway in Europe.
Besides building the necessary infrastructure, there is yet further room for improving the climate efficiency of rail transport, by aiming towards full electrification. Diesel and even steam locomotives are still used in areas where electrification is not possible and, for this, Hecht presented to options. Where the railway only has some portions without electricity, batteries that charge while the train is running on the electrified part can be used. For longer distances, although it takes a lot of space, hydrogen could be the solution.
Although the first day’s conclusion was that technology is not the main bottleneck of decarbonising transport, Georg List, Vice President Corporate Strategy at AVL highlighted that there is still a lot more research that needs to be done and further technology needs to be deployed, especially to reduce the “carbon backpack” of batteries.
Additionally, the power density and affordability of hydrogen cells also needs to be improved, as well as hydrogen efficient production.
The green transition of maritime transport is one of the most challenging. During the opening ceremony on the first day, René Berkvens, Chairman of SEA Europe, explained that, shipping companies make deals for periods of about 30-35 years, because that is the lifetime of a ship, and there are too many uncertainties over the availability and supply of sustainable fuel for shipping for companies to take the risk.
Shipping accounts for 90% of international trade and 2.89% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Inkeri Huttu, Global Technology Manager at ABB Marine, pointed out at the strategic session. In Europe, the waterborne industry has committed to invest 3.3 billion euros for technology and service solutions for a zero-emission future in the context of the Zero Emission Transport Partnership 2021-2030. Moreover, Huttu indicated that, despite all the challenges, 83% of all the orders in 2022 are for alternative fuel capable vessels.”