The statistical office of the European Union (Eurostat) announced this week that the EU has met the target of 10% deployment of renewable energy in transport by 2020. The share of green energy in the EU mobility sector includes biomethane, liquid biofuels and renewable electricity. These renewable alternatives should benefit from relevant legislative support to make sure we continue reaching our GHG emissions reductions goals in the transport sector.
The EU transport sector still relies heavily on fossil fuels and is responsible for one quarter of Europe’s GHG emissions, a share that keeps growing. In addition, the sector is a significant source of air pollution. Hence, the replacement of fossil fuels by renewable and low-carbon alternatives in transport is right now one of the EU top priorities.
Eurostat data show that the average share of energy from renewables in transport increased from 1.6% in 2004 to 10.2% in 2020, slightly above the target level. This share includes renewable electricity, but also biomethane and liquid biofuels. It would be logical to think that all these solutions receive equal support to make sure that the share of renewable energy in transport continues growing.
Part of this support will come from the development of relevant legislation. The EU seems to be strongly supporting the deployment of electric technologies and infrastructure to reach net-zero emissions in the mobility sector by 2050. However, it has also proposed the effective ban of combustion engine cars from 2035. With this measure, the full deployment of renewable alternatives such as biomethane are hanging by a thread.
Combustion engines are today fueled by diesel and petrol, but these technologies, as well as all related infrastructure (i.e. refueling stations), are compatible with the use of biomethane, which is according to Eurostat one of the key contributors towards the use of renewable energy in transport. Data from NGVA Europe disclosed also this week shows that more than a quarter of the gas used in road transport today is renewable and 3,810 CNG stations delivered biomethane to European consumers in December 2020.
The role of biomethane in reducing emissions in the transport sector deserves more attention. Many studies confirm the incredibly high performance of this alternative to reduce emissions according to the lifecycle approach. This approach considers all emissions released across the whole lifespan of the vehicles. The GHG emissions balance when using this green fuel can even be negative, meaning that the vehicle is not increasing the emissions but, instead, reducing them. However, the proposed EU standard to measure CO2 emissions in the mobility sector considers only tailpipe emissions, those emitted while the vehicle is running.
If we go back to Eurostat data, Sweden was the clear leader in the use of renewables in transport with a share of 31.9%. This leadership is explained, according to the EU statistical office, by the high use of compliant biofuels, including biomethane. The Swedish state provides investment support for sustainable biomethane production and refueling infrastructure. The government provides also end user incentives to stimulate the purchase of vehicles running on sustainable gas and has set out strict environmental zones in cities, allowing only low emission vehicles. They also apply long-term tax exemptions on biomethane, ensuring that vehicles are refueled with renewable and sustainable biomethane. This approach has resulted in a world leading biomethane share of 95%.
The data disclosed by Eurostat this week prove that there is not one single solution towards net-zero in transport and, consequently, support to all readily available solutions and technologies is crucial. This support should come in the form of a clear, coherent and technology-neutral legislative framework driving investments towards the large-scale development of all renewable alternatives contributing to clean mobility.