Virgin Atlantic’s flight last month from London to New York using only sustainable alternative liquid fuels may not be just a publicity stunt and could quicken the automotive industry’s drive to net zero operations.
That’s the opinion of Eve Pope, technology analyst at IDTechEx, who says the European Union’s ReFuelEU Aviation Regulation adopted earlier this year, mandating 70% sustainable aviation fuel blending by 2050, could have a broad influence across other industries including automotive. Already there’s a decision, waiting to be ratified, to allow the continued use of carbon-neutral fuels in new vehicles with internal-combustion-engine powertrains sold in the EU after 2035.
Pope’s study admits that battery-electric vehicles EVs are not without their faults in emissions terms, requiring increased mining of rare metals and building of new infrastructure. Yet, the study points out that “direct electrification using lithium-ion batteries is a much more efficient use of renewable electricity than producing hydrogen or a CO2-derived fuel”.
On the other hand, it acknowledges that ICE technology has a role in quickening the pace of CO2 emission reduction in the transition period using carbon-neutral fuels. Pope’s study states, “There will be plenty of legacy internal-combustion-engine vehicles remaining on the roads over the next few decades and these could be powered by low-carbon-footprint, CO2-derived drop-in fuels.”
Currently, sustainable alternative fuels can be made from any non-fossil-based renewable feedstock, including biomass, cooking oils and CO2. They offer carbon footprint reductions compared to their fossil fuel equivalents and are carbon neutral in some cases. Production of CO2 fuels promises a route to carbon-neutral fuels with little to no adaptations to the existing infrastructure and stock of vehicles.
Pope’s report concludes: “However, large amounts of external energy are required to convert the stable CO2 molecule into an energy-rich fuel. This means the rollout of CO2-derived fuels will depend heavily on abundant renewable power sources.”