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The decarbonisation efforts of road, rail, aviation and maritime transport

Today the transport sector still produces a quarter of the overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the European Union, as it relies on oil for 94 per cent of its energy needs. The European Commission has underlined that to reach the goals set in the European Green Deal, the transport sector has to decrease its emissions by 90 per cent by 2050. In other words, as the International Energy Agency (IEA) underlined, transport biofuel consumption needs to almost triple by 2030 to be on track with the Sustainable Development Scenario (SDS).

The important role of biomethane while waiting for hydrogen

The European Biogas Association insists on the important role of biomethane. Besides the significant levels of CO2 reduction which are equal, or in some cases, higher than those ensured by green electric mobility, biomethane offers immediate deployment opportunities, manufacturing of the engines or cars within the EU and direct positive impact on the decarbonisation of the sector. Moreover, it can also be used in heavy transport and the maritime sector.

At the same time, the European Biogas Association noted that so far the energy transition has mainly been an electricity transition, while biomethane (and hydrogen) played a minor role. That is also because they are not available in large quantities today and must be scaled up.

Under current policies, hydrogen will not play a major role in the European energy system in 2030, even in scenarios that have a large share of hydrogen in the final gas mix. In the period 2020 to 2030, green hydrogen production will only be tested in demonstration projects, closely linked to existing hydrogen assets or use.

Natural gas to be the largest energy source

According to DNV GL’s Energy Transition Outlook 2020, natural gas will become the world’s largest energy source in the mid-2020s, accounting for nearly 30 per cent of the global energy supply in 2050.

Greece is already looking at it for one of the hard-to-abate sectors: maritime transport. Recently, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the Greek Gas Corporation (DEPA), the Hellenic Gas Transmission System Operator and the Port Authority of Patras, aiming to the promotion of the use of LNG as a marine fuel.

The use of LNG as a marine fuel has multiple social, economic and environmental benefits, such as the creation of new employment opportunities, reduced public health damage – caused by ship emissions in urban centres near ports and coastal areas – the upgrade of the natural environment by reducing emissions and noise pollution, as well as further development of local economies through the dynamics resulting from using LNG.

Compared to conventional marine fuels, LNG contributes to the reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, sulfur oxide (SOx) emissions, nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and suspended particulate matter (PM).

“LNG is a solution for the transitional period, it is available at scale right now at a competitive price, but it is not supporting full de-fossilisation of the sector,” comments Jessica Hofmann, CEO and founder of Greenfuelhub, a consultancy platform specialised in sustainable marine fuels and one of the speakers of the event Future Fuels & Hydrogen Economy that took virtually place on 9 and 10 November.

“Using LNG is opening the possibility to switch to renewable liquefied biogas (LBG) or to modify the existing LNG infrastructure for other net zero-emission fuels, for example, hydrogen or ammonia,” she tells CEENERGYNEWS.

The hydrogen economy

Indeed, hydrogen can play a role similar to natural gas and the synergies between these two fuels – in application and infrastructure – will drive the hydrogen economy.

However, DNV GL noted that whatever the application, the cost and technical challenges of hydrogen infrastructure will be significant. Even where existing infrastructure can be reused or repurposed, there will still be issues to resolve. For example, hydrogen may need to be operated at different pressures (or velocity) than natural gas and biogas. Also, further research may be needed into whether hydrogen could have an adverse effect on materials and various appliances would need to be converted or replaced.

According to the Hydrogen Council, some 280 billion US dollars in global investment will be needed between now and 2030 to fully realise the hydrogen’s role in the energy transition: roughly 40 per cent would go into production; around 30 per cent into storage, transport and distribution; 25 per cent into product development and manufacturing capacity; and the remainder into new business models.

Many countries currently rely heavily on natural gas, especially those in Central and Eastern Europe. One of the major benefits of hydrogen is that countries with extensive natural gas distribution infrastructure can continue to use those assets and avoid having to build electric substitutes. The new Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and the Turkstream pipeline are already working in that direction.

TAP’s operators are focusing on how much hydrogen or green gases can be carried without any infrastructural or with only minor infrastructural changes. On the other hand, some changes are envisioned for low-pressure infrastructure in the Turkstream.

“The role of gas networks could be really important to kick-start broader deployment of hydrogen in society,” said Jørg Aarnes, global lead, low carbon solutions at DNV GL. “If you can decarbonise the gas networks through hydrogen, then you can add this as part of a flexible, cost-effective decarbonisation strategy.”

Safety also should come first. Hydrogen ignites with very low energy and has a wide flammability range, relative to familiar alternatives such as natural gas or petrol vapours. For hydrogen to gain broad acceptance and adoption, industry and regulators will need to establish robust safety standards for each specific use case.

The decarbonisation of maritime transport

Road transport has already started to catch up with the latest innovations, but also rail, aviation and waterborne transport have to make a significant effort to decarbonise in order to contribute to the energy transition.

Low-carbon fuels meet 7 per cent of international shipping and 9 per cent of aviation fuel demand in 2030. However, current biofuel consumption is minimal in both these sub-sectors. The IEA’s report shows that some progress has been made in biofuels for aviation. Flights using biofuel blends have surpassed 200 000. Still, aviation biofuel production accounted for less than 0.01 per cent of aviation fuel demand. Also, the shipping industry has still a long way to go.

“Options for alternative zero-emission fuels already exist,” notes Mrs Hofmann. “Each has its advantages and disadvantages. So the future will most likely be a mix of different green bunker fuels.”

Mrs Hofmann believes that in order to be successful in the long run the fuel of the future needs to be technically and economically feasible, have net-zero emission, needs to be safe in handling, ready for distribution and be available at scale.

“To accelerate scale-up and implementation, legislations, policies and economic and regulatory incentives like carbon tax/levy or carbon trading schemes (ETS) could be drivers,” she explains. “De-risking could be achieved for example through long term fuel contracts at fixed prices to attract investment. It will be a challenging journey, but with everybody from the value and supply chain getting involved and supportive legislation, zero-emission shipping will be possible.”

Cornelius Claeys, analyst responsible for biofuels and alternative fuels in Europe and Africa at consultancy firm Stratas Advisors, mentioned ammonia and hydrogen to play a key role in the long run for the maritime sector to reduce its emissions by 40 per cent.

“However, it will take time for the infrastructure to be built, for the ships to be designed and then put into place,” he said at the Future Fuels & Hydrogen Economy conference. “Costs need to come down and the only way to make it in a sustainable way is by building overcapacity in renewables electricity.”

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