Transport and climate-neutrality in Europe of 2050
Transportation is a fundamental pillar of modern society, facilitating the swift and efficient movement of people and goods between different locations. Beside its advantages, the rapid growth of the transport sector has also contributed significantly to greenhouse gas emissions making it a major contributor to climate change. To mitigate the impact of transport on the environment, the European Union (EU) has set ambitious targets to achieve climate-neutrality by 2050. For meeting these goals, a significant change in our perception and approach towards transportation is essential which also make fundamental adjustments in the transportation sector necessary. This implies that transportation needs to undergo significant changes to reduce its carbon footprint and achieve a sustainable future. This essay will explore the challenges and opportunities associated with transport and achieving climate-neutrality in Europe by 2050. An emphasis is given on the prospective buyers’ purchasing capability and the present and upcoming technological advancements in road transportation.
The role of European affairs
In response to a climate change emergency initiated by the Parliament, the European Commission unveiled the European Green Deal, a roadmap for Europe becoming a climate-neutral continent by 2050. This target is planned to be reached along with an interim target of 55% CO2 emissions reduction by 2030 compared to 1990-level. Transport is one of the economic sectors as well as the policy areas where actions need to be taken in order to reach the climate-neutrality targets. Towards this path, EU has chosen a policy mix which is a careful balance between pricing, targets, standards, and support measures.
– Stronger emissions trading system including in aviation
– Extending emissions trading to maritime, road transport, and buildings
– Updated energy taxation directive
– New carbon border adjustment mechanism
– Updated effort sharing regulation
– Updated land use land use change and forestry regulation
– Updated renewable energy directive
– Updated energy efficiency directive
– Stricter CO2 performance for cars & vans
– New infrastructure for alternative fuels
– ReFuelEU: more sustainable aviation fuels
– FuelEU: cleaner maritime fuels
– Using revenues and regulations to promote innovation, build solidarity and mitigate impacts for the vulnerable, notably through the new Social Climate Fund and enhanced Modernisation and Innovation Funds.
‘Fit for 55’: delivering the EU’s 2030 Climate Target on the way to climate neutrality
Policies and actions taken by industrial sector
Road, aviation and maritime transportation sectors are obliged to follow EU’s rules by ensuring a cutting climate-warming greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reducing air and noise pollution alongside with their negative impacts on our health, and driving innovation. Road transportation share covers the 20.4% of the total GHG compared to 3.8% and 4% of the aviation and maritime respectively.
Therefore, automotive companies accelerate their research and development efforts toward more sustainable approach to implement the sustainability strategies. As a result, many innovative products find their way in the market. Specifically, electric vehicles (EVs) have emerged as a dominant force in the automotive industry, poised to affect the green transition by 2030.
There are two main types of electric vehicles: battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fuel-cell powered electric vehicles (FCEVs). The former uses a battery pack installed under the cockpit floor and delivers the electrical power directly to the motor. The latter uses hydrogen gas compressed in storage tanks (350 to 700 bars) and usually placed under the cargo area behind the rear seat. The fuel-cell technology requires a more complex process to convert the hydrogen into mechanical energy. The hydrogen gas feeds into an onboard fuel cell stack that doesn’t burn the gas, but instead transforms the chemical energy of the fuel into electrical energy and further to mechanical through the car’s electric motor. This process is exactly the opposite of electrolysis. Hydrogen is fed to one electrode and oxygen to the other one. When hydrogen gas contacts the anode, it splits into positively charged hydrogen ions (protons) and negatively charged electrons. The protons migrate through the electrolyte membrane to the cathode, where it combines with oxygen to form water, while the electrons are forced to take an external pathway through an electrical circuit to the cathode. This creates an electrical current that can be used to power an electric motor or other device.
Both electric vehicle technologies, rely on a set of parameters that are critical for their effective operation and successful integration into European road networks. These parameters include the availability of public charging and hydrogen refueling stations (infrastructures), the cost per kilogram or kilowatt-hour, the lifespan of the vehicles, the entire cycle of fuel or electric energy production and delivery to ensure sustainability, the driving range, and the cutting-edge technology that each original equipment manufacturer (OEM) brings to market. All of these parameters contribute to the pros and cons of BEVs and FCEVs, and can be enumerated as follows.
Advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen and electric
- Zero emissions
- Low operating costs: lower maintenance due to an efficient electric motor
- Quiet and smooth: low levels of noise and vibrations
- Better performance: faster acceleration
- Lower energy costs
- Charging infrastructure: over 250,000 charging stations in Europe
- High efficiency rate: energy storage and delivery from network to the motor (70-90 %)
- Zero emissions
- Renewable and readily available: hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe
- Longer driving range: 647 km
- Quick refueling
- Quiet and smooth: low levels of noise and vibrations
- Energy storage
- Lighter structure
- Fuel cell high life expectancy: 240,000-400,000 km
- Limited driving range
- Long charging times: 30 min – 1h using the rapid chargers
- Limited driving experience: silent without a characteristic acoustic signature
- Limited battery range: autonomy of 480 km
- Battery lifespan concerns: typical EV battery warranty is around 8 years and 150,000 km
- Battery sustainability concerns: sustainable sourcing, energy efficiency, transparency, material recovery, recycling infrastructure, and end-of-life management
- Heavier vehicle structure: the increase in range autonomy is proportional to the increase
ofthe vehicle weight
- Limited infrastructure: over 200 hydrogen refueling stations in Europe
- High purchasing price
- Safety concerns
- Low efficiency rate: electrolysis process, compression, hydrogen transportation, power generation with fuel cell (25-35 %)
The near future lies in: BEVs and FCEVs? A suggestion for considering the most suited purchase
It is an unanimous conclusion that BEVs is the best sustainable solution for a prospective buyer in the next 5-10 years. Summarizing with evidences: the market of BEVs is away much bigger than FCEVs and its pricing has also a wide range, from ~20k€ (Dacia Spring) to ~400k€ (Rolls-Royce Spectre) for a 4-5 passengers vehicle. Conversely, there are three FCEVs cars in the market currently, the Toyota Mirai, the Hyundau Nexo SUV and the Honda Clarity with a pricing range at ~45 k€ – ~65 k€. Lately, more and more OEMs propose innovative hydrogen powered vehicle technologies such as the Hopium, BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, while Toyota created recently a hydrogen combustion engine. Although fuel and electricity prices may differ across Europe, the table below presents an illustrative example of fuel and energy prices in Central Europe for the three technologies in 2023. As evidenced by the data, the cost of electrical energy is the lowest at 0.011€/km.
|Hyundai Ioniq 5
|168 kW/225 hp
|190 kW/255 hp
|135 kW/182 hp
|Price per unit
|Price per km
Taking into a consideration all the aforementioned data (plus the pros and cons) regarding these two technologies, the following outcomes can be drawn:
- Drivers with small autonomy needs (<400km), well organised, tolerant to time pressure during a long trip and high driving expectations would choose a BEV.
- Drivers with long autonomy needs (>500km), less flexible to time refuelling pressure and with restricted trip destinations due to the lack of refueling stations would chose a FCEV.
The driver who would reach the best value for money should consider that a BEV will require the change of its battery (12000 €) while this is not the case for a FCEV.
The decarbonization in aviation and maritime sectors is translated mainly through innovative and sustainable fuels (as % of fuel mix), e.g. advanced biofuels and synthetic fuels (also known as electro-fuels). The future aircraft speeds to a three key thrusts plan that comprises hybrid electric and low-carbon fuel powered aircraft technologies as follows:
Hybrid electric regional aircraft:
Operators and passengers expect regional and inter-urban aviation up to 1000 km and capacity of up to 100 seats. The aircraft will include hybrid-electric propulsion supported by 100% drop-in fuels or hydrogen (whether fuel cells or H2 burning as the thermal power source).
Ultra-efficient short and short-medium range aircraft:
Proper for classical short- and medium-range distances that rely on ultra-efficient thermal energy-based propulsion technologies using sustainable synthetic fuels, non-drop-in fuels such as hydrogen to enable climate-neutral flight. It is expected to enable low source noise and low noise flight procedures.
Disruptive technologies to enable hydrogen-powered aircraft:
Enabling aircraft and engines to exploit the potential of hydrogen as a non-drop-in alternative zero-carbon fuel, in particular liquid hydrogen. The application of results from these areas in new aircraft will depend on performance requirements for the various aircraft categories, the technological capability and maturity, and the performance gains achievable.
Full electric take off air mobility aircraft:
Designed to take off and land vertically using electric propulsion systems. These aircraft are often referred to as eVTOLs (electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles) or simply “electric air taxis.” The electric propulsion system typically includes a set of electric motors and batteries that provide the necessary power to lift the aircraft off the ground and propel it forward. Electric air mobility is an emerging industry that is still in the early stages of development, but it has the potential to revolutionize transportation and urban mobility in the coming years.
The maritime industry is exploring the use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel to reduce its carbon footprint and comply with increasingly stringent emissions regulations. The shift towards hydrogen is expected to bring about significant changes in the technology used in the industry, particularly in the areas of power generation, propulsion, storage and infrastructure. All these in a good alignment with EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) on scope, on reporting and verification obligations.
In conclusion, the achievement of climate-neutrality in the European transport sector by 2050 necessitates the collective efforts of policymakers, businesses, and citizens. OEMs play a critical role in the transition to sustainable transportation by investing in advanced technologies and products such as electric and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. Governments must also allocate substantial funding for the development of sustainable infrastructure, including public charging and hydrogen refueling stations. Last but not least, individuals are required to act responsibly by selecting low-emission vehicles and transportation modes and adopting sustainable travel practices. Collaborative efforts among all stakeholders can facilitate Europe’s attainment of climate-neutrality in transport by 2050, ensuring a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future for all.