EU's trucks proposals could have mixed signals for biofuels

11 May 2018 |

The European Commission will on 17 May propose its first ever CO2 standards for trucks, a move that will likely reduce overall fuel demand per truck but could spur demand for higher biofuel blends and other alternative fuels across the sector.

However the overall reduction target may be a good deal less than some consumers of freight, individual EU member states and environmental campaigners had been seeking.

The FT reported on 13 May that the Commission will this week propose a 15% reduction within the next 7 years.

This is far below a CO2 emission reduction target of at least 24% for 2025 and 35%-45% for 2030 proposed by ministers from Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Luxembourg to the Commission as reported by Reuters last week. 

Targets for CO2 emissions would compel manufacturers of trucks to make their engines more efficient, reducing the per unit consumption of fuels including blended biodiesel.

But the proposals may recommend that manufacters offer more alternatives to fossil fuelled engines including diesel/electric hybrids, trucks that can run on 100% biofuel, rely on biomethane or can be fully electric.

Trucks are estimated to account for 25% of road transport emissions but constitute just 5% of vehicles.

The EC has already indicated that it is looking at an interim target for 2025 to be followed by a stricter one in 2030, but has said little on whether manufacturers will be compelled to offer particular types of vehicles.

In April, an alliance of manufacturers, retailers, transport companies and hauliers associations called on the EC to deliver CO2 cuts of 24% by 2025 in trucks.

However the main lobby for auto manufactuters in Europe, many of whom also manufacture heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), said a realistic ambition level would be a 16% tail-pipe CO2 reduction between 2019 and 2030.

Transport & Environment, a Brussels-based NGO, said CO2 emissions from trucks had risen 36% between 1990 and 2010 and fuel economy in HGVs since the 1990s has been 'minimal'.

Life-cycle analysis

One biofuels industry representative said the EC needed to provide research on life-cycle emissions when proposing alternatives to combustion engines, particularly with electrified trucks, which would draw on grids partly fed by the burning of gas and coal.

"EC analysis typically doesn't reflect the full benefits of biofuels used by the freight industry," said one lobbyist.

The freight industry has for several years been considering alternatives to diesel-powered engines, trialling the use of battery-powered trucks, while hauliers in France and the UK already use heavy vehicles powered by biomethane.

Rising emissions

Yet fossil-fuelled combustion is expected to be the dominant energy source for hauliers and logistics industries for the next few decades because of the large volumes transported over long distances and multiple borders.

Concerns about particulate emissions have already prompted the EU institutions to request cleaner trucks, while CO2 data released by Eurostat last week pointed to a 1.8% increase in CO2 emissions in 2017, most of which is likely to have been the result of increased demand for transport, including freight.

The use of alternative fuels in transport including freight is already a major focus of the EU's renewable energy directive, which is to be discussed by co-legislators on May 17. 

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