Some EU refiners and car manufacturers have established long-term partnerships to jointly develop new technologies aimed at improving energy efficiency. Such partnerships have already provided multiple environmental benefits and enabled the EU to emerge as a global leader in clean fuel and engine technologies, as well as help direct fuel specifications.
A recent example of this collaboration in action is seen in the Partnership for Fuels and Vehicles Research, which involves many European refiners and car manufacturers collaborating under the CONCAWE (the European oil industry association for environment, health and safety in refining and distribution) and EUCAR (the European Council for Automotive R&D) – umbrellas.
Launched in 2000, the Fuels and Vehicles Partnership is currently in its fourth phase. The Well-to-Wheels study, which aims to develop a cooperative and consensual approach to alternative fuels, energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, has been published in several iterations since its 2003 debut. The study has helped car manufacturers and refiners both anticipate EU regulations and proactively participate in European stakeholder forums on alternative fuels.
This collaborative approach has reinforced the working relationship between car manufacturers and refiners and has led to, among other things, joint research on assessing emissions from ethanol-blended fuels and a biomass-to-liquid-fuels testing project, which is currently underway.
Under the impetus of regulation and cooperation, EU refiners have continuously improved product quality by greatly reducing levels of sulphur, lead, aromatics, olefins, benzene and PAH (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon). The phase-out of leaded gasoline would have been far more difficult without the reduction of sulphur levels in fuel enabled by European refiners, which subsequently allowed car manufacturers to introduce such environmental-friendly technology as catalytic converters.
CO₂ reduction in transport
When debating how to best decarbonise the transport sector, the subject is often approached as a “three-legged stool” having three separate but complementary pillars:
1. Energy use efficiency: Although reducing energy consumption is typically thought of in an ‘ engine improvement’ framework, it can also be achieved in other areas of vehicle design, including aerodynamics, transmission systems, weight reduction, full or partial hybridisation and the use of advanced low-friction lubricants.
2. Lower carbon intensity: Overall emissions can be reduced by lowering energy carbon intensity (on a full-life cycle basis per unit of energy). Unfortunately, the carbon intensity of conventional liquid petroleum-based fuels can barely be changed, meaning CO2 reduction can only be achieved through partial or full substitution of a lower carbon-intense fuel.This type of substitution is possible with such biofuels as Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) including biogas, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) or Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG), including bio-LPG. Electricity or hydrogen derived from lower carbon sources are also options. However, there are major differences between these alternatives, particularly in terms ease-of-use and adoption costs. While a low level substitution of biofuels can happen without changing the vehicle or fuelling infrastructure, electricity and hydrogen require new vehicles and new energy distribution infrastructures.
3. Transport demand management: This pillar is more difficult to define, but generally includes any method that utilizes operational changes and/or a reduction in transportation requirements. Operational change can range from modal shifts (e.g. road to rail), to improved use of equipment and journeys (e.g. removal of EU truck cabotage restrictions), traffic management to reduce congestion, route optimisation and driver training. Examples of reduction in transport requirements include using urban planning to reduce commute times and increasing the number of people working remotely.