April 13. 2024. 6:23

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While ambitious, the European Commission’s decarbonization plan for HDVs falls short since it does not include a role for biodiesel

The recent European Commission proposal for new CO2 standards for trucks, trailers, and buses, significantly tightens previous emissions limits, while leaving the door open for some Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) vehicles. However, the proposal fails to consider the meaningful contribution of renewable biofuels like biodiesel.

André Paula Santos is the Public Affairs Director at the EBB – European Biodiesel Board.

The Commission’s proposal to revise the EU Regulation for CO2 emissions from Heavy-Duty Vehicles (HDVs) is straightforward and aims to reduce carbon emissions of new vehicles gradually: 45% by 2030; 65% by 2035; and 90% by 2040.

The proposal is a step forward in strengthening the decarbonization of the European HDVs sector, responsible for 6% of the EU’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and more than a quarter of the bloc’s road transport emissions. Nonetheless, concerns remain about vehicle technology restrictions and other key aspects that need to be refined in the forthcoming EU legislative process.

Recognition of biofuels decarbonization potential

The proposal maintains the methodology of measuring CO2 emissions at the tailpipe, also known as the “tank-to-wheel” approach, which does not distinguish between fossil and biogenic carbon dioxide emissions.

Fossil CO2 emissions result from the combustion of fossil fuels and have a significant harmful GHG footprint. Biogenic carbon dioxide emissions, on the other hand, result from the combustion of biofuels and are considered by the scientific community to be carbon neutral. This is because the carbon emitted is offset by the carbon absorbed through photosynthesis by the plants from which the biofuel is produced, in a circular process.

Without distinguishing between the two, the Commission proposal fails to incentivize biofuels with a lower GHG emissions footprint and distorts competition between powertrain technologies by misleadingly labelling electromobility as “zero emissions.”

Trucking companies should be incentivized and not discouraged from considering the impact that renewable fuels can have immediate reductions in CO2 emissions from road transport and are available today, as both liquid and gaseous renewable fuels.

Importantly, sustainable biofuels such as biodiesel are already a significant part of the EU’s success story in reducing transport emissions. If supported by coherent and effective EU policies, biodiesel can play a significant role in mitigating uncertainties associated to the development and roll-out of electric heavy-duty vehicles, such as the availability of batteries manufactured in Europe, the pace of the roll-out of charging and fueling infrastructure, etc.

On the contrary, if the EU sets stringent tailpipe targets without providing a mechanism to factor in the contribution of renewable fuels, it will miss an opportunity to provide a strong positive signal to the European biofuels industry, thus jeopardizing the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels in European transport.

The potential of the 90% emission reduction target for 2040

The 90% reduction target proposed by the Commission seems to leave a long-term role to a small share of HDVs running on ICE engines, which is certainly a better starting point for legislators’ discussions compared to a 100% target. However, policymakers must ensure that the final text gives renewable fuels a real chance of further increasing their contribution to reduce transport emissions.

Today biofuels already reduce GHG emissions up to 90% in petrol, diesel, hybrid cars, vans, trucks, and buses, which will continue to predominate on Europe’s roads beyond 2040. Biodiesel in its two forms (FAME: Fatty Acid Methyl Ester, and HVO: Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil) can be used in existing ICE engines with minimal or no modifications, even if used with higher blends like B20, B30, B100 or HVO up to 100%, making it a very cost-effective way of reducing emissions of the existing fleet starting today!

While electrification and hydrogen fuel cell technology are set to play a crucial role in the long term, transitioning to these new technologies will take time. In the interim, the use of biodiesel in ICE vehicles will provide a more practical and socially inclusive solution to reducing carbon emissions.

Therefore, it is crucial that the EU’s revised CO2 Standards for HDVs leave room for ICE vehicles, clearly recognizing the role that carbon neutral fuels such as biodiesel play in decarbonizing heavy-duty transport.

The argument is simple: If the EU chooses to overlook the potential of biodiesel and other renewable fuels to abate road transport’s emissions, stepping up the pace to reduce the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels and quickly shifting to a more sustainable and resilient energy system will be difficult, if not impossible.