Transport & Environment’s Fedor Unterlohner on decarbonisation targets, HVO, and zero-emission infrastructure
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Earlier this month, Transport & Environment, an NGO campaigning for cleaner transport, released analysis that found proposed CO2 targets for HDVs are far from sufficient to deliver on the EU’s climate targets.
In light of this, we got in contact with Transport & Environment’s freight manager, Fedor Unterlohner, to hear the views of the campaign group on decarbonisation targets and other key issues on the path to road transport decarbonisation.
Read on to find out:
- Why Transport and Environment believes the decarbonisation of road transport in Central and Eastern Europe will pick up
- Why HVO will only have a limited role in reducing road transport emissions
- Why Transport and Environment remains positive about Europe’s zero-emission transport infrastructure plans
- Why electric vehicles are still a greener option when charged by fossil-fuel generated electricity
You’ve called for the European Commission road transport decarbonisation targets to be toughened in order for the EU to meet its overall climate targets. How hopeful are you of such a change coming to fruition?
We believe EU lawmakers share the view that more ambitious CO2 standards for trucks and buses are needed both from the climate perspective as well as to maintain Europe’s industrial leadership in the sector.
Are there any European countries in particular that can be seen as a transport decarbonisation role model? If so, which nation is it and why?
Countries like Germany, the Benelux, Austria and the Nordics are frontrunners in electrifying their heavy-duty fleets. That said, we expect the transition to happen at a similar pace across Europe, and particularly including Central and Eastern Europe.
This is due to the fact that trucking is a European cross-border business which is primarily driven by costs and conducted by companies which operate across the EU single road freight market. With zero-emission trucks becoming cheaper to own and operate than their diesel counterparts from the mid 2020s, cost savings will become one of the main selling points to electrify commercial fleets.
A number of logistics companies are looking at HVO as a means of cutting emissions quickly and at scale. The fuel has its critics though, particularly when it comes to the process of production. What is Transport and Environment’s position on HVO and its role in reducing CO2 emissions in the sector?
Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil (HVO), often touted as “renewable diesel”, is a biofuel production pathway that differs from traditional biodiesel. This type of biofuel can be directly blended with conventional diesel without limits, but it comes with the same negative climate and social impacts as other biofuels if it is produced from food or feed crops.
While HVO made from waste or residues (e.g. used cooking oil or animal fats) can in some cases bring emission savings, such feedstocks are only available in very limited volumes and are expected to be primarily used to produce sustainable aviation fuels (SAF). Currently, 45% of HVO consumed is made from palm and palm derivatives, while used cooking oil and animal fats make up 20% and 19% respectively.
The reality is that waste and residue feedstocks for HVO will remain limited in volume, and any larger scale would need to rely on unsustainable crop or energy feedstocks which have no climate advantages or even negative impacts.
Many hauliers cite a lack of infrastructure when referring to their reluctance to purchase a zero-emission HGV. What do you feel needs to be done to address this, and to what extent is it the responsibility of the public and private sectors to do something with regards to this?
The recently agreed Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR) sets mandatory targets for high-power truck charging infrastructure across the European road network from 2025 onwards. EU member states have to ensure full coverage charging infrastructure along the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T), in major cities and in transport hubs by 2030, as well as rolling out hydrogen refuelling stations along the TEN-T core network and in urban nodes. This will provide Europe with a fully fledged public infrastructure network dedicated to HDVs.
According to T&E analysis, the agreed targets under AFIR and additional deployment plans in Germany will provide sufficient public charging infrastructure across the EU for a CO2 target of -65% under the HDV CO2 standards, and will provide significantly more than what would be needed for a -45% CO2 target as proposed by the Commission. EU member states now have an interest in increasing the supply of ZEVs to ensure a sufficient utilisation of the new infrastructure.
Progress on the ground is not waiting. Besides Germany, other EU member states such as the Netherlands and Austria are also already working on national deployment plans that go beyond AFIR with more member states expected to follow suit in the coming years. Private actors are also making roll-out plans: The joint venture Milence owned by the five major truck brands Daimler, MAN, Scania, Volvo and Renault Trucks plans to install 1,700 public truck charging points across Europe by the second half of the 2020s.
To what extent are the environmental benefits of switching to electric freight hindered by the fact that in some areas of Europe fossil fuels such as coal and gas are still used to generate electricity?
Zero-emission trucks are already significantly cleaner than their diesel counterparts and this will further improve over time. The life cycle GHG emissions of electric trucks running on the EU electricity grid are already more than 50% lower than diesel. This is due to the fact that trucks are running high mileages of more than one million kilometres over their lifetime, quickly amortising increased emissions due to (battery) production during the vehicle’s use.
For example, see the ICCT’s life cycle emission estimates:
Europe’s grid is also greening faster than expected at any point in the past. Today, Europe’s electricity grid is already 39% renewable. Based on the current plans by the EU member states, it is projected that 63% of the EU’s electricity generation will be renewable by 2030, 82% by 2040 and 89% by 2050.