11 Mar 2019

Concawe Review 27.2

We are very pleased to introduce the three articles in this edition of the Concawe Review. The first two emanate from Concawe’s Low Carbon Pathways programme. The first article is a literature review summarising different perspectives on the availability and relative cost of biomass and e-fuels as lower-carbon alternatives to oil-based fuels in the medium and long term. I find this summary to be one of the most informative articles I have read on this subject and congratulate the authors for this. The article takes me back to the beginning of my career, as amongst others, it touches on what can be done to increase yields of biomass from crop species. In fact, it will be relatively easy to develop longer-stem varieties of cereal crops simply because in the 1980s plant breeders developed new varieties with higher yields of grain, by reducing the height of the crop. It also meant that the shorter-stem varieties were more wind-tolerant (longer stems are more prone to wind damage).

As such, the characteristics we are now seeking for biomass are already in the genepool. However, as a note of caution, while it will be easy to return to longer-stem varieties, breeders will need to take care not to allow grain yield or resistance to wind damage suffer as a result. While the first article is a succinct summary of the availability of, and challenges in developing, low-carbon liquid fuels, the second article is a summary of a study by Ricardo comparing different scenarios for the future of light-duty passenger vehicles and vans. This work shows that it is possible to meet the EU decarbonisation goals for light-duty transport using a range of powertrain options from full electric through plug-in with hybrids to the latest internal combustion engines utilising low-carbon liquid fuels. This is a common-sense approach because the combination of different technologies is more likely to increase the rate of decarbonisation of transport than any desire to electrify everything at all costs.

Such a balanced approach will allow the time necessary to develop the charging infrastructure for widespread use of electric vehicles and the transition to a fully renewable electricity supply, and to address issues with raw materials for battery supply and their recyclability. The third article summarises the 2018 update on the issue of theft as a major cause of damage leading to spillages from oil pipelines. I was horrified to hear the news, only a few weeks into 2019, of the theft of gasoline from the pipeline in Tlahuelilpan, Mexico which led to 96 deaths and 48 injuries. The latest figures on theft from pipelines in Europe is more encouraging and would suggest that the work to communicate this issue has resulted in a reduced number of incidents in 2017 and 2018. However, the Mexico incident serves as a stark reminder of the need to maintain vigilance to such a risk.