Low-carbon liquid fuels: exploring potential ways to contribute to the 2050 EU climate ambition goals (Concawe Review 30.2)

18 Jan 2022

With the publication of the European Green Deal and the recent legislative proposal from the European Commission to strengthen the 2030 climate-related targets, Europe has made clear its ambition to lead the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction ambition worldwide, moving towards net-zero GHG emissions and a circular economy by 2050. Transport, which represents about one quarter of total European Union (EU) GHG emissions, is deemed to be one of the sectors in which major efforts should be pursued. In 2017, the road transport sector accounted for 73% of total transport energy demand and, in contrast with other sectors of the economy, average CO2 emissions from new passenger cars increased during the period from 2017 to 2019. The evolution of the light-duty fleet to create a less GHG-intensive mobility sector is therefore considered to be one of the top priorities for the European Commission towards 2030 and onwards. In addition to the road transport-related targets, proposals for new pieces of legislation, such as the ‘ReFuelEU Aviation’ and ‘FuelEU Maritime’ initiatives, are being developed to incentivise the deployment of sustainable fuels to replace fossil-based fuels in these sectors.

In this context and motivated by its role as a major fuel provider, the EU refining system is exploring different plausible and realistic pathways for its own transformation as a way to contribute to this overarching climate ambition goal. However, many questions are still to be answered, and there remains a high degree of uncertainty, for example about the types of energies and powertrains/engines that would be used in 2050 in the different transport segments, as well as the implications in terms of development pace and costs for the different potential routes that would be required to meet a net-zero GHG objective.

A new report, published as part of Concawe’s Low Carbon Pathways/Refinery 2050 series, is now available which, through a scenario analysis exercise, aims to improve understanding of the theoretical potential for the production of low-carbon liquid fuels (LCFs) within the EU refining system, both in terms of total volumes and the number of potential plants required. Aspects such as the relevant impact of LCFs in terms of their contributions to reducing GHG emissions in transport (following a well-to-wheels approach), as well as the level of investment needed for the transformation of the refining industry, are also investigated, providing a quantitative indication over a reference time frame from now until 2050.