A look into the maximum potential availability and demand for low-carbon feedstocks/fuels in Europe (2020–2050)

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In light of the EU’s ambitious targets for achieving a lowcarbon economy by 2030, Concawe has completed a study of the long-term availability of low-carbon feedstocks and fuels, and the associated costs, based on a literature review. This article summarises the outcomes of the Concawe study.

Over the past decades, different pathways such as biofuels or power-to-fuel technologies have emerged as viable options to reduce the life-cycle carbon emissions from the production and use of hydrocarbon fuels as well as feedstock for petrochemicals, lubricants and waxes.

Concawe, through its Low Carbon Pathways (LCP) programme, is conducting specific research on the potential integration of different well-to-wheel (WTW) opportunities to produce a holistic picture of the potential role of liquid fuels in a future EU low-carbon economy. Concawe’s assessments explore the potential reduction in WTW CO2 intensity that could be achieved in the medium (2030) and longer term (2050+), and estimate the associated abatement costs from different pathways that have the potential to contribute significantly to reducing the CO2 intensity of the final refining products. This article looks into the medium- and long-term potential availability of alternative low-carbon feedstocks and fuels, and presents the associated costs based on a literature review. Some of the sources included in the report envisage a significant long-term role for advanced alternative fuels in Europe, identifying the main research and innovation (R&I) and policy conditions that would enable the potential of low-carbon fuels to be fully realised. Some of the ongoing Concawe LCP-related work on The Refinery 20501 draws support from the conclusions and main figures included in this article, and is scheduled for publication in April 2019.

The European Commission has recently published its long-term strategic vision for Europe, A Clean Planet for all. [1] Recognising that climate change represents an urgent threat to societies and the planet, the Commission has set the goal, in accordance with the 2015 Paris Agreement, of keeping global warming well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C by 2050. Efforts to improve the CO2 efficiency of the EU transport sector, which accounts for nearly a quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions, will be crucial to achieving these goals. Technologies for the production of low-carbon fuels is one area that is especially interesting in terms of helping the transport sector to accomplish these targets.

Sustainable biofuels, subject to the updated sustainability criteria currently proposed by the European Commission,[2] are one of the main low-carbon liquid alternatives to petroleum-based fuels for transport, as they are easily deployable using existing transport infrastructure. The Renewable Energy Directive (RED),[3] the Fuels Quality Directive (FQD)[4] and the ‘ILUC Directive’[5] set out biofuels sustainability criteria for all biofuels produced or consumed in the EU to ensure that they are produced in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.

Current legislation (RED I and RED II) requires a 7% cap on the contribution of conventional biofuels, including biofuels produced from energy crops, to count towards the renewable energy directive targets regarding final consumption of energy in transport in 2020 and in 2030 . Secondly, the RED II directive (that entered into force on 24 December 2018) sets as a binding minimum a 0.5% target for advanced biofuels by 2021 and 3.5% by 2030. Thirdly, the directives harmonised the list of feedstocks (Annex IX) for the production of advanced biofuels across the EU. Those can be considered to count double (i.e. to be twice their energy content) in terms of their contribution towards the 2030 target of 14% for renewable energy in transport.

These directives require that biofuels produced in new installations — starting after 1 January 2021 — emit at least 65 % fewer greenhouse gases than fossil fuels.

The Fuels Quality Directive allows gasoline fuels in Europe to contain up to 10% bio-derived oxygenates, usually in the form of ethanol, while diesel fuels can contain up to 7% fatty acid methyl ester, although other bio-derived components are also allowed.

What is a sustainable biofuel?

Burning harvested organic matter (biomass) has provided most of mankind’s energy needs for millennia. Such fuels remain the primary energy source for many people in developing and emerging economies, but such ‘traditional use’ of biomass is often unsustainable, with inefficient combustion leading to harmful emissions with serious health implications. Modern technologies can convert this organic matter to solid, liquid and gaseous forms that can more efficiently provide for energy needs and replace fossil fuels.

A wide range of biomass feedstocks can be used as sources of bioenergy. These include: wet organic wastes, such as sewage sludge, animal wastes and organic liquid effluents, and the organic fraction of municipal solid waste (MSW); residues and co-products from agro-industries and the timber industry; crops grown for energy, including food crops such as corn, wheat, sugar and vegetable oils produced from palm, rapeseed and other sustainably produced raw materials; and non-food crops such as perennial lignocellulosic plants (e.g. grasses such as miscanthus, and trees such as short-rotation willow and eucalyptus) and oil-bearing plants (such as jatropha and camelina). Many processes are available to turn these feedstocks into products that can be used for electricity, heat or transport.

What are advanced biofuels?

Advanced biofuels are commonly accepted to be biofuels that:

* are produced from lignocellulosic feedstocks (i.e. agricultural and forestry residues), non-food crops (i.e. grasses, miscanthus, algae), or industrial waste and residue streams;

* produce low CO2 emissions or high GHG reductions (at least 60% fewer GHGs than fossil fuels); and

* reach zero or low indirect land-use change (ILUC) impact.

The development of biomass resources in particular faces numerous challenges due to the complexity of land issues, related politics, cost/scale, infrastructure support, and environmental criteria. Furthermore, there is no evidence in the press or in public relations activities in Europe that any major developments are forthcoming in this area.


Concawe Review

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