First look at latest JRC report on future fuels/powertrains

March 27, 2014 § Leave a comment

Pic: Ecotricity

Pic: Ecotricity

The European Joint Research Centre and JEC Consortium have updated the authoritative Well-to-Wheels Analysis of Future Automotive Fuels and Powertrains in the European Context report; it has been extended to cover 2020 and beyond from a base year of 2010, with an update on analysis of natural gas impacts in particular (given the recent push towards fracking for shale gas in Europe), a reassessment of biofuel pathways, and updates on plug-in and fuel cell vehicles including analysis of the EU electricity mix for charging vehicles. Some take-outs:

  • Shifting to renewable or lower-carbon solutions may offer GHG reductions, but total energy use may rise, depending on the specific pathway. Large-scale production of synfuels or hydrogen from coal or gas is only beneficial if CO2 can be captured and stored.
  • Ongoing improvements to petrol/diesel fuels and technologies, including hybridisation, continue to be important.
  • Methane (natural gas) currently has well-to-wheel GHG emissions between those of petrol and diesel, but beyond 2020, will near those of diesel; however, energy use remains more than that of petrol. However, it’s down to supply pathway – biogas, from waste, has lower impact; synthetic gases or e-gases are low-emissions but energy-intensive.
  • For conventionally-produced biofuels (biodiesel, bioethanol), GHG and fossil energy savings depend on the manufacturing processes and fate of co-products; the report considers the variable impacts of nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture and land use changes, and points out that  “the fossil energy savings discussed above should not lead to the conclusion that these pathways are energy-efficient. Taking into account the energy contained in the biomass resource, the total energy involved is two to three times higher than the energy involved in making conventional fuels. These pathways are therefore fundamentally inefficient in the way they use biomass, a limited resource.”
  • However, there is potential for cellulose-based fuels from straw or ‘woody biomass’, which “have an attractive fossil energy and GHG footprint”.
  • GHG emissions from GTL (natural gas-liquid biodiesel) and CTL (coal-to-liquid) are higher than from conventional diesel, especially for CTL. Synthetic diesel from biomass has lower GHG – much lower than current biofuel options – but energy use is still high.
  • DME (dimethyl ether) can be produced from biomass or natural gas with lower energy use and GHG emissions than other GTL or BTL fuels, but would demand diesel engine and infrastructure modifications.
  • Overall energy use and GHG from electric/plug-in hybrid/range-extended vehicles depends on the source of the electricity, but if this is low-GHG, electrified vehicles beat ICE. If higher-GHG, plug-in hybrids are best option.
  • Fuel cell vehicles will become more efficient from 2020-onwards. But – and this is a big but – although hydrogen produced from natural gas and used in a fuel cell vehicle from 2020 gives half the GHG of a petrol vehicle, and “hydrogen from non-fossil sources (biomass, wind, nuclear) offers low overall GHG emissions”, at the moment, “electrolysis using EU-mix electricity or electricity from NG results in GHG emissions two times higher than producing hydrogen directly from NG and gives no benefit compared with a gasoline vehicle”.

And from the 2020+ horizon:

  •  “CNG as transportation fuel only provides small savings because its global GHG balance is close to that of the gasoline and diesel fuels it would replace” – implying that CNG has only short-to-medium term advantages.
  • “With the improvements expected in fuel cell vehicle efficiency, production of hydrogen from NG by reforming and use in a FC vehicle has the potential to save as much GHG emission as substituting coal by NG in power generation” – no advantage for fuel cell/hydrogen cars over EVs using gas-derived electricity, though both bring benefits.
  • “Using farmed wood to produce hydrogen by reforming saves as much GHG emission per hectare of land as using the wood to produce electricity in place of coal and saves more GHG emissions per hectare than producing conventional or advanced biofuels” – wood biomass good for both hydrogen and electricity production, lower-emissions than producing feedstock for biofuels.
  • “When sourcing wind electricity for transport fuels, hydrogen production and use in FCEV is more efficient than the application of synthetic diesel or methane in ICE-based vehicles” – making hydrogen using wind energy is more efficient than making syn-diesel or e-gas.
  • “Using wind electricity to produce hydrogen and using it in FCEV saves slightly less GHG emissions than substituting NG CCGT electricity” – CCGT (combined cycle gas turbine) electricity using natural gas is slightly lower-emissions than wind-electricity for making hydrogen.
  • “Using wind electricity as a substitute for coal electricity is the most efficient option for GHG savings”  – indeed.

Anyway, read the whole thing here, and consider all the well-to-wheel, full-lifecycle and production pathway implications. Just shows that there’s no simple solution to finding the ‘fuel of the future’.

And in other news this week…

  • On the subject of energy, a report by the UN’s Intergovernmental panel on climate change (IPCC) mentioning BECCS (bio-energy with carbon capture and storage) is about to come out, reports Reuters, with high hopes for the process.
  • Honda’s Smart Home US showcase, on the campus at UC Davis, opened this week; this is claimed to “enable zero net energy living and transportation… producing more energy on-site from renewable sources than it consumes annually, including enough energy to power a Honda Fit EV for daily commuting”. It’s all about smart home energy management (the HEMS system), renewable energy generation (solar), energy-efficient design and materials plus home-to-grid connectivity, energy storage and grid-buffering potential. Full low-down here.
  • Volvo is testing the Torotrak-developed Flybrid KERS tech in Sweden and the UK. This is said to cut fuel consumption by up to 25%, whilst adding an 80hp performance boost; a kinetic energy recovery system, it’s mounted on the rear axle in the test S60 T5s, spinning a carbonfibre flywheel to drive the rear wheels. The front-driven engine turns off under braking – and potentially up to 50% of the driving time – with the biggest potential fuel savings in stop-start traffic and ‘during active driving’ (repeated accelerator-brake action, presumably). The system’s said to be very close to market. More details here
  • Volkswagen “expects new digitalisation era in automobile industry” – details from a recent speech by chairman Dr Martin Winterkorn are here. “The two ground-breaking inventions, the automobile and the computer, are moving closer together. We need to shape the mobility of the future in an even more intelligent, more networked way,” he said, talking about a new initiative called Future Tracks and making good points about Big Data and privacy.
  • And on that note… PSA Peugeot-Citroen is working with IBM “to integrate the massive amounts of data from cars, phones, traffic signals, lights and other sources and analyze it in real-time for delivery”. with a view to offering a range of connected services, reports Green Car Congress.

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