All future decarbonisation scenarios are dependent on a number of factors in order to achieve 'Net Zero' emissions by 2050. This includes the availability of a wide range of new technologies with different levels of readiness, significant investment in and early adoption of those technologies, and the implementation of ambitious policies across the economy. This will require fundamental change in the energy market and changes in societal behaviour to achieve the anticipated outcomes.
The role of low-carbon liquid fuels
If the carbon intensity of liquid fuels could be reduced, this would offer substantial benefits not only during the transition to 'Net Zero' emissions but beyond that as well.
This is particularly true if we consider alternative energy carrier technologies according to their energy consumption and emissions in every step of the process from:
i) production of crude oil or other energy feedstock
ii) transportation, refining, formulation and distribution of the finished fuel ('well-to-tank')
iii) the consumption of the fuel in the vehicle ('tank-to-wheels') and
iv) final use and recycling of the vehicle ('lifecycle analysis').
A number of pathways exist to reduce the carbon intensity of liquid fuels. These include:
1. Vehicle efficiency enhancement
2. Improving the efficiency of the extraction (upstream) and refining (downstream) of crude oil
3. Utilising alternative ans sustainable low-carbon liquid fuels (i.e. biofuels, synthetic fuels, power-to-liquids/e-fuels)
4. Improving the performance of petroleum-based fuels
5. Introducing other vehicle fuel technologies, such as on-board carbon capture or final conversion of tailpipe emissions
Whilst other energy carriers (i.e. renewable electricity, hydrogen etc.) are likely to offer achievable alternatives for road transport, fewer technology options are currently available for carbon emissions reductions in the HGV and aviation sectors to allow full substitution of liquid hydrocarbons by 2050.
Low-carbon liquid fuels will therefore continue to be important in achieving GHG emissions reductions in the long-term as well as playing an important role in short-term decarbonisation efforts.