All future decarbonisation scenarios will need ambitious new policies for the whole economy and significant investment in a wide range of new technologies. A fundamental change is needed in the energy market along with societal behaviour, to achieve the UK's net zero ambitions.
The role of low carbon liquid fuels
If the carbon intensity of liquid fuels could be reduced, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions could be substantially cut during the transition to Net Zero and beyond it as well.
We need to consider consumption and emissions from every step of the process for all types of energy carrier technology:
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 and 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
While 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 Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs) 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.