The Key Technological Challenges of Deep Decarbonization V

Electric Vehicles and Advanced Biofuels

Here I want to introduce to the debate some of the key low carbon technologies in the transport sector, because so far in the previous chapters we’ve been discussing mostly about promising new technologies in the power sector.

We’ve been discussing about smart grids and energy storage to operate power systems with high penetration of intermittent renewable energies such as solar or wind. We’ve been discussing about carbon capture and sequestration. We’ve been discussing about fourth generation nuclear reactors.

So mainly technologies for the power sectors. Although that’s not completely true, because carbon capture and sequestration, although its main market in the future might well be in the power sector could also and very importantly be used in industry, in the carbon intensive industries such as cement or steel for example.

652But as we saw when we were analyzing the results of the global mitigation scenario in the previous lecture, the decarbonization of the transport fleet is also absolutely fundamental to achieve emissions, reductions, levels consistent with the 2-degree limit. So it must start with the decarbonization of personal vehicles, but it must also extend to the Decarbonization of the heavy-duty vehicles, the decarbonization of aviation and also of ocean shipping.

So how can we do that? What are the options that are available to reduce emissions in the transport sector? Well there is a very wide range of cutting edge technology that hold great potential to decarbonize much or all of the transport sector. Which are the options? It includes in particular, high performance batteries, hydrogen fuel cells or advanced biofuels or even synthesized fuels. But the truth is that most of these low carbon technologies for transport are still pre-commercial or at least they’re not yet deployed at a very large scale.

Electric vehicles in particular offer great potential, especially for the private vehicles, but also for buses and even some say, possibly for trucks. But it’s important to underline here that electric vehicles can only be considered as a genuine low carbon solution for transport if electricity is produced by using low carbon energy sources.

This is why it’s so important to design comprehensive, deep Decarbonization strategies within the framework of the three pillars we have introduced. The electrification of energy consumption, in particular electrification of the transport sector must be combined with the shift to the low carbon electricity in the power sector.

651Most electric vehicles today use lithium batteries. And the performance of these batteries has already made great improvements in the recent past and it is expected to improve even further. Although the performance of that particular type of batteries, the lithium batteries is expected to improve only incrementally. But the good news is that we have many other option for electric vehicle batteries. They will be required to achieve higher energy and power density, lengthen the vehicle range and lower the upfront vehicle costs but there are many development programs currently underway.

I should stress that lengthening the vehicle range in particular is really critical to the success and the large-scale deployment of electric vehicles in the future because it would make sure that electric vehicles can be used for all sorts of purposes and not only for the short distance travels that we do within our cities.

It’s also important to understand that theuptake of electric vehicles is also limited today by the lack of infrastructure to charge the batteries of these vehicles. So to insure the large-scale deployment of these electric vehicles in the future, the infrastructure will also have to be built and not only the technology of the vehicles be improved and the, the network of the charging stations will have to be expanded insure the success and uptake of electric vehicles.

It will most likely require public-private partnerships with cities and local authorities in particular playing an important role together of course with car manufacturers and electricity companies. They should strike these partnerships to share the payment of the upfront investment costs of building this infrastructure network.

So that was for, I mean one of the most promising option of reducing emissions in the transport sector through the electrification of biofuels. There is another option potentially which is the use of biofuels. And especially liquid biofuels. They’re interesting because they offer the prospect of decarbonization of the transport sector together with the continued use of the existing infrastructure and technologies, including the internal combustion engines, but also the oil pipeline and the gas station pumps we have already built. So the fact that they use, they would use the existing infrastructure is of course a, a very big asset in favor of the biofuels.

But the truth is that the biofuels also have a very clear downside unfortunately. Or at least some of them have. Because many of the existing biofuels such as a maize based ethanol produced in the U.S. compete with other critical land uses such as food production or ecosystem needs like land and water utilization.

So it’s a serious concern. There is potentially a solution to this problem, a response to this concern and it lies in the, the development of a new generation of advanced biofuels and, who precisely aim to overcome the issue of the competition in between the biofuels, the food production and the other important ecosystem services.

There are many different types of advanced biofuels that are currently under development. Let me mention just a few. Again, it’s not a comprehensive list, but you can think of the bioengineered organism such algae or bacteria used to produce biofuels. Another example is the processing of non-foodstuff from non-arable land into biofuels and, such as cellulosic biofuels produced from wood products. And there are even efforts to produce fuels directly from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide without using any biological organisms, a process which we call artificial photosynthesis. Although it is still at an early stage of research and focuses on, primarily on producing hydrogen.

But overall and to conclude this chapter on the most important technologies in the transport sector, it’s really important that we would further, and I would say, harder on the research, development and demonstration of these next generation biofuels to make really sure their large-scale use doesn’t induce deforestation or doesn’t compete with a food production which would be a…a terrible news for food security in a world where we expect to have 9.5 billion people by 2050.

Pedro Pereira Leite

Researcher and professor. He had his PhD. on museology in 2011, with the title “Muss-amb-ike Homeland: The commitment on musicological process”, that was published in 2011. In 2012 he finishes a Post-PhD Research on "Biographical Glances: The intersubjectivity poetry on museology, at Lusófona University (Lisbon). Presently he is working in his Post PhD. Research about: “Global Heritages" with the aims to build a network on local cognizance and memory manager has a tool to build the will of action in 3 different communities, linked by past communed heritages.” He works at CES. He participates on different Research network, presented papers in national and international conferences, and had published books on research subjects.

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