Horses for courses

Horses for courses

So, we all want to save the planet by lowering emissions. But which renewable fuels are best?

In the piece “Corona stuck around, so what?” I explain that if we don’t start doing our part to save the environment, it won’t matter much if Corona sticks around. But there are, luckily, those who are doing their bit.

In the article I highlight Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar Land Rover, which are both working to reduce CO2 emissions across their supply chains (you can read more on this and an array of other wonderful topics at focusontransport.co.za).

Electric mobility is also picking up, both locally and abroad – but it, in and of itself, isn’t a silver bullet that will save our planet and has its own set of challenges …

(In the original article I mentioned how fond I am of memes, defined by the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary as an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations.)

One of these challenges is perfectly summarised in a meme that I saw the other day, with the headline “Electric mobility explained”. It was an electric vehicle (EV) standing on the sidewalk, connected to a fossil-fuel powered generator. (Not very environmentally friendly, if you ask me.)

But one could compare it to our situation here in South Africa. According to the Ministry of Mineral Resources and Energy, our country’s total domestic electricity generation capacity is 58 095 MW from all sources. Currently, coal is by far the major energy source for South Africa, comprising around 80% of the country’s energy mix (one massive fossil-fuel powered generator for any EV that operates here …).

We could, however, benefit from vehicles running on alternative fuels, until more renewable generation is available.

Abroad the exact opposite seems to be the case. A new study from Transport & Environment (T&E), Europe’s leading clean transport campaign group, shows that powering just a fraction of vehicles with electrofuels (e-fuels) in 2050 would require new offshore wind-farms covering an area the size of Denmark.

(E-fuels are an emerging class of carbon-neutral drop-in replacement fuels that are made by storing electrical energy from renewable sources in the chemical bonds of liquid or gas fuels.)

Powering just 10% of cars, vans and small trucks with hydrogen, and 10% with e-diesel would require 41% more renewables in 2050 than if they were electric vehicles running on batteries, according to the study.

If half of the heavy-duty trucks were to run on hydrogen and half on e-diesel, they would consume 151% more renewables in 2050 than if they were directly electrified. T&E, which commissioned the research, conducted by the energy and climate change consultancy Ricardo Energy & Environment, says that the figures show hydrogen and e-fuels need to be deployed first where there are no alternatives – in aviation and shipping.

Geert de Cock, electricity and energy manager at T&E, says that the EU has the renewable electricity potential to achieve economy-wide decarbonisation, but the scale of the challenge should not be underestimated.

“The choices we make today could have massive repercussions on power demand in the future,” he adds. “The EU wants to deliver 330 TWh of hydrogen to the market in the next decade, but for hydrogen to really take off we’ll also need lead markets. Our study shows the aviation and shipping sector alone would create a sizeable new market for green hydrogen – helping to scale the technology and pave the way for zero-emissions shipping and flying.”

So, it has to be horses for courses, as a market will be created that will help some of the most CO2-intensive transport modes to lower their emissions while the other modes (that can use batteries) play their part that way.

And in South Africa, we first need to sort out our electricity production before we can go for battery-powered transport.

The most important part is that we all contribute so that we can have a tomorrow.

Published by

Jaco de Klerk

JACO DE KLERK is editor of SHEQ MANAGEMENT and assistant editor of its sister publication FOCUS on Transport and Logistics. It’s nearly a decade later, and he is still as passionate about all things SHEQ-related since his first column, Sound Off, which he wrote for this magazine as well.
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