ASFE Conference at the European Sustainable Energy Week
Current concerns about the EU's energy security have led to a growing need to find alternative fuel options, such as synthetic fuels, in order to end oil dependence in transport in the long term. While conventional transport fuels are products of crude oil refining, synthetic fuels can be produced from natural gas (Gas to Liquids, GTL) and biomass (Biomass to Liquids, BTL). They are clean alternative fuels and can be used today in existing vehicles.
This conference provided a platform for experts from various backgrounds (energy analysts, policy makers, energy suppliers, car-manufacturers, NGO representatives, etc.) to discuss the potential of synthetic fuels in securing sustainable energy for transport in Europe. It was also an opportunity to identify ways to overcome barriers to the introduction and implementation of optimal policy measures to ensure their future development and deployment.
The debate was moderated by Jacki Davis from European Policy Centre. Wolfgang Lüke, from Shell International, outlined the benefits of synthetic fuels for solving the key challenges of today: including energy security, climate change and local air quality, noting that they stand the "reality check" of cost effectiveness and societal acceptance. Stephen Stacey from Toyota Motor Europe complemented Mr Lüke's presentation with information on the performance of synthetic fuels in practice and the benefits for reducing tail pipe emissions.
Jean-Arnold Vinois on behalf of the European Commission, stated that BTL is the most promising synthetic fuel and that the future competitiveness of GTL would be linked to the oil price. He also noted that the Commission's 2050 roadmap had laid out clear policies and that it is now time to look beyond 2020 – to end oil dependency all possible alternatives will need to be considered.
Axel Friedrich, Former Head of the Division for Environment, Transport, and Noise at the German Umweltbundesamt highlighted the unsustainable growth of the transport sector and the increasing pace of global warming. In his opinion, synthetic fuels could help the overall sustainability of the sector and industry and policy makers should focus on achieving the necessary 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emission. As part of the panel debate, Jos Dings from the NGO Transport and Environment and Sean Beevers from Kings College London gave additional comments. Mr Dings raised concerns about the environmental performance of synthetic fuels and called for policy makers to focus on the carbon footprints of fuels and energy efficiency. Mr Beevers introduced the findings of a study on the impact of using GTL on air quality in London, showing that there could be local emissions and public health benefits for its citizens.
Main outcomes of the debate
ASFE panelists called for the EU to demonstrate leadership on synthetic fuels, as one of the options that could contribute to sustainable mobility in the future, reducing tailpipe emissions and contributing to energy security. Policy makers were called on to set a transparent and holistic framework, in order that industry can make secure long term investments in the necessary areas.
As stressed by participants, industry investments should be both economically and environmentally sustainable. Several participants also highlighted the importance of reducing emissions in the long term to prevent further climate change, and that energy efficiency should be a key focus.