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ICCT HDV CO2 study fails on the most important questions

ICCT HDV CO2 study fails on the most important questions
The ICCT graph with adjustment to remove ILUC and to add in the option for 100% biofuels in 2021 in efficient ICE trucks (graphic courtesy FuelsEurope).

Recently the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), an independent nonprofit organization founded in 2001 "to provide first-rate, unbiased research and technical and scientific analysis to environmental regulators", released a study on a life-cycle comparison of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from combustion, electric, and hydrogen trucks and buses in Europe. But the decision to exclude existing renewable biofuels from the study has led to skewed conclusions as the European Fuel Manufacturers Association (FuelsEurope) points out.

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According to the ICCT, the analysis evaluates the lifetime emissions of different powertrains on “a fully harmonized basis, comparing both the emissions attributable to fuel production and consumption as well as the emissions attributable to the vehicle’s manufacturing.

Further that the study, titled “A comparison of the life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of European heavy-duty vehicles and fuels” investigates the current “best-in-class diesel models against their natural gas, battery electric, and hydrogen fuel cell electric alternatives in the European market.”

The key findings of the study are the following:

  • Battery electric trucks and buses outperform their diesel, hydrogen, and natural gas counterparts in reducing GHG emissions over their lifetime. 2021 vehicle models produce at least 63 percent lower lifetime emissions compared to diesel even when using the EU’s average electricity grid mix, which is not fully renewable but will continue to improve during the lifetime of the vehicles. Projections show a 92 percent emission reduction when 100 percent renewable electricity is used.
  • 燃料电池电动卡车和巴士hydroge上运行n produced from fossil fuels reduce GHG emissions by 15 percent to 33 percent compared to their diesel counterparts in a lifecycle analysis. The emissions reduction depends heavily on the source of hydrogen, which is mostly produced from natural gas today. With hydrogen solely produced with renewable electricity, emissions fall by up to 89 percent.
  • Natural gas trucks and buses provide marginal GHG reductions, at best, compared to diesel. For the 2021 scenario, ICCT finds that natural gas trucks and buses may reduce emissions from 4 percent to 18 percent compared to their diesel counterparts.
  • The biggest portion of lifecycle GHG emissions produced by trucks and buses over their lifetime corresponds to the use (or fuel consumption) phase, not vehicle manufacturing. For diesel and natural gas trucks, the consumed fuel accounts for over 90 percent of their lifetime emissions. Thus, the higher vehicle and battery production emissions of battery electric trucks are offset by their high efficiency and low lifetime fuel cycle emissions.

Incomplete picture

Commenting on the ICCT study, John Cooper, Director General of the European Fuel Manufacturers Association (FuelsEurope) notes that the ICCT work sets out “to inform policy decisions with science, a worthy objective.”

Of course, this immediately clarifies that there is no such thing as a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV), even those without a tailpipe. This is welcome honesty. Regrettably, this report from the ICCT ignores that renewable fuels in Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles can be just as good as electric trucks on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, with an unexplained, highly selective scientific study. There were some very strange decisions to include, and exclude things in this work that have hugely influenced the conclusions. Thankfully complementary work by Concawe can fill the gaps and give a more complete scientific picture, said John Cooper.

Trucks operating on 100 percent biofuels are missing from the study

First and foremost, the option to operate a truck on 100 percent renewable biofuels is simply missing, whereas the options to operate on 100 percent renewable electricity or 100 percent green hydrogen (H2) are shown.

Although another renewable fuel is considered, it is only about Power-to-Liquid (PtL) aka electro-fuel (e-fuels), only after 2030, and only with a content limited to 2.6 – 5.7 percent up to 2049, which is obviously inconsistent with the decarbonization targets in this time horizon.

Furthermore, the ICCT never compared in the same graph the benefits of PtL for the decarbonization of trucks to the benefits of electrification, this remains a sign of an unbalanced approach. Without waiting until the 2030 horizon and already available today, it is a matter of record that the GHG intensity of sustainable biofuels has decreased since the beginning of the RED in 2010, John Copper said.

Taking average 2022 values for biodiesel in Germany, an 80 percent reduction vs fossil fuels, a truck operated exclusively on 100 percent renewable (non-fossil) fuel would have a GHG footprint equal to that of an electric truck.

Why would we want to exclude that option? Especially when 98 percent of today’s trucks and all of the current fuel distribution and charging infrastructure are already in place and completely compatible with 100 percent renewable fuels? Therefore, we present the ICCT graph with adjustments to remove ILUC and to add in the option for 100 percent biofuels in 2021 used in efficient ICE trucks. They can be as good as an EV, said John Cooper.

Incorrect unit to assess GHG emissions

Secondly, the ICCT report shows GHG emissions per mile, when per tonne-mile would be the correct unit.

We know already that an electric truck is likely to have a lower payload because of high battery weight, and more time for recharging. This means it may take more than one truck to replace a truck running on (any type of) liquid fuel. This choice of units ignores these likely drawbacks of electric trucks and creates additional bias flattering the electric truck, explained John Cooper.

Biofuels indirect emissions should not be accounted for in the study

Thirdly, in ICCT’s report, the baseline for diesel and biofuels emissions are, according to FuelsEurope, almost certainly exaggerated.

Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) values cannot be measured, and can only be estimated after certain choices of attribution have been made, and these depend hugely on many uncertain and unstable factors. For this reason, they do not feature in the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) sustainability standard, and we would say they do not belong in this study, reasoned John Cooper.

John Cooper, Director General, FuelsEurope (photo courtesy FuelsEurope).

In the ICCT study, indirect emissions are claimed for biofuels, thus significantly inflating the baseline emissions set out in this “test”.

There are certainly indirect emissions for the transition to electric trucks (e.g. building the charging infrastructure) but these are ignored.

This asymmetry gives a certain bias. Science shows that ICE trucks with 100 percent renewable fuels are as effective in reducing GHG emissions.

Good science means including the full picture – not just the results one would like to show. Good policy decisions can only be made with good, complete science as a foundation, John Cooper stressed.

The excellent GHG performance of ICE trucks with 100 percent renewable fuels is a critical opportunity to have additional, complementary technologies to increase the probability of reaching 2050 climate-neutrality targets.

We urge policymakers to recognize the importance of retaining renewable liquid fuels as part of the future of European Heavy-Duty Vehicle (HDV) transport, ensuring transport companies can choose this technology for the long term to deliver both climate-neutral targets and goods to society, ended John Cooper.

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