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CO2 standards should support biomethane in transport, report says

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The European Biogas Association (EBA) has launched the ‘Smart CO2 standards for negative emissions mobility’ report, highlighting recommendations for the use biomethane in transport.

Launched in the framework of the EU Green Week 2021, the report includes three key recommendations to ensure the deployment of biomethane in transport and consequently achieve a fast, cost-effective shift to carbon-neutral mobility in Europe by 2050.

Emissions from transport will need to be reduced by 90% relative to 1990. According to current trends, the transport sector will fail to contribute to the reduction in emissions required to meet EU targets, said the European Biogas Association (EBA). To ensure the full decarbonisation of the transport sector, Europe must couple electrification with alternative fuels and technologies.

The biomethane industry welcomes the gradual replacement of fossil fuels in transport, but the replacement of these fuels should not penalise the technology they use, said the EBA. Internal combustion engines (ICE) are compatible with renewable fuels, including biomethane. Just as renewable electricity is compatible with the same batteries that are now mostly powered by electricity from fossil origins.

Current standards have adopted an approach to measure the emissions performance of the vehicles that considers only the CO2 emissions produced by the use of vehicles (tank-to-wheel), instead of considering the emissions produced across its whole lifecycle. This penalises the deployment of ICE, the EBA said. However, this technology is already more performant when used with fossil gas then diesel or petrol alternatives, and high performing when used with biomethane (bio-CNG or bio-LNG).

Biomethane’s environmental performance over its complete lifecycle is excellent and has been scientifically proved in several studies. Vehicles fuelled with biomethane can reach even negative emission levels, depending on the feedstock and technology used, but this is not recognised by the current regulation.

The updating of the CO2 emission performance standards, together with other legal frameworks such as RED II or DAFI, must set out a harmonised approach that enables genuinely carbon neutral and cost-effective solutions to reduce CO2 emissions in transport. Eventually, this should lead to the adoption of a life-cycle assessment (LCA) approach in EU vehicle legislation.

Manufacturing and recycling can represent anything from one-fourth to one-half of the total vehicle emissions, but are entirely omitted from the current standards. LCA is the only means to ensure that CO2 emissions in transport are accurately and comprehensively quantified, the EBA noted, considering only tailpipe emissions leaves 93% (54 tonnes/58 tonnes) of transport sector carbon emissions out of the calculation.

The CO2 emission standards should also include a new mechanism ensuring that compliance assessments for vehicle manufacturers consider the contribution of biomethane to emissions reduction. This could take the form of a crediting system or a carbon correction factor, as a function of the renewable fuel used. If such a mechanism cannot be implemented by 2025, the most gas efficient vehicle should be acknowledged as low emission vehicles within the current system.

The decarbonisation of transport could also be encouraged with a binding obligation for the EU to steadily increase the share of sustainably produced biofuels and renewable gases in transport, reaching 50% in ICE and hybrid vehicles by 2030 and 100% by 2050.

In terms of production, it is estimated that by 2030, the biogas and biomethane sectors combined can almost double their production and by 2050, production can more than quadruple. This is equivalent to 100 million passenger vehicles or 2.5-5 million heavy-duty vehicles.

The benefits of biomethane use for clean mobility go ‘far beyond’ the transport sector, said the EBA. Biomethane is at the heart of an efficient circular economy: it is the best way to recycle organic waste, produce valuable renewable gas and biofertilisers, promote sustainable and efficient farming practices, and create jobs in rural areas.