Net zero transportation: more than one solution

Globally, transport and mobility account for 19% of global carbon emissions according to McKinsey. But how do we reach carbon-neutral transport systems, without sacrificing the mobility that makes economies and people thrive? Power-to-X is part of the solution – on the ground, in the air, and at sea.

‘Either / Or.’ So often in life and business we are presented with a binary choice.
The transportation sector is no exception, where reaching net zero is often portrayed as a question of ‘electrification or bust’.
At Ramboll, we take a more nuanced and pragmatic view.
Based on our extensive technological exploration and practical experience, we expect green hydrogen, produced by Power-to-X, and related products like green ammonia, e-kerosene, and methanol, to play a vital role in decarbonising the sector.
The route forward for the sector
For investors and developers, knowing which forms of transport are most likely to be powered by e-fuels – from shipping and aviation to heavy and light road transport – is a pressing question with major business implications.
Below, we explore where Power-to-X is likely to come out ahead.
The pros and cons of e-fuels and electrification
When making decisions about fuels for transportation and the future energy mix, there are several factors that will determine when, where, and how e-fuels can compete with electrification. The most important include: charging infrastructure, distance per charge, and efficiency loss.
Efficiency loss
One objection to hydrogen is that there is a higher efficiency loss compared to electric battery technology. Power-to-X products do indeed have a higher average efficiency loss, although this should be taken with a significant caveat: the outlook is somewhat cloudier than is often presented.
In many cases, the transmission of power is presented as though there is no efficiency loss. This is not the case, and the longer the power is transported, the higher the loss. For this reason, the production location for each technology has a significant impact on efficiency.
Charging and infrastructure requirements
Both battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles (FCEVs) will require corresponding infrastructure: For BEVs, this means electric charging stations and hydrogen fuelling stations for FCEVs. Currently, electric charging stations are far more widespread than hydrogen fuelling stations, giving BEVs a distinct advantage. However, it takes significantly longer to charge an electric vehicle than one powered by hydrogen.
Additionally, upstream production of electricity and hydrogen would naturally be needed, whatever the transportation type they are powering.
A McKinsey analysis has highlighted that the shift to low-emissions vehicles could create opportunities for companies across the value chain.
Going the distance?
In terms of pure efficiency of power use, BEVs lead other fuels by some distance. However, FCEVs are in second place, and are a viable alternative.
Source: Sterner, FENES OTH Regensburg 2017
When is Power-to-X the optimal choice?
High efficiency losses in the production of for example methanol and ammonia mean it should not be seen as a solution across all transport methods.
So where could e-fuels from Power-to-X out-perform renewable electrification technologies? Let’s review the transport methods one by one.
Cars and light trucking
We expect BEVs to be the dominant type of passenger car in the future due to their high efficiency at shorter distances and with lighter loads.
Nevertheless, FCEVs are likely to be part of the mix. The Hydrogen Council, a global industry organisation, estimates hydrogen could power a global fleet of more than 400 million cars by 2050, equivalent to 25% of all cars globally.
Heavy-duty trucking
For some modes of transport, direct electrification is not feasible with current technology. To a large degree that includes heavy road transport and trucking, and here we expect hydrogen-powered fuel cells to be a viable zero-carbon alternative.
Like BEVs, hydrogen-powered vehicles have zero exhaust emissions, with clear benefits for air quality in addition to carbon emissions.
Another benefit of hydrogen fuel cells is the short refuelling time, allowing a faster return to work. Thus, green hydrogen could be a relevant option for heavier road vehicles and provide potential savings in expanding electricity grid.
Green ammonia, e-methanol, and green hydrogen are all potential solutions for the shipping industry to meet its net zero targets. Green methanol and ammonia are anticipated to be particularly cost-competitive and easy to store and transport.
Therefore, we expect both fuels will play an important part in decarbonising the shipping sector.
Aviation relies on energy-dense fuels, which are currently mostly oil-based. This means that neither electric batteries – which would be too large and heavy to be feasible – nor pure hydrogen will be the answer.
Instead e-fuels derived from green hydrogen are a promising path to decarbonisation in this industry. E-kerosene, produced from renewable hydrogen and carbon from sustainable CO2 is the current frontrunner in this sector.
Want to know more about Power-to-X?
Power-to-X (also known as PtX or P2X) is a collective term for conversion technologies that turn electricity into carbon-neutral synthetic fuels. Understand the terminology and find out why Power-to-X can pave the way for a greener future:
Power-to-X explained
Developing Power-to-X projects
Regardless of their application, Power-to-X projects require significant levels of expertise to successfully deliver. At Ramboll, we have worked on more than 70 green hydrogen and Power-to-X projects.
We are also taking part in concept studies, environmental analyses, and engineering design for integrating carbon capture with the production of e-fuels. In doing so, we have built up in-depth experience within these fields, allowing us to help you and your business in exploring these new opportunities.
Our team provides best practice advice and guidance throughout all phases of Power-to-X projects - whether the product is hydrogen or other e-fuels both in production and logistics, including hydrogen fuelling stations. Whether it is site selection, design or market and traffic analysis, we can support the process from inception and feasibility to design, construction, and operation.
Power-to-X: The power to change transportation
When you examine the different technologies, one thing becomes clear: A holistic perspective is required in the future for transport sector to reach its net zero goals. And investment must begin today to develop these green alternatives.
Using a combination of green hydrogen and associated synthetic fuels to replace fossil fuels in heavy transport has an enormous decarbonisation potential, while helping companies remain competitive.
In a world powered by 100% renewable energy, industry media Energy Watch expects liquid fuels made using renewable energy to meet 28% of global energy demand by 2050. Hydrogen is expected to account for a similar share at 27% of global demand.
Energy demand for transport
Source: 2019 Energy watch report.
But it won’t be enough simply to adopt new solutions; they need to be implemented in the infrastructure and value chain. Additionally, going in this direction will require large amounts of renewable electricity available at cheap prices.
To achieve this, hydrogen production could be ramped up in regions that have a great deal of solar and wind power capacity. But, given it is shown to be more cost-effective to have hydrogen produced as locally as possible, hydrogen hubs must be in place all over the world for the best effect.
If this can be achieved, the opportunities for companies to seize on the net zero agenda and complement renewable energies such as solar, wind, and hydropower with Power-to-X will be significant.
In this complex numbers game, getting to net zero in the transport sector will require more than one solution. It’s not ‘Either / Or.’ It’s ‘Both… And…’

Want to know more?

  • Anders Nimgaard Schultz

    Director, Power-to-X & Gas infrastructure

    +45 51 61 33 95

    Anders Nimgaard Schultz

Going from 'Power' to 'X'


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