Low carbon, renewable fuels can offer immediate cuts to HGV emissions, with some currently showing greater life cycle emissions savings than electric vehicles, according to new research by Zemo Partnership.

The study found that in all vehicle segments modelled, renewable fuels offer significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions savings when compared with conventional, predominantly fossil-content fuels.

In addition, some renewable fuels applications show greater life cycle GHG emissions savings than current battery electric vehicles using grid electricity, although the study points out that rapid decarbonisation of UK power supplies will continue to shift the balance in favour of electrification over time.

The analysis shows that a one-size-fits-all approach to road vehicle applications is unlikely to be the optimal solution to road transport decarbonisation, at least in the short to medium-term.

The study recommends that transport policy and legislation should be more directly informed by vehicle life cycle GHG emissions data, and not focused solely on mitigating tailpipe emissions.

It noted: ”Whilst the focus of government policy is on the transition to zero tailpipe emission propulsion technologies, the merits of renewable fuels should not be forgotten.

”GHG emissions reductions that can be made today can accumulate over time, making them significantly more impactful than savings made in the future, in terms of limiting global warming.

”There is no reason why renewable fuels should not be employed alongside electric powertrain technologies. Renewable low carbon fuels have a vital and rapid contribution to make towards GHG emissions abatement – they can ease the transition for consumers, mitigate embedded carbon from new vehicle manufacture and help to bridge the gap for harder to decarbonise applications.”

Organisations developing their fleet decarbonisation strategy should consider vehicle life cycle emissions, rather than just the in-use or tailpipe emissions, the study advises.

It said: ”Both low carbon fuels and zero (tailpipe) emission technologies should be considered before investing in new vehicles, as the relative savings are not always intuitive.

”By using low carbon fuels, it may be possible to achieve greater GHG emissions savings with the available budget. Low carbon fuels may also offer a faster route to reducing fleet GHG emissions in the near term. The economics and feasibility of particular powertrains for a given duty cycle and use case are also important.”

Operators of electric vehicles should also consider the size and capacity of the batteries used in their vehicles and optimise these depending on the use case. Larger, heavier batteries offer improved vehicle range, but emit more GHG emissions during production, increase vehicle consumption and may also reduce payload capacity.

Gloria Esposito, report co-author and Zemo Partnership head of sustainability, said: “Zemo’s study elegantly demonstrates the importance of life cycle GHG emission analysis in fairly comparing different powertrain technologies and renewable fuels against today’s fossil fuel counterparts.

”Our work shows the significant contribution renewable fuels can continue to make towards reducing road transport GHG emissions. In particular, quick wins are available to the UK HGV fleet sector today.

“Transport policy has to rapidly evolve to embrace life cycle GHG emissions metrics. This is imperative to safeguard against unintended consequences and to enable a broader range of technology options to be recognised as viable candidates for decarbonising transport.”

Zemo Partnership is running an online webinar on 21st February 2024 at 14:00 looking at the results of the study and at the contribution that renewable, low carbon fuels can make to cutting emissions.