Europe has set itself quite the challenge for the future: achieving net zero emissions by 2050, a move that will require shifting the entire economy’s energy consumption to zero-carbon sources within 30 years.
This ambitious goal casts a heavy spotlight on the transport sector. Today, transport accounts for around one quarter of global energy-related CO2 emissions, with road freight alone causing approximately 10% of all emissions in Europe.
And yet, there’s hardly a question in climate protection more debated than this one: will the future of transport be electric or hydrogen-powered?
The answer is relatively simple: both. The future of energy will be dual fuel (as it always has been, by the way). Now, as we gear up for our journey towards a zero-carbon society, this discussion is more relevant than ever.
The world has already embraced electric cars as the new norm. Now, electric trucks are slowly beginning to catch up. In recent years, the first manufacturers, such as Tesla, Volvo, Mercedes and Renault, have started planning and even producing medium-duty electric trucks, mainly used for inner-city deliveries. They offer a number of green advantages, such as the ability to recover kinetic energy and operate largely from a renewable energy source.
The use of electric battery-powered vehicles for transport is still limited by recharging time and range. That’s where hydrogen comes into play: it can serve as a sidekick to electric vehicles. While battery-electric vehicles are the most competitive alternative for smaller vehicles and short ranges, hydrogen-powered transport offers increased flexibility in long-distance driving and high-intensity usage, which is essential for heavy-duty vehicles, such as trains, trucks and busses.
Whether implemented separately or in hybrid systems, battery and hydrogen solutions combined can help overcome each other’s limitations and make a dent in overall carbon emissions. The popularity of smaller electric vehicles is already on the rise. According to WoodMac, there are around 5 million electric vehicles on the roads worldwide.
Hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles are still lagging behind, but probably not for much longer. While the statistics show that in 2019 there were only 17,000 fuel-cell vehicles worldwide, a growing number of hydrogen projects could flip the scale very soon. In the German town of Kaisersesch, for example, all inner-city buses will be powered by hydrogen by 2023.
Meeting the energy needs of the future is going to take both direct and indirect use of green electrons, an essential two-pronged approach to decarbonisation. Yet, too often, we talk about it as if it were a zero-sum game.
This way of thinking needs to change, as both electricity and hydrogen are mutually beneficial. And that means we need to start developing and investing in both, side by side. If our common goal is a sustainable energy future, this is no time for tribalism. It’s time for collaboration.
So, stop religious wars around gas versus electricity: the energy transition can only happen in a dual-fuel world!
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