CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans: Technological neutrality more important than ever

May 4, 2022 | News

In 2021 the European Commission adopted a package of proposals, the Fit for 55 Package, to de-fossilize the transport sector by 2030. Among the proposed legislation is the revision of the CO2 emission standards for cars and vans, which is now being discussed among Member States in the Council of the EU as well as between Members of the European Parliament. The Commission’s proposal focuses on technologies which have “zero (tailpipe) emissions”. However, this approach does not recognize the positive impact of alternative fuels, such as bio-CNG and -LNG, when used in internal combustion engines (“ICEs”) on the greenhouse gas emission performance of cars and vans. By utilizing this approach, the current proposal essentially phases out the production of cars with ICEs by 2035.

The many proposed amendments (686 in total) by the Parliamentary Environment Committee on the Commission proposal show that not all MEPs agree with the approach as proposed by the European Commission. In this article, we give you an update on the final developments on this file before the crucial vote in May and the plenary vote in early June.

Alternative Fuels in focus

Last week, both the Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) and Transport (TRAN) Committees in the European Parliament voted on their amendments to the file. In the ITRE committee, members do not support the calls for an earlier phase-out of incentives for zero and low-emission vehicles (ZLEVs).  In both committees a majority of the members highlight the need for technology openness to de-fossilize the road transport sector. Members in both Committees also emphasize the need for a life cycle assessment to measure the carbon footprint of vehicles. The Zürich 5 Coalition welcomes these amendments and initiatives. The Coalition also urges the EU institutions to increase their efforts to stimulate the uptake of biomethane, as it is a complementary and scalable solution that can effectively facilitate a sustainable transition.

How biomethane can help in reducing CO2 emissions?

The electrification of passenger cars and vans and the further uptake of hydrogen are viable options to transform the transport sector. However, they do not provide a concrete solution for the short- to medium-term, as a significant renewal of the current EU rolling fleet and infrastructure takes time and significant investments. Biomethane is an affordable and scalable[1] solution that can effectively facilitate a sustainable transition – it can utilize the current rolling fleet and existing refueling infrastructure.

To stimulate objectively sustainable solutions, sustainable mobility should not be measured by the type of drive – battery, electric or biofuels – but by the actual greenhouse gas savings over the entire life cycle. Only a technology neutral approach, considering all technologies’ costs and benefits, will realize a rapid and just de-fossilization of the road transport sector. Biomethane is one of the most sustainable fuels currently available[2].

Fortunately, both the technology neutral and well-to-wheel approaches were largely introduced in the reports of both the ITRE and TRAN committees. Even though these final reports are not legally binding, they clearly indicate that most MEPs want the leading Environment Committee and EU Member States to consider a different approach to greenhouse gas emission reduction in new cars and vans.

The way forward

Since next week a crucial vote in the European Parliament on the CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans takes place, the Zürich 5 Coalition once again wants to highlight the need to consider a range of different fuel solutions, depending on their full lifecycle emissions. Biomethane can bridge the EU’s defossilization ambitions with the realities of the EU road transport sector: the available volume of biomethane to be used as bio-CNG and bio-LNG as transport fuel is steadily growing and the European gas refueling infrastructure is already available.

The EPP Group in the European Parliament, and among others MEPs Dominique Riquet, Emma Wiesner, Elsi Katainen, Jan-Christoph Oetjen, Henna Virkkunen, Søren Gade, José Ramón Bauzá Díaz, Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, have acknowledged the added value of biomethane.

We ask for rapporteur Jan Huitema and shadow rapporteurs Jens Gieseke, Bas Eickhout, Sara Cerdas, Kateřina Konečná, Sylvia Limmer and Pietro Fiocchi to, when voting on the CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans, consider the added value of biomethane in reaching the EU’s emission reduction targets in the road transport sector.

Want to know more?

Download our position paper on the revision of the CO2 standards for cars/vans here. Read more about the benefits of biomethane here or download our factsheet here.

[1] The biomethane sector alone will be able to reach 34 bcm of sustainable biomethane by 2030. The biogas and biomethane sectors combined can produce between an estimated 34-42 bcm (equivalent to 370–467 TWh) by 2030. Their joint potential for 2050 is estimated at 95 bcm (equivalent to 1,008–1,020 TWh). See European Biogas Association, EBA Annual Report 2020.

[2] Driving on bio-CNG provides CO2 savings of up to 97% compared to gasoline vehicles. In some cases, when slurry is used as waste to create bio-CNG, driving on bio-CNG even results in negative CO2 emissions.