The development of alternative fuels for transport is essential for reducing the EU’s dependence on crude oil and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The European Commission has proposed a directive which requires Member States to foster the deployment of infrastructure for the supply of these alternative energies for road and waterway transport.
According to experts, the options with most potential as alternative fuels in road transport include electric batteries (for short/medium distances); compressed gases like hydrogen (fuel cells) and compressed natural gas CNG (intermediate distances) and liquid fuels (e.g. biofuels, liquid natural gas or LNG) for long-distance transport. In waterways, the future lies in compressed hydrogen (inland navigation, small boats), liquid gases (LNG for maritime activities) and liquid biofuels (all vessels). Rail should depend as much as possible on the electric grid, while biofuel-derived jet fuel could substitute for conventional fuel in air transport.
However, alternative fuels in transport still face a number of challenges. A major obstacle is the lack of adequate infrastructure for recharging or refuelling with energy sources which cannot be supplied through the technological channels in place for liquid conventional fuels (94% of the energy used today in European transport is derived from crude oil). This lack of infrastructure for recharging battery packs or refuelling with hydrogen and compressed or liquefied natural gas interacts in a vicious circle with the low numbers of alternative-fuel vehicles: lack of consumers means no investment in refuelling infrastructure, while lack of infrastructure discourages consumers from choosing alternative vehicles. There is also still limited knowledge (or acceptance) of alternative propulsion vehicles among the majority of potential users.
European Commission proposals
In January 2013, the Commission proposed a directive requiring Member States to adopt national policy frameworks for developing the market for alternative fuels and to ensure that minimum infrastructure is set up for their supply in road and water-borne transport. Each Member State should ensure the establishment of a defined minimum number of recharging points for electric vehicles by the end of 2020 (at least 10% of them publicly accessible). Ports should be equipped with shore-side electricity supply for vessels by end-2015. Hydrogen refuelling points should be set up in sufficient number (no further than 300 km apart) to allow hydrogen vehicles to circulate throughout the territory (by 2020 in Member States where this technology has already been introduced). LNG supply should be available for navigation along the core Trans-European Transport (TEN-T) network in maritime ports (2020) and inland ports (2025), and LNG refuelling points should sustain heavy-vehicle road transport along the TEN-T core network (refuelling points at least every 400 km by 2020). By end-2020, Member States should ensure sufficient CNG refuelling points are set up (at least every 150 km) to support CNG vehicles across the EU. This proposal would also require harmonisation of technical specifications of alternative fuels, and common standards for refuelling and electric charging systems, and more information to consumers on compatibility of fuels and vehicles.
This proposal for a directive was referred to the Committee on Transport and Tourism (TRAN) which appointed Carlo Fidanza (EPP, Italy) as rapporteur. The Committee adopted its report on 26 November 2013. On 5 December the Council agreed on a general approach, a position seen by the Commission as less ambitious than its proposal, particularly regarding the timeframe for the infrastructure set-up. After a series of trilogues a compromise was approved by Coreper and endorsed by the TRAN Committee on 1 April; the EP has now to confirm the text at first reading.