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Firing up future mobility – with the perfect mix

What will the road vehicles of the future look like? Which drive forms will win out? Which transport technologies will prevail? Answering all these questions is far from simple. The main challenge is to resolve the tension generated by meeting climate targets on the one hand and addressing rising road transport demand on the other. Manfred Leitner, OMV Executive Board member for Downstream provides an insight into the "Mobility of the future".

Climate targets vs. rising demand – resolving the conflict

The transport-related climate goal in Europe involves reducing CO2 emissions and greenhouse gases by 20% by 2030. What is more, by 2050 this should be cut by a further 60%, meaning that mobility in Austria should be completely fossil-free by the year 2050. So, those are the climate targets for the EU. But if you have a look at demand levels, you will see that while demand for fossil fuels may be declining worldwide, demand for jet fuel, for example, is seeing sharp increases.

Alexis von Hoensbroech, CEO of Austrian Airlines confirms that, “the aviation industry set itself the target to grow carbon-neutrally from 2020 onwards by using more efficient technologies and binding CO2 compensations. By the year 2050, worldwide CO2 emissions should be cut by half, presumably by applying more synthetic fuels. Nonetheless, the air is probably the last place it will be possible to replace fossil fuels – the last drop of oil extracted from this Earth will probably be incinerated in the engine of an aircraft. And why? In the air, weight is so important that conceivably there is no other option in terms of technology. Let's take an example. If you take the contents of a liter of kerosene and put it in a battery, the battery would weigh 70 kilos. That means that an airplane with 100 metric tons of kerosene would need to carry 7,000 batteries to have the same energy level it needs to travel. That's simply impractical in the longer term."

That's why it is important to continue working with existing resources, existing systems and existing technologies in the near future. "I believe that we should utilize existing resources in such a way that we can first actually determine the direction needed, before we invest in affordable technologies that are feasible in terms of the environment, the economy and that are also realistic", says Manfred Leitner, OMV Executive Board member for Downstream.

I believe that we should utilize existing resources in such a way that we can first actually determine the direction needed, before we invest in affordable technologies that are feasible in terms of the environment, the economy and that are also realistic", says Manfred Leitner, OMV Executive Board member for Downstream. 

CNG and LNG as part of the solution  

As in the past, there remains huge potential in existing fuels and this should be utilized. Here Leitner sees one fuel as a crucial part of the solution for meeting climate targets: Gas. Although not particularly widespread today, it brings with it a lot of advantages: "Gas makes sense in many regards: We have the infrastructure, filling stations are in place, vehicles are available and the technology is well-developed. Refueling involves a similar process to conventional fuels and the range is similar too. What's more, running a vehicle with CNG, i.e. Compressed Natural Gas, comes in at around 50% less than a conventional vehicle", explains Leitner. This is why it makes sense to join forces with the automotive industry, as CNG has 20% fewer CO2 emissions, 75% less nitrogen oxide and 98% lower particulate emissions. "CNG is an abundant fuel that we need to apply in order to head in the right direction. Another option for heavy goods transport, i.e. long-haul, and also for shipping, is liquefied gas. I also believe that we will have to make use of these options in the short term – now – so that we can take the first step in the right direction", added Leitner.

Sascha Kaehne, EMEA Heavy Trucks Director at Iveco agrees, "In principle, we started out driving with wood and coal – that was pure carbon. Then we progressed to petrol and diesel, whereby we already reduced the carbon density. From our point of view, the next step is clearly natural gas, so methane with wide carbon-freedom. We believe the following step, in the next 20 to 30 years, is hydrogen, which would allow our driving to become carbon-neutral."

Hydrogen and electromobility as long-term solutions

Hydrogen is also a much-discussed option in relation to the "Mobility of the future". It has clear-cut advantages, as it is de facto emission-free. And yet, it involves a new technology that is relatively new and therefore still very expensive. It is not easy for companies to make economically feasible investments as demand is too low and car manufacturers are still building vehicles at a price that is not attractive for consumers. Hermine Resch, General Manager at Temmel confirms, "My goal, which also happens to be our corporate strategy, is to have transformed our entire fleet – that's 160 trucks – by 2030 to alternative drive systems. And for me, hydrogen is the future.”

"Conversely, if you look at electromobility, this has its fans. The question, however, is where? I see electromobility as a really sensible option for urban driving, namely for short trips", says Leitner. That said, it is essential to take the entire chain into account for electromobility: If the power it uses is produced on the basis of coal, then it doesn't make any sense to call it an emission-free car. If you look at the sum of its parts, then there's no CO2 reduction compared to a conventional vehicle. "For generating electricity, gas also gives us the chance to halve CO2 emissions compared to coal, as well as providing secure supply – naturally in conjunction with renewables."

Industry, politics and business will have to come together

The automotive industry, energy companies and policymakers will have to work together very closely in order to meet the climate targets in the transport sector. "What we need is to develop systems that are not based on any single technology, to support them and make them attractive for consumers. They need to be environmentally sound on the one hand and also to make sense economically on the other", says Leitner. There is already an array of different drive systems and technologies that are as varied in their type, range and application as they are varied in the demand they enjoy. "At the end of the day, it will be the customer that decides which different applications will be successful", concludes Leitner.

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