Aston University energy expert advises government to invest in low carbon fuels alongside electrification

Patricia Thornley (Director of EBRI)

•    Professor Patricia Thornley has led a Department for Transport advisory paper.
•    Advises decarbonisation will need low-carbon fuels alongside electrification.
•    Calls for continued investment in this area.

A leading energy expert at Aston University has advised government to invest in low carbon fuels – as well as electric – if it wants to reach its 2050 net zero ambition.

Professor Patricia Thornley has led a Department for Transport (DfT) advisory paper on low carbon transport fuels.

The paper advises that decarbonisation of the UK’s transport systems will need the government to support the use of low-carbon fuels alongside widespread battery electrification where possible.

Professor Thornley and the other members who sat on the Scientific Advisory Council examined the challenges and opportunities of developing and using different fuels and their potential impact on the wider energy system.

The authors highlight that low carbon fuels such as those made from agricultural waste can deliver reductions in carbon emissions, helping to meet the government’s 2050 net zero ambition. As a result, they state that continued investment in this area is crucial.

The paper also states that at this point it’s not yet clear if low carbon fuels will support just the transition to full electrification of the UK’s transport systems or will be a long-term solution.

Professor Thornley who is director of Aston University’s Energy and Bioproducts Research Institute (EBRI) and the Supergen Bioenergy Hub said: “Successful decarbonisation of transport systems in the UK will require flexible and adaptive government strategies that support the use of low-carbon fuels alongside widespread battery electrification, where that is possible.

“The optimal mix of low carbon fuels vs battery electrification in transport will depend on many different factors, some technological, some supply related, and others linked to the capacity of the UK to generate low carbon electricity.

“We urgently need to better understand and manage the airborne emissions that can still be present with low carbon fuels (including hydrogen). That might result in us prioritising different fuels or propulsion systems in different applications or even different parts of the UK.

“Agreeing that prioritisation would allow us to prioritise appropriate next generation of infrastructure to support the UK’s net zero ambitions.”

Back in March 2022 the Council was asked to provide guidance to the DfT which is currently developing a low carbon fuels strategy.

The report, Low carbon transport fuels: DfT Science Advisory Council position paper was published on 5 June and provides an independent advice on the role of low carbon fuels in reducing transport systems’ greenhouse gas emissions.


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