In order to fly, sail and drive climate-neutrally by 2050, the supply of renewable fuels must increase dramatically. Accelerated development of sustainable technologies and increased energy savings, partly through behavioural change, are also important building blocks in the transition to climate-neutral mobility. This follows from a joint study by TNO and PBL.

Demand for renewable fuels is rising sharply due to the energy transition, especially from aviation and shipping. This puts a large demand on the available renewable energy in the Netherlands and competes with other sectors, such as industry.

A supply strategy is needed for renewable fuels for shipping in particular in the future climate-neutral energy system. This involves both scaling up national production and importing renewable fuels. So say PBL and TNO in the study “Climate-neutral mobility in 2050” (Klimaatneutrale mobiliteit in 2050).

This is the first time that research on climate-neutral mobility has been conducted so broadly. Also new to this study is that the researchers examined how climate neutrality can be achieved in 2050, rather than just exploring what is achieved with current policies.

Also read: LNG ships’ methane emissions higher than regulations assume

46 megatonnes of emissions from aviation and shipping

Domestic mobility, at nearly 30 megatonnes in 2022, accounted for nineteen per cent of the Netherlands’ total greenhouse gas emissions. To this must be added nearly 46 megatonnes of emissions from international aviation and shipping from the Netherlands.

To bring the 2050 climate goals within reach, reducing these emissions is a key pillar. The researchers looked at four modes of transport: road traffic, aviation, maritime shipping and inland navigation. They included trends in transport volume, the development in renewable energy carriers and the role of other measures, such as improved energy efficiency and influencing the demand for mobility, in their analysis.

Also read: ‘New marine fuels can reach cost parity with fossil fuels by 2035’

In shipping, the energy transition is in its infancy

The transition of road transport is already in a scaling-up phase. Scaling up charging infrastructure and facilitating the phase-out of the existing system of vehicles and fossil energy distribution are major challenges.

In aviation and shipping, the transition is still in its infancy. There is still a lack of clarity on international regulations and a lack of concrete elaborated policies. In shipping, a wide range of sustainable technologies are being developed and there is a need for more practical experience, as a prelude to the large-scale deployment of sustainable technology.

Scarcity of renewable fuels

‘We expect a huge demand for renewable fuels, especially for aviation and shipping,’ says TNO researcher Jorrit Harmsen. ‘There is great uncertainty about the supply and price development of these fuels: after all, the mobility sector is competing with demand from other sectors, such as industry. A strong national strategy in the production and import of sustainable fuels is vital to enable the transition.’

‘Besides the importance of technology, energy saving is important to make mobility sustainable. In the short term it mainly saves a lot of emissions, in the longer term it lowers the demand for scarce renewable energy and critical (raw) materials,’ says PBL’s mobility expert Gerben Geilenkirchen. ‘In addition to improving energy efficiency, behavioural change is important. By this I mean, for example, reducing mobility, driving more economically or switching to sustainable alternatives. Better availability of those alternatives, as well as a smart spatial planning of our country can help.’

Also read: The hurdles for use of ammonia as a marine fuel

Redistributive effects

Finally, the researchers point to the crucial role that support plays in the transition to climate-neutral mobility. In the transition, mobility may become more expensive and investments in sustainable technology are needed, which may have different impacts on different groups of citizens and companies. For instance, in the transition to electric driving, lower income groups that do depend on cars are particularly vulnerable. Making clear choices in the distribution of benefits and burdens and involving citizens in these choices helps increase support for policy.

The study “Climate-neutral mobility in 2050” is a combination of four sub-studies and a synthesis report. The results of this thinking will also be used for a broader study on a climate-neutral society, “Trajectory Exploration Climate-neutral Netherlands in 2050” (Trajectverkenning Klimaatneutraal Nederland in 2050), which PBL will publish in April.