The future of mobility; not one solution, but many

Renewable Energy
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John Abbot

IN 1807, when he patented the first hydrogen-powered engine, François Isaac de Rivaz could have been forgiven for thinking he had found the future of transport. Yet here we are, more than 200 years later, still wrestling with the same question. What will drive us tomorrow?

Some still say hydrogen. Some say battery electric power. Some say natural gas. I say, we must explore all the options. I believe that the future of transport will be shaped not by one solution, but many.

De Rivaz’s hydrogen car may not have been a success, but we can learn from his inventiveness, his vision, his will to do things differently.

Because when it comes to the future of transport, we need every solution we can get. Whether that is Malaysia’s plans to increase the usage of public transportation in a bid to reduce carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 or its ambition for every private vehicle registered to be an energy efficient vehicle, in the near future.

We face a pressing challenge. Transport accounts for more than a quarter of the world’s energy use and one-fifth of global energy-related CO2 emissions. There are a billion cars on the roads today and this is expected to double by 2040. We must all consider this region’s energy future and how society will meet demand, while reducing emissions to tackle climate change and air pollution.

Last month [OCT], the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlined the need for an ever more rapid transition to a lower-carbon world. This begins with CO2 emissions falling sharply from 2020. That is barely a year away. We need multiple solutions because no one solution can meet all needs, in all places, at all times.

That is certainly a key conclusion of Shell’s latest scenario work, which was cited by the IPCC. Our Sky scenario sets out a challenging but plausible route the world could follow to meet the aims of the Paris agreement and restrict the rise in global average temperature in this century to well under 2°C.

Given its significant impact, the transport sector must rise to this challenge. And to find solutions, we have to continue to work together. Indeed, Shell is in many ways heading on the same path as Malaysia and the wider region.

Take battery electric cars. Malaysia is aiming for an increase in the usage of energy efficiency vehicles (EEV) by working towards increasing renewable energy through renewable resources from the current two per cent to 20 by 2025.

Indonesia is considering tax incentives to boost the battery industry. And China accounts for about half of global production and has the highest number of electric cars on the road. Shell is increasing its activities too. In Europe, for instance, we acquired NewMotion, one of Europe’s largest providers of charge points, operating more than 40,000 private points for homes and businesses.

When it comes to hydrogen as a fuel, it has potential for heavy freight, including rail. De Rivaz would certainly approve. In Japan, their vision of a “hydrogen society” begins in 2020, with plans for fleets of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles serving the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Shell too, is increasing its investment in hydrogen. In Germany, for example, our plans include a joint venture to establish a nationwide network of 100 filling stations by 2019.

Natural gas also has potential in trucking and shipping. China, for example, has the world’s largest fleet of vehicles running on liquefied natural gas. Last year, the number of LNG-powered trucks it produced rose to 96,000. Shell now has one LNG filling station in China, through a joint venture, and nine in Europe. We have also signed deals in shipping with Carnival to supply the world’s first LNG-powered cruise ships and with Sovcomflot, to supply the first LNG-powered oil tankers.

And both Shell and the region recognise the potential of advanced biofuels, which could help the aviation sector in the future. In Malaysia, plans to increase the biofuel content of diesel next year [2019] are a positive step towards the country’s emission reduction targets. The Malaysian government has announced B10 (transport) to start on 1st Dec 2018 on voluntary basis and mandatory at all fuel terminals by 1st Feb 2019. This will result in 2.2 million tonnes of carbon emission reduction, annually.

At Shell, we are already one of the world’s biggest producers of biofuels, through our joint venture in Brazil, Raízen. It produces about 2 billion litres a year of ethanol from sugarcane, and continues to explore advanced biofuels.

Digitalisation too, is creating potential for many other solutions. We see a future in which autonomous vehicles are connected and working as fleets. It is a future of innovative business models from ride sharing to mobility-on-demand. It is a future we could, one day, see on the streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Meanwhile, Shell’s work continues to improve today’s fuels and lubricants. Together with car makers – and policy makers – we can continue to improve the efficiency of engines. Shell has more than 100 filling stations in Malaysia that sell diesel with ultra-low sulphur content. And in shipping, Singapore is one of three ports where Shell is testing our new Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil.

There is much happening, but if we want to meet the challenge posed by the future of transport, we must work together on a multitude of solutions. If we focus on one only, we risk the fate of de Rivaz’s hydrogen engine. And we must not let brave ideas stall, just when we need them most.

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