The automotive industry is making strong decarbonization efforts to support a more sustainable future. But while most in the sector are focusing on electric vehicles (EV), others are exploring the use of alternative, sustainable fuels as transition energies to reduce the emissions of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.
Sustainable fuels may smooth the transition of the vehicle fleet in many parts of the world, especially in emerging economies where the penetration of EVs has been slow, such as Mexico. Mexico City and Guadalajara, for example, have implemented electric-powered public transportation. While an interesting initiative, measures of this kind have limited impact in Mexico as electric powered vehicles for public transportation represent less than 0.01 percent of the country’s fleet, explained Miguel Ogazón, Technical Engineering Director, ANPACT.
While emission reduction often goes hand in hand with EVs, these vehicles are not the only option available. Alternative fuels such as natural gas or hydrogen represent an important option, especially in the short term. However, Mexico lacks the necessary infrastructure to fully exploit those alternative energies. The technology, ecosystem and infrastructure necessary to use these sustainable vehicles fuels are still lacking, creating bottlenecks in the system. “As we develop new technologies, the industry must take into account the ecosystem that will absorb them and its supply sources,” said Javier Valadez, Operations Director, KENWORTH-PACCAR.
Making ICE Vehicles Cleaner Alternatives
There has been substantial progress in reducing the carbon emissions of ICE vehicles. Thanks to new technologies that allow for cleaner fuel extraction the emissions of ICE vehicles have been reduced by about 85 percent.
The EU, for example, has worked to reduce the emissions of ICE vehicles through the Euro emission standard program, which specifies the maximum amount of particles that these vehicles can release into the atmosphere. This program is also advancing alongside technology. “Comparing Euro III technologies with Euro VI, the reduction in emissions is substantial,” said Óscar Ruiz, Regulatory, Innovation and External Affairs Manager, Daimler Truck. The region is already working on Euro VII, which will ensure that emissions are measured in real time. This scalable plan aims to reach a zero-emission target in the near future.
In emerging economies, however, these technologies and regulations are still being deployed and it may take some time before they make a significant difference.
Natural Gas: Big Challenges, Big Opportunities
One of the most popular alternatives to traditional fuel is natural gas, which offers several benefits to users and automakers, from safety to savings. However, one of its main issues is its nature as a fossil fuel. For that reason, it is key for the society, government and industry to understand that it is only a transitional fuel, agree experts. But its status as a transition fuel is also leading companies to question if it is worth it to invest in it.
Natural gas refueling stations in Mexico grew exponentially since the COVID-19 pandemic but their growth has not been enough to meet demand, said Ruiz. Mexico now has less than 100 stations operating, which falls short in comparison to the almost 13,000 gasoline stations in the country. While few, these stations are helping the transition to sustainable fuels. “The combination of diesel or gas with hybrid technologies is allowing the energy transition,” said Ruiz. To accelerate the transition, however, natural gas promotion policies are required, he added, as it is important that associations and people understand what is involved and the benefits this fuel brings.
Natural gas is a viable alternative and fleets in large cities in the US have already seen its benefits, especially in last mile deliveries, said Andrés Bayona, President, AMGNV. Mexico has many opportunities in this area, but they are held back by over-regulation and difficulties to obtain permits to sell natural gas, he added, which also delays the development of the necessary infrastructure.
Mexico has the market and businesses to develop this fuel but the sector needs coordination to advance, agreed experts. Alternative fuels need data-driven public policies to advance and the sector will focus on generating the data necessary to elaborate a roadmap based on infrastructure and technology. Industries, societies and governments understand that strong efforts must be made to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions.