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Fit for 55: what do the European climate plans mean for motorcycling?

The European Commission proposes policies fit for reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. FEMA’s Dolf Willigers explains what the European Commission’s ‘Fit for 55′ plans could mean for us motorcyclists.

FEMA’s General Secretary Dolf Willigers (photo by Wim Taal).

On 14 July 2021, the European Commission presented its ambitious package ‘Fit for 55’. A total of 12,000 (!) pages of plans and measures, including twelve new regulations, all aimed at one goal: to make the European Union climate-neutral in 2050. According to the Commission, road transport emits almost 20% of the greenhouse gasses (mainly CO2) in Europe and is, as only sector, still on the rise. No wonder that some of the measures the Commission published are aimed at the reduction of CO2 emissions from road traffic.

In 2030 all new sold cars and vans must have 0% CO2 tailpipe emissions. In 2050 the CO2 emissions of all vehicles must be reduced with 90% compared to 1990. Although the Commission claims technical neutrality, with the present state of techniques, this means that from 2030 only battery or hydrogen powered electric cars and vans can be sold. Before that, tailpipe emissions of cars and vans must be reduced with respectively 55% and 50% (on the average fleet) from 2030, instead of respectively 37.5% and 31%. From 2035 the reduction will be 100%.

You may have noticed that I did not mention motorcycles. This is because in all 12,000 pages of plans motorcycles are not mentioned at all. However, this does not mean that ‘Fit for 55’ does not affect motorcyclists. The 90% reduction in CO2 gasses is for all road transport, including motorcycles. It is just a matter of numbers. Because of the low part of emissions by all powered two-wheelers compared to other vehicles, the Commission seems it not feasible to mention them yet. They are also no part of the Regulation (EU) 2019/631 that concerns the CO2 emission performance standards for new passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. Does this mean that motorcycles are out of the loop? I doubt it. Just look at what happened in the UK, also on the 14th of July. On the same day that Frans Timmermans presented his ‘Fit for 55’ package, the Department for transport (DfT) of the United Kingdom announced that from 2035 “All new L-category vehicles (have) to be fully zero emissions at the tailpipe”. L-category vehicles means motorcycles, mopeds, and light three- and four-wheelers. This contrary to earlier announcement of the British government that motorcycles were not in the scope in a plan to end the sale of new petrol fuelled vehicles in the UK by 2030.

‘Fit for 55’ is a whole package of plans. Motorcycles may not have been included (yet) in these plans but there is more to come. Part of the plan is a revision of the European Emission Trading system (EU ETS). The plan is to create a parallel EU ETS for emissions from fossil fuels that are used in combustion engines for road transport, heating of buildings, maritime transport. In other words: the petrol that you use to fuel your motorcycle will be part of the ETS. This may well affect the price of petrol, but if this is really the case is not to be seen yet and will probably differ per member state.

The ‘Fit for 55’ package includes some other plans that are of interest for motorcycling too:

  • An increased renewable energy target of around 40% (also different per member state) per 2030.
  • Greenhouse gasses intensity reduction target of 13% by 2030 for the transport sector. Sub-targets for advanced biofuels and biogas, and renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBOs) are increased respectively from 0.2% in 2022 to 0.5% in 2025 and 2.6% in 2030.
  • The revised Energy Taxation Directive will have a minimum tax for energy products like electricity and fuels for transport and heating of buildings (based on how polluting they are).
  • The Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation will ensure the necessary deployment of interoperable and user-friendly infrastructure for recharging and refuelling cleaner vehicles.

‘We just do not know yet if there will be enough – and affordable – alternatives in the future to replace petrol to run combustion engines’

ACEM’s General Secretary Antonio Perlot (photo by Wim Taal).

Does this all mean that after 2035 we can only buy battery- of hydrogen-powered motorcycles? That must be seen. Look at the answer to our question about electric motorcycles in April 2021 by ACEM General Secretary Antonio Perlot. The motorcycle industry predicts that for urban use battery electric (small) motorcycles and scooters are the most logical choices. Already some manufacturers are working on a system with swappable batteries. But he also wrote: “decarbonisation does not necessarily go through electrification.”. This means that the industry is also looking at technical developments to make motorcycle engines more economic and emit less greenhouse gasses (CO2) and pollution. It also means, as vocalized again by Perlot in an online debate on 14 July 2021, that the motorcycle industry looks at other alternatives for petrol like e-fuels and biofuels for larger motorcycles that are often used for leisure. These could be good and ‘clean’ alternatives for petrol and electricity.

Biofuels are already used in combination with petrol. Current E5 and E10 petrol fuels already contain respectively 5% and 10% biofuel (ethanol). However, already there is resistance against the use of biofuels: to make it grasslands, forests, and lands that were already used to grow crops for food are used. Advanced biofuels and biofuels made from wastes sounds good, but there is still much discussion going on if this is really a good solution, and will it be possible to make enough biofuels this way? E-fuels are made from CO2, which also sounds good, but it takes a lot of energy to make it. The question is if there will be enough renewable energy available for it soon. One of the big advantages of biofuels and e-fuels is that the present infrastructure can be used for fuelling.

The conclusion therefor is that we just do not know yet if there will be enough – and affordable – alternatives in the future to replace petrol to run combustion engines.

The ‘Fit for 55’ package leaves room for biofuels and e-fuels, but there are some challenges to overcome. For smaller motorcycles and scooters, it is almost certain that they will change to battery-power; for large motorcycles we will just have to wait and see what happens. It is almost certain that motorcycling will become more expensive.

Written by Dolf Willigers

Top photograph by Zero Motorcycles

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