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Energy transition and the future of motorcycling

Will motorcycling as we know it change – or maybe even vanish – because of the energy transition that is announced by many governments? FEMA’s Dolf Willigers explored what is going on and what it means for us. Are there alternatives, and what do they mean for motorcycling, and what do we think of this? In this article he tries to give the answers.

Away from oil
We are confronted with a growing pressure in the society to abandon carbon-based fuels and especially fossil fuels. Scientists claim that the present climate changes are caused by human actions and in particular the use of fossil fuels. The use of carbon fuels leads to emission of CO2, one of the main Greenhouse Gasses (GHGs). You may not accept his, but because this view is supported by a large majority of scientists, authorities all over the world have accepted this as an undisputable fact. This is the reason that most governments agreed to lower the emission on Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) to reduce the climate change by signing the Paris Agreement and later the COP26 Declaration. But there are more reasons: by extracting, transporting, refining, and burning fossil fuels our health is affected. It brings pollution and particulate matters that can be very unhealthy. The third reason is geo-political: fossil fuels make us dependent of other countries that we do not always want to depend on. Recently, the Western world was shaken awake by the fact that a large amount of our gas and oil comes from Russia and that by buying this we financially support Mr. Putin to raise the army that invaded Ukraine. Finally, coal, natural gas and oil are still the cheapest fuels, but the process to get the oil out of the ground and turn it into fuels is getting more complicated and expensive, so how long will it stay this way?

As a result of the above, what we see now is that on several levels we are pushed away from the use of fossil fuels. On local and regional level, we already have the low and zero emission zones, where vehicles with a combustion engine are either tolled or even partly or totally banned. On national level there are tax increases for vehicles with higher CO2 emissions and benefits for vehicles with low or zero tailpipe CO2 emissions. This can be tax benefits, but also (like in Norway) free use of bus lanes, parking benefits, less or no toll on ferries or toll-roads, etcetera. On European level we have the Green Deal and the Fit for 55 package to discourage the use of fossil fuels. Finally, both the UK and the EU have (on the same day!) announced plans to ban the sale of vehicles with an internal combustion engine completely from 2035. Not only the EU and the UK have plans to ban vehicles with an internal combustion engine. The Swiss government has announced that the country will have zero CO2 emission in 2050 but have not announced concrete deadlines for vehicles yet. In Norway, where already most of the new sold vehicles are electric, will ban the sale of new internal combustion engine vehicles already from 2025. The present Chair of the European Council, France, has announced that it wants all vehicles have zero CO2 emission in 2035. According to transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, electric is the most affordable solution, and he aims at 1,000,000 charging points in France.

Fit for 55
The Fit for 55 package contains several draft regulations. The aim is to have net zero CO2 emissions in 2050. To get there, the total reduction of emissions per 2030 must be 55% and the target for the transport sector is to have a GHG reduction of 13% by 2030. Other plans are to have a minimum tax on energy products like fuels for housing and transport, to have a proper infrastructure for recharging and refuelling cleaner vehicles (Hydrogen, CNG/LNG). Motorcycles are not included yet in these plans.

This is how Fit for 55 will affect transport:

  • Emission Trading System (ETS) on fuels for buildings and transport will bring extra charge on CO2emissions (approximately € 0.11 per litre petrol).
  • Internalisation of external costs (‘smart’ pricing).
  • Revision of roadworthiness inspections.
  • Deployment of the necessary recharging and refuelling infrastructure.
  • Measures to reduce GHG emissions and air pollution in urban areas.
  • Pricing measures such as infrastructure charging.
  • Other measures incentivising behavioural change.
  • Further measures related to intelligent transport systems, digitalisation, connectivity, and automation of transport.
  • Incentives for low and zero emissions vehicles in vehicle taxation.

This means that in 2035 all new sold cars and vans must have 0% CO2 tailpipe emissions. Before that, tailpipe emissions of cars and vans must be reduced with respectively 55% and 50% (on the average fleet) from 2030. In practice, this means that from 2030 no new vehicles with an internal combustion engine (ICE) can be sold in the EU, only electric vehicles can be sold. My estimation is that riding a motorcycle would also become more expensive, especially when the calculations in the Handbook on the external costs of transport Version 2019 are followed, it would even become much more expensive. We have already protested several times against the unrealistic calculations when it comes to motorcycling. The Staff Working Documents from the European Commission, in particular the impact assessments, show that in the view of the Commission the rollout of battery-electric vehicles is by far the most economic, clean, and affordable solution. Other solutions are considered by the Commission to be too expensive and/or too much energy consuming.

Plans can change
However: DG MOVE Deputy Director-General Maja Bakran said in a debate of Politico Live on 15/11/2021: “We are looking for the best mix, not only electric.”, other voices from EC also keep saying: “We maintain the principle of technology neutrality”. Despite these reassurances, it is obvious that the direction that the Commission proposes leaves no room for other options. This does not mean that nothing can change. MEPs and national governments have already voiced their doubts about the proposals, also the manufacturers say that they see more options, like e-fuels, biofuels, hydrogen. The internet magazine Euractive wrote in 2021: “The EU is preparing to launch an EU-wide database to certify the carbon footprint of low-carbon fuels in a harmonized way. The proposal is expected in December (2021).” This would mean, that there is an opening to alternatives, but we have not seen that database yet. With this all, we must not forget that motorcycles, other L-category vehicles are not mentioned yet in the EU plans. But: EU member states can follow their own policy and introduce bans sooner and/or make them further going than the Commission’s plans and already include motorcycles in their own zero-emission plans. This is happening in Austria where new cars, vans and motorcycles are banned from 2030 when they do not have zero tailpipe emissions.

United Kingdom
The UK government announced a plan that means that vehicles with an internal combustion engine are to be phased out from 2030 and banned from 2035. Again, the phrase “vehicles with zero CO2 tailpipe emission” is used to suggest technology neutrality, but some reading shows that with the same arguments as in the EU the UK government means (battery) electric. In the UK powered two- and three-wheelers are mentioned with a phase out date of 2035. Nice touch: the UK government wants half of all journeys in towns and cities to be cycled or walked by 2030.

The plans are not technology neutral
To be clear: Zero CO2 tailpipe emission means nothing else than “no internal combustion engine” as almost all ICEs emit CO2. However, the same result can be achieved by using a zero CO2 well-to-wheel emission approach. This leaves room for other techniques that are now dismissed in advance. For us both in the EU and in the UK, despite attempts to let us believe otherwise, the plans are not technology neutral. This is a pity because we still see a future for ICE propelled vehicles. Not the internal combustion engine is the problem, but fossil fuels. The plans in the EU and UK leave no room for other, newer, technical developments, like the development of e-fuels or 4th generation biofuels. They also do not consider the role that e-fuels and biofuels can play in the transition period to lower the CO2 emission. Focussing on electricity and ignoring alternative fuels like e-fuels or biofuels can even lead to the Havana effect, which means that people do not use their old vehicles for 15 or 20 years but keep them on the road for 30 to 40 years with all the negative effects for the environment (source: Draft report on the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2003/87/EC.)

Another aspect are the finances. The European Commission writes that there is a need of a fair transition. We already see that citizens have a problem to pay for the heating of their house. What will happen in the future when we are dependent on electricity for about everything or when fuels for heating houses and driving vehicles are taxed with a special CO2 ETS (Emission Trading System) charge? This aspect is already addressed by several MEPs too. As I already mentioned, the announced internalisation of external costs can be very expensive for motorcyclists when they are based on the Handbook of internalisation of external costs of CE Delft that is commissioned by the European Commission and is used by the Commission before. Also, we do not know yet what the plans will mean for the price of motorcycles and the costs of fuel, but the plans indicate that they will rise. E-fuels and biofuels are much more expensive than petrol but with the CO2 charge, petrol will become more expensive too. Finally, there is the aspect of social exclusion that is to be expected when travelling will be more expensive for people who cannot walk, cycle, or use public transport or for whom public transport is too expensive.

It is time to see what the alternatives are and what they mean. The first alternative is fossil fuels as we know them now, preferably in combination with more efficient and cleaner engines. Fossil fuels have three big advantages: they can be distributed using the existing infrastructure, they can be used with existing techniques, and they are cheap, compared to some of the alternatives. The main disadvantage is that extraction, refining and using fossil fuels leads to a high CO2 emission and pollution. Another disadvantage is that it can have an unwanted effect on geo-politics. Fossil fuels are still dominant in Europe, also for producing electricity. In Sweden, about 72% of the energy comes from nuclear and renewable sources, which is probably all to produce electricity, but the average in the EU is about 51%. All EU countries, except Malta, have coal plants or use coal in another way. In Estonia more than 50% of the energy comes from coal. Also, other countries (Czechia, Poland, Bulgaria) still use large amounts of coal to produce electricity.

We also already have hydrogen. We distinguish three kinds of hydrogen: grey and blue hydrogen, made from natural gas where with blue hydrogen, the CO2 emission that emits when the hydrogen is made is taken out of the emission and stored (usually in former natural gas bells underground). Grey and blue hydrogen are fossil fuels. Thirdly, green hydrogen that is made by electrolysis using renewable power is considered clean. Hydrogen can be used to make e-fuels that can be burned in an internal combustion engine or to be used in a fuel cell. The existing infrastructure is not practicable when hydrogen is used as a fuel for vehicles. With blue and green hydrogen there is in principle no CO2 emission, but according to some reports there is much NOx emission when it is burned in an internal combustion engine. There is still very little experience with the using of hydrogen in internal combustion engine s. Hydrogen can be used in internal combustion engines, and it can be used to make electricity in a fuel cell. Some car manufacturers have experimented with internal combustion engines on hydrogen, but this was not a great success. A consortium of motorcycle manufacturers (Kawasaki, Yamaha) and car manufacturers (Subaru, Mazda, Toyota) has announced to give it a new try. Problem here is that the hydrogen that is currently used in Japan is imported from Australia and made from lignite (brown coal). Nowadays, we mainly see hydrogen used in a fuel cell to generate electricity.

Electricity has no emissions when used, but it is the production process that determines if it is clean. The transition to clean power plants takes a very long time and investments. There are also disadvantages: the charging infrastructure is only in a few countries developed, batteries are heavy, raw materials are partly rare and expensive and the mining causes big social problems. Experts expect that the price of batteries will remain high because the price raw materials is rising fast and high. The analyst bureau Benchmark Mineral Intelligence reports in the New York Times that price of cobalt have gone up with 119 percent since the beginning of 2020, the price of nickel rose with 55 percent and lithium is up 569 percent. The grid is not sufficient to handle the large quantities of electricity that will be needed for heating the buildings, to provide plants with enough energy and to provide the transport sector with enough electricity.

Biofuels are seen as renewable, because during the grow time of the plants or other raw material it takes the CO2 from the air first that is later emitted when used. The whole process from well-to-wheel is in principle CO2-neutral. It can be used with the existing infrastructure and techniques. In fact, it is already used daily, because E5 and E10 petrol and diesel exist for a part of biofuel. However, there are also some disadvantages, depending on the kind of biofuel depending and on the source of the material that is used to make it. Questions regarding biofuels come from the use of plants that are also grown for food, the areal that is used to grow dedicated plants that could also be used to grow food plants, safety for the environment and costs.

Biofuels are classified in four generations.

  • The first generation are biofuels (biodiesel and ethanol) that are made of edible biomass, like sugar beets, sugar canes, wheat, corn. With a growing world population that needs to be fed and a risk of growing prices for food it is obvious that there are reservations about this kind of biofuels.
  • The second generation is made of non-edible biomass like residues of food plants, wood, grass, straw, palm oil. This is called lignocellulosic biomass. The process of converting lignocellulosic biomass to biofuels is called biorefinery. Here too are reservations because of the use of the areal, deforestation, and a limited effect on CO2 capture.
  • The third-generation biofuel is mainly made of algae biomass (both macro- and microalgae). The biomass is heated and the gasses that come free are turned in to fuel. There are several ways to do this. Most well-known is the Fischer-Tropsch method that brings syngas, a mixture of CO and hydrogen synthesis gas. Other methods are producing synthetic natural gas by a thermochemical process or making dimethyl ether (DME). Microalgae-derived biofuel is one of the most promising renewable energy sources, not only due to its lower GHG emissions but also owing to its sequestration of CO2. However, costs are high, and you need a high amount of biomass and energy. There are doubts if the amount of biofuel that can be made will be enough.
  • The fourth generation which is mainly achieved by enhancing the quality and productivity of microalgae (e.g., cyanobacteria) using genetic modification. These developments are still in the research phase and although they look promising, there still is the matter of costs and the risk of the escape of biomass with engineered DNA that could pollute other life. While microalgal biofuel production is a well-established practice in small-scale systems, its industrial-scale production is not economically viable. Another way of producing fourth generation biofuels is direct conversion from solar to fuel using genetically modified microorganisms without dealing with biomass processing. This is the most promising way because of a high photon-to-fuel conversion efficiency. But there are still high environmental and health related risks to solve. A nice side-effect is that 4th generation biofuels techniques can also be used to clean wastewater.

E-fuels are synthetic fuels, resulting from the combination of ‘green or e-hydrogen’ produced by electrolysis of water with renewable electricity and CO2 captured either from a concentrated source (e.g., flue gases from an industrial site) or from the air (via direct air capture, DAC).
E-fuels are also called: electrofuels, power-to-X (PtX), power-to-liquids (PtL), power-to-gas (PtG) and synthetic fuels. There are several kinds of e-fuels:

  • e-methane (CH4)* (gas)
  • e-hydrogen (H2) (gas)
  • e-ammonia (NH3) (gas, liquid)
  • e-OME (dimethyl ether, C2H6O) (gas, liquid)
  • e-methanol (CH3OH)* (liquid)
  • e-OME (oxymethylene ether, H3CO(CH2O) nCH3) (liquid)
  • e-gasoline* (liquid)

The ones with an asterisk can be used with existing infrastructure. An explanation how e-fuels are produced, you can find in the video below.

One of the most common e-fuels is e-hydrogen. Hydrogen is in its pure shape quite hard to use in a combustion engine. Therefore, it is often blended with CO2 containing liquids. I have found several warnings in the literature that this perhaps add to CO2 neutrality, but that it can cause the emission of other gasses, especially a high rate of nitrogen oxide (NOx). This brings the risk of a ‘Hydrogengate’ which could be even worse than ‘Dieselgate’. There are already several projects to develop and try e-Hydrogen. One of them is a cooperation between the Norwegian energy producer Landsvirkjun and the Port of Rotterdam. Another, more well-known project is that of Porsche with Siemens in Chile.

Crediting system
E-fuels and biofuels are used in an internal combustion engine. But with the plans of the European Commission and the British Government there is no incentive for further development. Why would you invest in something that you can probably not use in the way you intend to? Therefore, we need a legal and political structure. The crediting system would be part of that. To secure that the engine indeed runs on a renewable fuel instead of a fossil fuel you need a system. Manufacturers of e-fuels suggest a crediting system. This is how that works:

  • Production of renewable fuels
  • Renewable fuels are supplied to customers at the fuelling station (typically as blend)
  • Renewable fuel credits are issued and entered into the Union database
  • OEM (automotive manufacturer) buys credits from the fuel supplier and reports them to the Union database – accounting separation between credits counted towards RED obligation and CO2 standards for new vehicles to avoid double counting
  • OEM requests crediting against fleet targets – authorities verify the number of credits bought by OEM.

A very good explanation of the system can be found in the video below.

There is no reason to ban the sales of new motorcycles with an internal combustion engine when alternative renewable fuels are available.


  • There are several alternatives for the transition from fossil fuels to CO2-neutral fuels: battery or fuel cell electricity, biofuels, e-fuels.
  • Both with present and forecasted techniques, (battery) electric propelled vehicles are the most economical way, in terms of money and energy consumption. However, there are other aspects that need consideration:
  • To concentrate on just one alternative is risky.
  • Progress in renewable fuels is still possible, but this needs a legal and political structure to enable developments and investments.
  • Transition of the complete motorcycle park to electric will take a very long time and will lead to a strong aging of the vehicle fleet (Havana effect) because many owners of internal combustion motorcycles will keep using them instead of buying a new one.
  • Renewable fuels can be used in the existing vehicle park, which means a direct effect on the CO2 emission.
  • Present plans do not consider emotions. For many motorcyclists and motorists, the nature of the internal combustion engine is an essential part of the experience.
  • There is no reason to ban the sales of new motorcycles with an internal combustion engine when alternative renewable fuels are available.
  • The problem about CO2 emission is not the combustion engine but the use of fossil fuels, so policy should be directed at that and not at banning motorcycles with an internal combustion engine.
  • Electric motorcycles and motorcycles with an internal combustion engine can exist side-by-side.

Written by Dolf Willigers

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