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Transport Fuels

Transport fuels are energy sources that power various means of transport and include those derived from petroleum, biomass, and synthetic fuels.

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What is Transport Fuels?

Transport fuels are energy sources that power various means of transport, generally to power internal combustion engines. The transportation sector consists of road (including passenger cars, trucks and buses), rail, water, and air transport used for moving people and goods from one place to another1. The transportation sector accounts for around 20% of the global energy consumption and is the biggest consumer of oil in the world ​2.

Transport fuels are the result of refining processes that convert extracted energy resources into useable products. Liquid fuels vary based on the chemical characteristics of the primary fuel source. The absence or presence of certain carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, and oxygen molecules determines the structure of the fuel source that liquid fuels are refined from.  Sources of liquid fuels include petroleum, natural gas, biofuels, alcohols, hydrogen, ammonia, or even coal. The refining and distillation process of the various liquid fuels depends on the mixture of the fuel source being used.

80% of today’s transportation fuels are derived from petroleum.

Which includes:

  • Gasoline/Petrol
  • Diesel,
  • LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas)
  • Jet fuel
  • Marine fuel

Alternatives to fossil fuel based transport liquid fuels include:

  • Biofuels, which is biomass converted into liquid fuels. The two most common types of biofuels in use today are ethanol and biodiesel. Ethanol is a type of alcohol, made by fermenting any biomass high in carbohydrates (e.g. sugars) through a process similar to beer brewing. Biodiesel is produced by combining alcohol (usually methanol) with vegetable oil, animal fat, or recycled cooking grease. It can also be used as an additive (normally 20%) to reduce vehicle emissions3.
  • Synthetic fuels, that can be made from different feedstock, converting biomass to liquid, coal to liquid, or gas to liquid4.

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Context

The combustion of oil derived fuels in the transportation sector contributes significantly to global CO2 emissions. For example, in 2011, the transport sector produced over 5 million metric tons of CO25 Road transport, in particular, personal vehicles, make the greatest part of the transportation sector today and, therefore is the most significant emitter6.

Alternatives to fossil fuel vehicles are quickly evolving, for example electric and hydrogen vehicles. The greatest benefit of such cars is their reduced environmental impact due to fewer CO2 emissions. For example, all-electric vehicles (EVs) that run just on electricity produced from “green” sources like hydro-, solar-, wind– power, do create air pollutants or carbon emissions7. Nevertheless, vehicles using alternative fuels have serious drawbacks, including limited driving range, high cost, or engine adjustments (biofuels). For this reason, petroleum based fuels still remains, the most widely used fuel for the majority of vehicle owners.

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External resources

INTERESTING LINKS

UK & Global Transport Facts – real time counting infographic 

  1. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (n.d.). Transportation. http://www.c2es.org/energy/use/transportation 
  2. International Energy Agency (2014). Key world energy statistics. http://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/keyworld2014.pdf 
  3. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (n.d.). Biofuels basics. http://www.nrel.gov/learning/re_biofuels.html 
  4. European Commission (n.d.). Future transport fuels. http://ec.europa.eu/transport/themes/urban/cts/doc/2011-01-25-future-transport-fuels-report.pdf
  5. The World Bank (n.d.). CO2 emissions from transport. http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/EN.CO2.TRAN.MT?order=wbapi_data_value_2011+wbapi_data_value+wbapi_data_value-last&sort=asc 
  6. International Energy Agency (2014). Energy efficiency indicators: Essentials for policy-making. https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/IEA_EnergyEfficiencyIndicators_EssentialsforPolicyMaking.pdf
  7. United States Department of Energy (n.d.). All-electric vehicles. https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/evtech.shtml
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