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Well to Wheel Analysis of Low Carbon Alternatives for Road Traffic


Several alternative fuel–vehicle combinations are being considered for replacement of the internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the dependence on fossil fuels. The International Energy Agency has proposed the inclusion of low carbon alternatives such as electricity, hydrogen and biofuels in the transport sector for reducing the GHG emissions and providing a sustainable future. This paper compares the use of these alternative fuels, viz. electricity, hydrogen and bio-ethanol in combination with battery electric vehicle (BEV) and fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) technologies on the basis of their overall efficiency and GHG emissions involved in the conversion of the primary energy source to the actual energy required at wheels through a well-to-wheel analysis. The source of energy for electricity production plays a major role in determining the overall efficiency and the GHG emissions of a BEV. Hence electricity production mix of Germany (60% fossil fuel energy), France (76% nuclear energy), Sweden and Austria (60 and 76% renewable energy, respectively), the European Union mix (48% fossil fuel energy) and the United States of America (68% fossil fuel energy) are considered for the BEV analysis. In addition to the standard hydrogen based FCEVs, CNG and bio-ethanol based FCEVs are analysed. The influence of a direct ethanol fuel cell (DEFC) on GHG emissions and overall chain efficiency is discussed. In addition to the standard sources of bio-ethanol (like sugarcane, corn, etc.), sources like wood waste and wheat straw are included in the analysis. The results of this study suggest that a BEV powered by an electricity production mix dominated by renewable energy and bio-ethanol based DEFC electric vehicles offer the best solution in terms of GHG emissions, efficiency and fossil fuel dependency. Bio-ethanol as a fuel has the additional advantage to be implemented readily in ICE vehicles followed by advancements through reformer based FCEVs and DEFC electric vehicles. Although important, this analysis does not include the health effects of the alternative vehicles. Bio-ethanol used in an ICE may lead to increased emission of acetaldehydes which however might not be the case if it is used in fuel cells.

Related subjects: Applications & Pathways

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