Determining the Future of Fuels


By Robert Quigley and David Spivey

Climate change and urban air quality are two of the largest environmental issues facing the world today. Perhaps the most challenging of these is climate change, which is caused by emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) raising their level in Earth’s atmosphere. To address climate change, GHG emissions—consisting of mostly carbon dioxide—need to be controlled. Many sectors of the economy contribute to GHG emissions, but one of the most significant is transportation and mobility.

this post is proudly sponsored by:


The scientific and political consensus among most world governments is that GHG emissions should be reduced to a net-zero level by 2050 if climate change is to be controlled to an acceptable degree. Furthermore, what happens in the next decade will determine whether we can achieve this goal. To do so, the entire world will need to collaborate, particularly if economic disruption is to be avoided.

A key need is to seek opportunities to decouple economic growth from the production of GHG emissions. Fortunately, many segments of the economy are already working toward that goal.


Currently, fossil fuels dominate energy supply for the transportation segment, and changing this is the challenge. Options include battery and fuel cell-powered vehicles, but the world does not yet have the infrastructure to supply and distribute renewable energy in the form of electricity and hydrogen. Building out this infrastructure could further delay progress reducing GHG emissions.

Another route could be to capture carbon dioxide from air and react to this with sustainable hydrogen to make liquid gasoline and diesel, much like we use today, only no longer based on fossil fuels. These are often referred to as e-fuels because renewable electricity is used to power the electrolysis of water, making hydrogen along with the processes that capture carbon dioxide, then using them as feedstocks to make fuels. This could create gasoline and diesel as net-zero fuels. It may be less energy-efficient, but it reduces the burden of infrastructure buildout and might further accelerate GHG reductions if they can be used in existing vehicles. For it to be an economically attractive policy, there needs to be plentiful sustainable energy—and it needs to be cheap. At the moment, the technology necessary to accomplish this still needs to be proven at scale.

What is clear is that no matter how the transportation sector decides to address its GHG emissions problems, it will take significant investments from companies around the world to deploy these revolutionary technologies at sufficient scale to meet global demand.


One of the challenges facing the transport sector is that the four major segments (light-duty, heavy-duty, marine, and aviation) may ultimately need sector-specific solutions given their inherent differences. The answer currently receiving the most headlines—electrification—may be largely limited to light-duty and short-range vehicle markets due to battery limits on power density and charging time.

Much of the heavy-duty market might be more suited to hydrogen, used either in fuel cells or internal combustion engines (ICE). There is also the option of e-fuels.

Some regions of the world may consider biofuels, but there is concern about their capacity to meet wider transport needs sustainably, especially with impacts on land and water use, as well as competition with food production. For this reason, some regions discourage the use of biofuels in surface transportation in the more distant future, reserving it for other segments where there are fewer effective alternatives. There is much debate about the impact of land use on GHG emissions, and this is an area of significant scrutiny.

To really understand which fuels might most effectively deliver GHG reductions for each segment, it is important to have a full mobility life cycle analysis (FMLCA) perspective.


Currently, much GHG emissions legislation focuses on the emissions that come out of the tailpipe of the vehicle as the fuel is burned. This perspective is called Tank to Wheel (TtW), but it doesn’t provide the full perspective necessary to understand the overall impact of a transportation system on net GHG emissions. Another perspective, Well to Tank (WtT), looks at the emissions involved in the sourcing and manufacture of the fuel itself. This additional perspective is key to understanding the overall impact of using a fuel on GHG emissions. Well to Wheel (WtW) combines the above two analyses to look at the entire process of producing and burning the fuel as one cohesive whole.

Though these three forms of analysis are effective in determining overall impact of fuel production and usage on GHG emissions, they don’t tell the full story. A further category of emissions must be added to the evaluation to develop a full mobility life cycle analysis—the emissions that arise from the manufacture and eventual disposal or recycling of vehicles themselves. Beyond this are also the sustainability implications of building out infrastructure for fuel manufacture supply and distribution and ensuring there are sufficient resources to deliver globally.

Doing an FMLCA is the only way to ensure that specific fuels and vehicles can truly move the transportation sector toward its net-zero goals. Focusing strictly on what comes out of the tailpipe is not coherent with net-zero measures and the overall GHG picture.


It is going to take a significant educational effort on the part of the fuels industry to explain the importance of FMLCA to legislatures throughout the world so they can bring their laws to more effectively drive toward a net-zero future in time to control climate change.

Instead of focusing on the final form of the energy used, a more effective approach would be to focus attention on the primary energy source. Whether a fuel is most capable of lowering net GHG emissions will depend more on what goes into producing it versus what the final form looks like. Factors that will affect these choices will be in-use efficiency, performance, FMLCA, cross-sector effects, infrastructure efficiency and, of course, economics. On this last aspect, we should consider the likely economic situation in the future. If energy and fuel choices are to be economically optimal, then the future economic perspective should be considered. Investments in supply may be more attractive than restrictions on use.

As new fuels and equipment come into the market, fuel and lubricant additives will have to evolve to keep up. New fuels and vehicles that deliver net zero might create new challenges in other areas such as vehicle durability and maintenance and also emissions that impact urban air quality. It will be important for lubricant and fuel additive manufacturers to anticipate these changes and prepare for them while remaining flexible enough to shift directions should new developments come to the fore.


Dr. Robert Quigley is the business manager of fuel products at Lubrizol. Quigley is responsible for the company’s fuels additives business in the EMEA region. During 20 years at Lubrizol, he has held various positions from project to product management. David Spivey is the technology manager of fuel products and strategic technology oils at Lubrizol. Spivey is accountable for Lubrizol’s longer-term perspectives on fuels and fuel additives. Find out more, visit

The 2021 Ford Transit

Increase Van Storage Capacity and Accessibility, Improve Efficiency, and Reduce Injuries