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Brussels, 26 January 2009

Greening road transport: EU-funded research supports EU's environmental objectives

On 26 January 2009, Commissioner Janez Potočnik will address the European Road Transport Research Advisory Council (ERTRAC) conference. ERTRAC will unveil the scenarios for Europe's road transport system of the future, and set out what the sector needs to do to achieve a step-change in the sustainability of road transport. This MEMO provides with information of how EU research policy contributes to the overall EU's objective to fight climate change by supporting transport research.


1. What is the economic importance of car industries and road transport in Europe today?

The automotive sector:

  • provides 1.9 million direct jobs and 10 million indirect jobs;
  • generates €340 billion in tax revenues;
  • has an annual turnover of €489 billion;
  • accounts for 3% of EU GDP.

It is one of the major sectors of European industry and an important driver for the growth of the European economy, as it represents 11% of the EU GDP and contributes to € 33 billion of EU external trade. In particular, the automotive industry employs 2.3 million people directly and over 12 million people indirectly.

2. What is the importance of R&D spending in the automotive sector?

The automotive sector is a key component of the European economy and society. It spends €20 billion per year on research and technological development (RTD), making it the largest private investor in RTD in Europe.

Greening road transport

3. What is the impact of road transport on the environment?

Transport overall accounts for 25% of CO2 emissions largely due to road transport.
The predicted shortage in energy carriers based on crude oil is driving fears about energy security: 73% of all oil consumed is Europe is used in transport and estimates predict a doubling of passenger cars within the next 20 years. From both an environmental and energy point of view there is an urgent need to find alternatives to fossil fuels in order to secure future energy demand.

4. How is the European Commission supporting research in transport?

Under its Seventh Framework Programme for research and development (FP7), the Commission is proposing a ‘greener’, ‘safer’ and ‘smarter’ pan-European transport system, supported by a research budget of €4.16 billion over seven years. The EU’s new Technology Platforms (ETP's) - which bring together partners from industry, the scientific community and the Commission to define research priorities and action plans in specific fields - have made major contributions to the Union’s future transport research strategies. FP7 will also seek to stimulate the ongoing restructuring of the transport industry, including the integration of the supply chain and, in particular, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), key players that provide necessary dynamism and innovation.

One important initiative in green transport research is the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Technology Initiative (JTI). It is a public private partnership with joint funding from the Community and from industry, with industry in the lead. The Commission will fund 470 M€ from the FP7 programme over six years and at least the same amount will come from private industry. Fuel cells, as an efficient conversion technology, and hydrogen, as a clean energy carrier, have a great potential to contribute to addressing energy challenges facing Europe.

5. At a time of economic crisis, can carmakers afford to be working on CO2 reduction?

The reduction of CO2 emissions has been an objective for European institutions long before the present financial and economic crisis. The target agreed by the EU in December 2008 is 130g/km for 65% of new cars in 2012, 75% in 2013, 80% in 2014 and 100% in 2015. Action on CO2 reduction will bring both environmental benefits and reinforce competitiveness through technological advantages. As part of its Economic Recovery Plan presented on the 26th of November, the European Commission has proposed the European Green Car Initiative to help car manufactures make this transition. Stimulating demand for low-emission cars during the downturn should help to bring idle capacity in the sector back into action quicker.

6. What is the European Green Car Initiative?

The European Green Car Initiative aims to facilitate research on a broad range of technologies to achieve a breakthrough in the use of renewable and non-polluting energy sources for road transport. The Initiative includes R&D, mainly through FP7. The available financial envelope is estimated to be € 1 billion. The European Investment Bank would provide cost-based loans (~ € 4 billion) to car producers and suppliers to finance RTD and innovation, in particular in technologies improving the safety and the environmental performance of cars, such as electric vehicles.

The Commission EU Economic Recovery Package foresees strengthening and creating new types of relationships between the public and private sectors. The European Technology Platforms will become one of the major pillars of this process. Coordination is needed in order to make research more effective and overcome the present crisis facing automotive industries.

7. What are some of the options for making road transport greener?

Road transport includes passenger cars, buses, urban vehicles (including delivery vehicles) and lorries. Research priorities vary according to the type of vehicle. For example, road haulage represents 50% of CO2 emissions from road transport.


The overall assessment of energy consumption from "well to wheel" as well as Life Cycle Assessment clearly demonstrates the advantages of electrification of road transport, provided that the electricity is produced by using renewable sources and low-carbon technologies. New solutions involve more and more the interaction between vehicles and the related infrastructure. For example, electric cars will become a reality for mass introduction once smart electric grids can be interconnected to electric vehicles.

The European Commission is supporting projects on urban mobility that include demonstrators of all-electric transport systems in urban settings. One of them is CityMOBIL (, financed with €11M. The researchers have developed demonstrators for two electric passenger transport systems in Rome and London Heathrow airport.

Improving internal combustion engine technology

Improving the classic internal combustion engine may be the quickest and most cost effective short-term measure to make road transport greener, given the rapidly rising demand for mobility, as well as available knowledge. It could bring a potential 30% reduction in fuel consumption.

Projects funded by FP6 in this area include "New Integrated Combustion System for Future Passenger Car Engines" (NICE), which worked on improving vehicle engine fuel consumption and emissions, for diesel as well as petrol-fuelled engines. The project brings together 25 partners from academia and industry in 9 countries, with the EU contributing €14.5M of the total €26.4M.


Europe has defined ambitious targets for the development of biofuels. They will mostly be used in gasoline- and diesel-type internal combustion engines. However it is possible that specialised engines will be used in certain applications of dedicated fleets. A fruitful area for research is how to use biomethane as second generation biofuel on a wide scale for buses and urban vehicles (e.g. waste disposal lorries).

EU-funded projects in this area include the RENEW project, which works on the synthesis of liquid fuels from biomass. It will assess the production routes biomass-to-liquid (BTL) fuels and will lead to recommendations for the future realisation of the technology. The Renew consortium has 33 partners from 9 European countries, of which more than half are from industry. The total cost of the project is €19.8M.

Hybrid technologies

Hybrid electric vehicles still rely on internal combustion engines. These types of passenger vehicles are becoming more popular, but they too could stand to gain in efficiency. The next step is to make electrically assisted internal combustion engines more reliable and efficient, cheaper to build, and better to drive through highly integrated powertrains.

Projects funded by FP6 in this area include HI-CEPS, which is developing improved engine components for hybrid vehicles which will satisfy both the environmental and consumer requirements for the 2010-12 mass market. It brings together 23 partners, including car manufacturers and research institutes, from 11 countries and the Commission is covering half of the project's €19,324,816 cost.

Hydrogen as fuel

Internal combustion engines in the future may be fuelled by hydrogen, which releases no CO2 during combustion. As hydrogen can be produced from a great variety of primary energies and it can be used in a great variety of different applications (transport, portable and stationary power) it can form an energy hub like electric power.

Here too, technological improvements can be made to internal combustion technology to make this a workable alternative: today’s hydrogen engines, based on port injection, still perform less well than the traditional combustion engine for an engine of the same mass. Projects in this area include the HyICE project, looking at two new approaches to improve performance of combustion engines that use hydrogen as fuel. Both approaches produced a 15% increase in power output. The project includes 10 partners from the public and private sectors in 4 European countries, and the EU makes a contribution of €5.0M of the total €7.7M cost.

Fuel Cells as energy convertor

The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen JTI described above is working on the use of hydrogen as a complementary energy vector to electricity and biofuels. It is already part of today’s industrial technology; yet for energy use the real benefits can only be exploited with novel technologies such as fuel cells.

EU-funded projects in this area include FELICITAS – a project to develop fuel-cell systems that are capable of meeting the demands of heavy-duty transport for road, rail and marine applications. It has 14 partners from the public and private sector in 8 different European countries. The EU is funding €8.0M of the total €12.7M cost of the project.

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