Study Finds Combination of Second-Generation Biofuels, Vehicle Efficiency and Electromobility Could Sustainably Replace Up To 40-45% of Swiss Fossil Fuel Requirements

Displacement of fossil fuels via a combination of biofuels, vehicle efficiency and electromobility under the three scenarios of the study. Zah et al. Click to enlarge.

Up to 40-45% of fossil fuel use for transportation in Switzerland could be replaced by 2030 through a combination of second-generation biofuels, increased vehicle efficiency, and electromobility, according to the most optimistic scenario in a study carried out for TA-SWISS, the Swiss Centre for Technology Assessment, by an interdisciplinary team headed by Dr. Rainer Zah from the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Testing and Research Empa in Dübendorf.

The 40% replacement figure in 2030 is based on average vehicle fuel consumption of 4L/100km (58.8 mpg US); electric cars having an almost 40% share of the entire vehicle fleet; and about 19% of the fuel used being of organic origin (mainly domestically produced biomethane gas and imported BTL fuel). Pushing vehicle efficiency to 3L/100km (78.4 mpg US) would result in a total 45% displacement of fossil fuels.

It also assumes that the lower fuel consumption would not be (over)compensated by more frequent and longer journeys. In Switzerland, 56.5 billion vehicle kilometers will be travelled in 2010; the study assumes an increase in that to 66 billion vehicle kilometers by the year 2030.

The study examined the well-to-wheels life cycle impact of biofuels, and also estimated the extent to which biofuels might be able to replace fossil fuels in Switzerland, under three scenarios.

Among the findings of the study, presented in Bern on 29 June, is that the most environmentally friendly biofuels are primarily those which are manufactured using waste products and left-over materials such as green waste, saw-mill waste and waste wood.

When crops are grown in developing countries specifically for the production of biofuels, then the disadvantages dominate the equation, because they compete with crops for food production and thus increase the pressure on the natural ecosystem. And since in Switzerland only a limited amount of waste material is available, even in the best case biofuels would only be able to provide about 8% of the fuel requirements, all other things being constant.

However, Zah says that the team’s findings should not be interpreted as a reason for giving up the support of biofuels development through public funding.

That would be a short-sighted reaction. Even though the proportion of locally produced biofuel is modest, it is still equivalent to the annual energy consumption of more than a million single-family houses.

—Rainer Zah

The more important question, he suggests, is how to diversify the energy supply for the mobility sector, or in other words how to ensure that the most appropriate drive technology is used for various travel needs—long distance journeys, urban mobility, freight transport and so on.

In parallel, the priority is to increase vehicle efficiency but also to extend the electromobility network.

The question is not whether electromobility, improved vehicle efficiency or support for sustainable biofuel development should be allocated the highest priority. Far more important is that we have to find ways to ensure that all three approaches make significant progress and then apply them where they bring the most benefit.

—Rainer Zah


  • R. Zah, C. Binder, S. Bringezu, J. Reinhard, A. Schmid, H. Schuetz. Future Perspectives of 2nd Generation Biofuels, Edited by TA-SWISS—the Swiss Centre for Technology Assessment, published by Hochschulverlag AG der ETH Zürich, 2010. ISBN 978-3-7281-3334-2.

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