Present and future of mobility: the challenges to be overcome for an efficient and sustainable system

The transport sector is responsible for around 25% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions and is the main cause of urban pollution

Present and future of mobility: the challenges to be overcome for an efficient and sustainable system. For this reason, decarbonisation has been one of the main objectives of the European Union for some years now: in most Member States incentives have been introduced for those who buy vehicles with alternative fuels and increasingly restrictions on the circulation of the most polluting vehicles.
In the first nine months of the year , in the EU and Efta area, around 917,000 cars were sold as alternative fuels , with an increase of 31% compared to the same period of the previous year.

Despite this data represents an important signal of the transition underway, the figures in absolute values show us how traditional fuel vehicles are still today the protagonists of this market: petrol and diesel cars, in fact, account for about 94% total sales.

The path to take, therefore, is still very long and the political decision makers, in the programmatic choices, will have to keep in mind that the fossil fuel vehicles will be the most numerous on our roads for many years.

If electric mobility is the main answer, it is also necessary to focus on other types of technologies able to provide answers in the short term

If electric mobility is the main answer, it is also necessary to focus on other types of technologies able to provide answers in the short term

A solution that would seem to be at hand is represented by biofuels, fuels produced from organic substances such as biomass, waste from farming or dedicated crops. Biofuels , besides being able to be used in most of the new generation petrol and diesel vehicles currently in circulation, can exploit the network of existing infrastructures to be distributed. And so overcome one of the most important problems afflicting alternative fuels: precisely, the distribution.
The lack of electric charging stations, for example, can be considered, together with the high cost of the vehicles and the lack of autonomy, one of the main brakes for the diffusion of electric cars.

In our country, at the end of 2017 there were about 2.741 public charging stations of which only 16% High Power (new generation stations that allow a much faster recharge of vehicles). The problem of distribution is even more important if we consider another type of alternative mobility, the hydrogen one.
Fuel cell vehicles are driven by an electric motor powered by the energy produced by reacting hydrogen with oxygen.

As a result of this process no harmful substances are emitted – therefore it can be defined as having zero impact – but only water that can be released without risk in the environment.

The diffusion of this type of vehicle has, to date, been held back by limits concerning the gas storage phase. Hydrogen has a low energy density on a volumetric basis, therefore to be useful in the field of transport it must be compressed: a process that involves a huge expenditure of energy, which could make the system unsustainable.
In 2017, 6,475 hydrogen vehicles were sold globally, most of them in the United States and Japan.

Europe is heavily back on this type of technology, just think that at the continental level there are only 78 petrol stations active, of which 58% in only three countries (Germany, United Kingdom and Denmark).

Finally, natural gas vehicles deserve an important mention: although it can not be considered a renewable energy source, this power is considered an alternative given the lower environmental impact compared to diesel and petrol. But also a greater volume that requires for its use in transport the compression (Cng) or liquefaction (Gnl).

Compressed gas is mostly used for small vehicles such as cars and small industrial vans, while liquefied gas is used in the supply of trucks, trains and ships. According to the forecasts contained in the study – edited by the president I-Com Stefano da Empoli – in the next 12 years the number of means of transport of this type is destined to increase considerably. By 2030, 12% of cars, 25% of trucks and 33% of buses powered by natural gas should circulate on European roads. Moreover, Italy is in fact the European country with more natural gas vehicles (more than one million) and the seventh at global level.

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