European Parliament: Study assessing the potential of sustainable fuels in transport

This assessment, carried out by the Policy Department for Structural and Cohesion Policies of the European Parliament together with external authors from Trinomics and Aether, and commissioned by the TRAN committee, investigates the potential of different sustainable fuel options in transport. It assesses their potential for use in different transport modalities, i.e. maritime, aviation and road transport. It considers various aspects such as the technology readiness of conversion technologies, the availability of feedstock, the sustainability of supply, the efficiency in resources and energy, and the most appropriate match between fuel and application.

The study covers sustainable fuel options that are also contemplated in the list of fuels in the Renewable Energy Directive, which includes:

  • Biofuels ranging from ‘conventional’ crop-based biofuels to ‘advanced’ and other residue and waste-based biofuels, i.e. from feedstocks listed in Annex IX Part A and Part B
  • Renewable fuels of non-biological origin (RFNBOs), such as renewable hydrogen and its derivatives
  • Recycled Carbon Fuels, which use waste streams of non-renewable origin

It emphasises that direct electrification from renewable electricity has the best energy performance and sustainability compared to other fuels and should be promoted where technically feasible. Electrification, however, was not part of this assessment.

The study distinguishes between different pathways, scoring each of them against the following criteria:

  • Life-cycle GHG emissions
  • Land use and land-use change risks
  • Primary energy needs
  • Water requirements
  • Costs
  • Infrastructure requirements (in 100% use, and in blends)
  • Scalability


Biofuels are separated into biochemical, oleochemical and thermochemical pathways and the assessment further subdivides on basis of the feedstock (e.g. sugars and starch, ligno-cellulosic, virgin oils, waste- and by-products etc.)

They established that residue and waste-based biofuels outperform the primary crop-based biofuels based on GHG emissions, land-use and land use change risks, and scalability, but for costs and primary energy needs this is vice versa.

They emphasise in their key findings that biofuels face availability limitations, which goes somewhat beyond the possibilities for agricultural and forestry residue based fuels, which have abundant potential feedstock availability.

Furthermore, they are conservative about the scaling possibilities of ligno-cellulosic feedstock-based biofuel pathways, emphasising that it can only sustainably scale when using agricultural and forestry residues, but that dedicated ligno-cellulosic crops score worse on land use and land use change risk.


The RFNBOs score well on GHG emissions, land use and land use change risks, and water requirements. They perform worse on the costs, especially when including the infrastructure costs. Therefore,they see a large role for renewable e-fuels, which require less changes to infrastructure or powertrain. However, these do face significant challenges in renewable electricity requirement, low energy efficiency, high production costs, and low TRL of some of their enabling technologies.

Find the full study attached and for more information, including the Annexes of the study click here.