Fossil fuel-powered transport has remade human societies over the past two centuries, accelerating economic development and giving people greater freedom to travel near and far for work and leisure.Transport is also a major employer, providing 60 million jobs worldwide, and is integral to all economies, representing 7 percent of GDP in the EU and 7.7 percent in the US. 

Yet our enhanced mobility has come at a huge cost to the environment, with the transport sector having the highest reliance on fossil fuels, according to the International Energy Agency. In 2019, the industry was responsible for 27 percent of the UK’s net greenhouse gas emissions and for 29 percent of those from the US, for example. 

Following a brief slump in 2020 when the covid-19 pandemic was at its peak, annual global transport sector carbon dioxide emissions rose by 8 percent year-on-year in 2021. This must fall by at least one-fifth by 2030 to get on track to achieve net zero, the IEA warns. 

Yet reinventing transport for a post-carbon society also offers vast scope for innovative businesses to prosper. Annual revenue from the electric vehicle market will grow at a compound annual rate of 29 percent over the 2020-30 period, from 2.5 million to 31.1 million units, Deloitte forecasts. 

Production of hydrogen – a carbon-free energy source if made without natural gas or coal – will more than double to 223 megatonnes by 2050, Wood Mackenzie estimates, describing the element as a $600 billion investment opportunity. 

Technological breakthroughs to develop alternative fuels for shipping and aviation will enable these major industries to go green – provided policymakers implement the necessary incentives and taxes to achieve price parity with fossil fuels in the long term. Together, the private and public sectors can reinvent transport to both increase mobility and slash greenhouse gas emissions. 

20. Accelerate the electric vehicle revolution

Electric vehicle sales are soaring and by 2025 should represent nearly one-quarter of all new passenger vehicles on the road worldwide that year. However, high purchase prices and slow charging times will continue to deter many would-be buyers. 

In the first half of 2022, 4.3 million electric vehicles – battery and plug-in hybrids – were sold globally, up 62 percent year-on-year, according to the EV Volumes database. Over half of these sales were in China, where EV purchases more than doubled. By 2025, petrol and diesel passenger vehicle sales will be 19 percent below their 2017 peak, BloombergNEF forecasts.

Public subsidies, totalling $30 billion in 2021  – double that of the preceding year – are key to greater EV adoption, according to the International Energy Agency, which estimates the market for electricity charging will be worth $190 billion annually if EVs represent 30 percent of all vehicles sales by 2030. That’s about one-tenth of the current petrol and diesel market and would account for around 4 percent of global electricity demand; although achieving this level of EV adoption would require a nine-fold increase in the number of public chargers.

Battery limitations are another major obstacle to mass EV adoption. Simply put, we need batteries that are cheaper, lighter, last longer, and charge quicker. EVs rely on essentially the same lithium-ion battery technology as mobile phones and laptops. Most public charge points deploy higher voltages to fully charge in four-10 hours. Direct-current fast charging can go from 0-80 percent charge in less than an hour, but is problematic with lithium-ion batteries because a side effect is lithium plating, which can cause battery failure. 

“The key issue is to understand the behaviour of electric vehicle owners – at least 90 percent prefer to charge in their own homes, so there’s not a big incentive for utilities to build huge public charging infrastructure,” says Ashwin Kumar Balaji, senior energy analyst at Daymark Energy Advisors. “If you want wider EV adoption, you need to have infrastructure that supports fast charging and also a battery that can be fast-charged.”

EV prices are another hurdle. In Europe and the US, battery-electric cars cost 45-50 percent more than a similar conventional vehicle, according to the IEA – although many experts forecast battery EVs will reach parity in terms of total cost of ownership (including running costs) by 2026 at the latest. 

Heavy-duty vehicles are the source of around one-quarter of road transport’s greenhouse house gas emissions in the EU. For long-haul trucks, batteries are impractical because their large size would reduce the vehicles’ payload. Hydrogen fuel cells, which are lighter, take up less space and, in theory, refuel as quickly as a conventional visit to a petrol station, seem more viable for large vehicles. A 2020 EU report predicts 17 percent of all new trucks sold in 2030 – 59,500 units – will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells. 

21. Set sail on green shipping

The maritime sector emits more carbon dioxide than aviation and is also a major source of sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides, which are hugely harmful to the environment too.  

Reducing shipping’s reliance on heavy fuel and diesel will require multiple solutions tailored to differing vessel sizes, as well as regulatory reforms. The International Maritime Organization aims to cut international shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050 versus 2008 levels, while by 2025 all new vessels must be 30 percent more energy efficient than those built in 2014.

Dutch company Future Proof Shipping is building a fleet of zero-emission craft for inland waterways. The retrofitted vessels will run on hydrogen fuel cells, with the first due to launch in late 2022. To be net zero, the boats will use green hydrogen made from renewable-electricity powered water electrolysis. “Alternative fuels like hydrogen occupy a much larger volume than fossil fuels, thereby requiring more on-board storage space,” says Milinko Godjevac, Future Proof Shipping’s senior integration adviser.

“Compressed hydrogen could be a solution for some short sea vessels depending on the location, type of vessel and operation. Liquid hydrogen, other hydrogen carriers or e-fuels are more suitable for vessels and routes beyond a certain scale.”

Green ammonia, which is made from green hydrogen, perhaps offers the most promise for ocean-bound craft. Germany’s MAN Energy Solutions will launch an ammonia ship engine in 2024 and plans to begin retrofitting existing vessels the following year. 

Britain’s Smart Green Shipping has touted another solution: so-called FastRigs, which are sails that can be added to ships with sufficient deck space such as bulkers and tankers. A government-funded feasibility study found the rigs could reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent. 

22. Let green aviation take flight

Numerous celebrities and world leaders have been branded carbon criminals for their flagrant use of private jets – a charge that is sure to be heard again when COP27 kicks off in Sharm el-Sheikh. 

Aviation is responsible for 2.1 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Switching to sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), which can be blended with kerosene and used in standard aeroplane engines, is the most plausible route for commercial airlines to reduce their environmental impact, since, at present, batteries’ weight and size make them unsuitable for planes carrying more than about six people. 

There are two main types of SAF: biofuels and synthetic fuels. Biofuels are made from the likes of fats, oil, grains, and algae and solid waste, but insufficient supplies of these raw materials make synthetic fuel – also known as e-kerosene – the most promising long-term bet. 

Produced by combining carbon dioxide captured from the air and hydrogen created by renewable electricity-powered water electrolysis, e-kerosene is near carbon-neutral and can be blended at up to 50 percent of total fuel according to current regulations. That limit could increase to 100 percent eventually.

Estimates vary, but e-kerosene costs anything from double to six to nine times that of conventional kerosene depending on carbon prices. 

“Blending obligations or fuel incentives/standards can help overcome this barrier and are paving the way for commercial facilities,” says Oskar Meijerink, senior project lead at Netherlands’ SkyNRG, which sources, blends and distributes SAF to more than 40 airlines worldwide. “Good and stable long-term policies can help create the market and allow investments to flow into the SAF industry.”

In 2021, the European Commission introduced blending mandates for e-kerosene of 0.7 percent by 2030, increasing to 28 percent in 2050 for flights within the EU.