John Abbott

Most journeys we make – to work, to school or back home each day – are forgotten over time. But some we remember vividly. One journey that stands out to me very nearly didn’t happen at all.

The year was 1982. I was 22 and had promised to pick up my girlfriend from Birmingham. Yet when I found myself stranded 100 miles away and my car, a Mini 850, broken down, that journey was delayed. For six hours. Crucial hours. Hours that could have changed the direction of my life. I had to fix the car myself. Thankfully I found a way to get there, and am now fortunate enough to call Juliet my wife.

Today, in large parts of the world we often take transport for granted. From the invention of the wheel through to the internal combustion engine, innovation has allowed each generation to get further, faster, more frequently (and, one hopes, more reliably) than those that came before.

But our journeys have come at a price. There are now more than a billion cars on the world’s roads. The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that number is likely to double by 2050. Transport, including shipping and aviation, now accounts for a quarter of the world’s energy use and one-fifth of global energy-related CO2 emissions.

Trucks comprise 20 percent of global oil demand – that’s about 17 million barrels a day. If no action is taken the IEA expects this figure to increase by almost 30 per cent to 22 million barrels per day by 2050.

So where does this leave us? If we want to meet the goals of the Paris agreement, and limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, we need to think not just about our journeys but about their broader impact.

Some countries and businesses are already taking steps. In the past 12 months, the French and British governments have committed to banning the sale of new solely petrol and diesel-consuming vehicles by 2040.

Changing course

We believe hydrogen will be part of a lower-carbon transport future. This month marks another step in that direction. In Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, Shell is opening the UK’s second hydrogen refuelling station. A third will follow near the UK’s Gatwick airport later this year. We are also involved in hydrogen refuelling stations in Germany and California, USA.

Like battery-electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have lower emissions than internal combustion engines. However, hydrogen vehicles have some distinct advantages. They can be refuelled faster, can travel further on one tank and are suitable for heavy goods vehicles that would otherwise require exceptionally large batteries.

Battery-electric vehicles will, of course, form part of the solution. Recently, manufacturers including Toyota, Hyundai and Ford, have committed to ambitious production targets by the mid-2020s. Shell has already announced the purchase of New Motion, one of Europe’s largest providers for charging points of such cars.

In the future Shell sees potential for a mosaic of fuels including liquefied natural gas, or LNG. Two Volvo trucks introduced to the expanding European market in late 2017, for example, produce 20 per cent fewer CO2 emissions than similar diesel vehicles when running on LNG.

Biofuels, which are blended into petrol and diesel, can be another cost-effective way to reduce CO2 emissions. They currently make up just 3 per cent of global demand for road transport fuel, but can produce around 70 per cent less CO2 from production to use compared to regular petrol.

Looking ahead

Nobody yet knows exactly how this energy transition will play out. It is too complex for any one company to predict. It will unfold over the coming decades, moving at different paces in different sectors in different countries. Numerous factors will play a part including customer and business choices, the development of infrastructure and government policies.

It is clear we have a long way to go. But looking back to 1982, I could never have predicted the progress we have already made.

It’s time to push on. The journey ahead will challenge us. It will require collaboration between scientists, policy makers and society at large. But, I believe, together we can make it. And when we do, and are able to look back, it will turn out to have been a journey of critical importance. A journey that we never forget.

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