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Can These 12 Fuel Options Change the World in 10 Years or Less?

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gas-pumps-flickr-mingonlSomething’s gotta give. In a time of uncertainty about the future supply and demand for fossil fuels, a surge of activity in energy technology and the prospect of stricter emission regulations barreling down the pike, the global market for transportation fuels is poised for disruption.

According to a new report out this week from technology and consultancy giant Accenture (s ACN), one or more — but almost certainly not all — of a dozen low-carbon transportation fuels now under development could transform that market (which accounts for about half of global primary oil consumption and up to 30 percent of global carbon emissions) within a decade.

What will make a fuel technology disruptive? According to Accenture, it will have to: reduce hydrocarbon fuel demand by more than 20 percent (in other words, scale up) by 2030 and result in at least 30 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to the conventional fossil fuel it’s replacing. It will also have to be within reach from a business standpoint, meaning it will be commercially available within five years and be competitive with oil priced at $45-90 per barrel.

These 12 technologies are “in play,” although government policies will have a significant effect on which ones emerge as winners in coming years.

  • Next-generation internal combustion engine
  • Next-generation agriculture
  • Waste-to-fuel
  • Marine scrubbers
  • Synthetic biology (sugar-cane-to-diesel)
  • Butanol
  • Bio-crude
  • Algae
  • Airline drop-ins
  • PHEV/EV/electrification engines
  • Charging
  • Vehicle-to-grid (V2G)

The shift that Accenture expects to arrive as a result of these technologies is not just from one fuel to another, but also from a market that relies primarily on fuels derived from hydrocarbons to one with more variation from country to country. The firm explains:

“Although most technologies will be widely available, local conditions will determine different weightings, with Brazil focusing on sugar cane-based fuels, South Korea and Japan on electrification, and China and the United States on all fuel options.”

For companies developing new transportation fuels, Accenture has four recommendations. Scientists and engineers should hold leadership positions, the firm advises — and not just for the sake of tech development. They can also help influence regulations and government policy.

Companies also need to have strong connections and improved cooperation, says Accenture, across multiple sectors — as auto companies, battery developers and utilities are starting to do for plug-in vehicle technology and infrastructure.

And of course the firm, which provides project management, supply chain optimization and risk management services, advises fuel developers to focus on these three management areas to get an edge.


Gas pump photo courtesy of Flickr user; charts courtesy of Accenture

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