Alternative fuels

Alternative fuels and the transition to sustainable transport solutions rank among the Volvo Group’s top ten material issues. We have conducted extensive research on various types of alternative and renewable fuels, assessing them from a well-to-wheel perspective.

Our position

The Volvo Group believes that renewable fuels have the long-term potential to substitute diesel – at least in part – and significantly reduce carbon emissions in transport. Right now, however, the main challenge is the availability of renewable and alternative fuels in different parts of the world. The transition to a low-carbon society requires collaboration between vehicle manufacturers, vehicle users, politicians, government agencies and fuel producers.

The Volvo Group actively collaborates with various stakeholders to promote the establishment of infrastructure to distribute fuels with high energy efficiency and low greenhouse gas emissions, but in the short term, we see no single successor to fossil fuels. For this reason, we still focus strongly on improving the fuel efficiency of diesel engines.

In the absence of a single optimal alternative, the Volvo Group continues to develop and offer a number of different solutions adapted for various fuels, applications, markets and commercial conditions:

Long-distance transport: we believe crude oil-derived diesel fuel will remain dominant, but with increasing renewable and synthetic components. Liquid methane and DME are prioritized components.

Regional transport: we expect compressed and liquefied methane to grow as a preferred fuel due to improved pricing and security of supply. DME will also be prioritized.

Short-distance transport: we see this leading the shift to electricity, especially in urban areas, for buses, urban delivery and utility vehicles. We believe compressed methane, followed by DME, will also be important for these applications.

Alternative fuels: assessment of sustainability features
All fuels in this chart are assumed to be produced from renewable sources. The results may vary for a particular fuel depending on the production process used.

Source: Climate issues in focus, Volvo Group, 2007–2013.

Some definitions

Alternative fuels
Fuels, including electricity, that can replace conventional diesel or ­petrol fuel derived from crude oil

DME (dimethylether) derived from renewable material such as biomass, waste and agricultural products

Biological material from which energy can be provided

Carbon-neutral transport
Carbon-neutral vehicles powered by fuels or electricity produced from sources and processes that add no excess carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere

DME (dimethylether)
A sulphur-free gas with ultra-clean combustion that is easy to liquefy – derived from fossils fuels (coal, natural and shale gas) or a variety of sustainable feedstocks (wood, black liquor and organic materials)

Fully electric vehicles
Vehicles and machines powered or propelled by an electric motor

Fossil fuels
Fuels based on fossil energy, primarily oil, coal and natural gas

HVO (hydrotreated vegetable oil)
Vegetable oils or animal fat are converted into diesel-like molecules in a refinery process. The end product is similar to conventional diesel fuel

Hybrid vehicles
Vehicles and machines powered or propelled by two different power sources that are able to recover and store kinetic energy

Methane gas (CH4) is the main component of natural gas and biogas, in both compressed or liquefied form

Plug-in hybrid vehicles
Hybrid vehicles with rechargeable batteries, or another energy storage device, that can be fully charged by connecting to an external electric power source

Renewable fuels
Fuels, including electricity, produced from a renewable source – such as biomass, hydro, wind or solar power

A concept that considers all relevant stages of the fuel chain, including cultivation and harvesting of the raw material, its transport to the fuel production plant, production and distribution of the fuel and its use in vehicles