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Václav Loula: The future of fuels

Václav Loula hails from Strakonice, where he went to secondary school.  Post-graduation, he moved to Prague, where he completed his studies at the College of chemistry and technology and the College of economics. From 1972 to 2015 he worked at the Benzina Corporation in a variety of functions. He began his career as a technician in the fuel and lubricant development center and gradually moved up all the way to the Director of Quality post. During this time, he also functioned as head of marketing, spokesperson, business director, vice-chairman of the board of directors and other managerial positions. In the years 1982-1992, he functioned as a specialist in national economic conception in the areas of fuel and petro chemistry. From 2017 until today, he is the spokesperson for the Czech Petroleum Industry and Commerce Association (ČAPPO) and director of the stálá pracovní komise pro paliva, director of the certification organ for crude oil products. The Oxford encyclopedia recognized him as one of the 100 most significant personalities in the Czech and Slovakian republics.

Hence, he is an undeniable expert in the field of gasoline and fuel. We asked Mr. Loula to share his experience with us and indicate what we can expect from the future of both traditional fuels, as well as alternative fuel options that are becoming more and more available every day. His answers reveal what most likely awaits us in the near future and what we should prepare for.

Václav Loula: Budoucnost paliv
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How do you see it with fuels for automotive transportation?

There are many viewpoints on fuels; I will go into just a few. Energy that customers buy, the raw material it’s made from, availability of the technology required for making the given fuel, the ecological viewpoint (taxes, public assistance, the price of alternative fuel automobiles). People won’t give up their automobiles easily, but the energy propelling vehicles forward will slowly transform.

Is crude oil replaceable?

Crude oil is still an essential component of the global energy mix and that’s why petroleum suppliers must fill the global demand for fuels, petro chemicals and a multitude of other products in a responsible manner. Crude oil as a strategic raw material is still not fully replaceable. The widest amount of options for alternatives is currently planned in automobile transportation. As far as air transportation, no dependable, ecological substitute in a sufficient enough amount currently exists. Substitutes for short flights exist, such as electricity, or a portion of specially adjusted bio elements, but long flights are still not possible without crude oil. In plastic manufacture and a line of other chemical crude oil compounds, no substitute currently exists.

How long will fuels from crude oil last?

Combustion engines and the current distribution of the automotive market, dominated by gasoline and motor naphtha, will remain over the next 20 year period. The exchange of 1.2 billion vehicles across the entire planet will take at least another 50 years. An expected growth of up to 2 billion vehicles is expected in the year 2030, but it will not be composed of only alternative, sustainable fuel engines.

How long will biofuels last?

With regard to the growing significance of foodstuffs for the nourishment of current and future generations, 1st generations biofuels (made from oil, sugar or starch crops) won’t be feasible in the long term. Under the pressure of emissions, support will be redirected to 2nd generation biofuels, which are made from waste, over the next five years. This requires more expensive technology and a complicatedly sourced raw material. I estimate their share to be 3% maximum. As of now, the Czech Republic is promoting the continued use of 1st generation biofuels even after the year 2020. For that reason, biofuels as an important component of fuel greening will continue even past the year 2020. It will be accompanied by a strong interest in low emission bio elements.

How do you see alternatives?

Along with the domination of fossil fuels, it is necessary to consider the ingress of alternative fuels such as CNG, the liquid form of LNG, electro mobility and hydrogen.

Electricity made from fossil fuels or non-renewable resources is problematic. In the meantime, hydrogen manufacturing and the price of this fuel is rather expensive. The price of alternative fuel vehicles is significantly higher than that of fossil fuel engines. Even if 2nd generation biofuels, that is fuels made from waste, receive economic advantages and support, there will be a problem with source and quality assurance. That will considerably limit sources available for usage. I presume that the EU will consider these complications when setting targets for the year 2020.   Other problems, open for discussion and solution seeking, are, for example, the driving range of electric vehicles, electric vehicle prices, battery price and capacity, building fast car-charging stations, and the taxation of alternative fuels. We can certainly expect a symbiosis with other alternatives.

How do you see fuel distribution in the CZ for the next 30 years?

Considering the status, layout and size of vehicle infrastructure and the fact, that the automobile industry invested heavily into modern gasoline and combustion engines, fossil fuels will be dominant minimally until the year 2035. Even in the following era, I expect that long-distance freight and lorry transport, heavy duty technology, emergency vehicles, army technology, racing vehicles and motorcycles will use powerful combustion engines. The same goes for flight transportation. 

Of course, other alternatives will be available, composed of LPG, CNG, LNG, electro mobility and hydrogen. This is both an EU and a global trend. There’s still a big question of how the competitive environment, subsidies, public assistance, alternative fuel taxation and how the economy and public quality of life will develop. There will certainly be various types of alternative fuels available on the market.

As far as electro mobility, I see it as feasible predominantly in small utility or consumer vehicles in cities and nearby surroundings. I can see further use of electric mass public transportation for people in cities.

I can imagine, that in the longer term future, by around the year 2045-2050, hydrogen could be available in every better vehicle. All personal vehicles of a higher class by the year 2050 could run on hydrogen and be powered by a hydrogen fuel-cell. From the emission perspective, hydrogen is truly the best. The driving range of hydrogen vehicles is comparable with current gasoline powered vehicles and filling up with hydrogen takes only minutes.

Compressed natural gas will also play a role. Furthermore, we can expect manufacturing of synthetic fuels or hydrogen from natural gas.