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‘Transport Research Arena’ highlights Technology Platforms

The TRA 2006 conference in Göteborg, Sweden, underscored the role of new industry-led Technology Platforms in the road transport sector. Important Strategic Research Agendas (SRAs), covering areas such as road infrastructure construction and alternative fuels, are now being developed and implemented.

Jack Metthey
Jack Metthey

TRA 2006 covered all aspects of road transport, promoting the strategic alignment of research around the European Road Transport Research Council’s (ERTRAC’s) seminal SRA. Established in 2003, ERTRAC is one of the leading EU Technology Platforms and the Strategic Research Agenda has been a major guide in the formulation of the FP7 transport work programme.

Speaking at TRA 2006, Jack Metthey explained the Technology Platform concept. “European Technology Platforms focus on strategic issues for achieving competitiveness and sustainable growth. Led by industry, they bring together all stakeholders within a given sector to define medium- and long-term research and technological development objectives.“

This means combining and coordinating European, national, regional and private research actions, and improving the networking, clustering and pooling of research and development capacities. “Again,” said Metthey, “one of the key factors is that the Technology Platforms are industry driven. This means we are investing in real benefits to our economy, strengthening competitiveness, turning ideas into money, not money into ideas.”

Other sectors contributing

One of the goals of TRA 2006 was to foster the exchange of ideas across traditional sector boundaries. This also applies to institutional boundaries. The event saw, for the first time, substantial contributions from a wider collection of European Commission services, including the Information Society and Media Directorate-General and the Transport and Energy Directorate-General.

Jesus Rodríguez
Jesus Rodríguez

Jesus Rodríguez of DRAGADOS is chairman of the European Construction Technology Platform (ECTP), a major initiative aimed at raising the level of performance and competitiveness of the European construction sector, analysing the major challenges to be faced in terms of society, sustainability and technological development.

What does construction have to do with road transport? “The European construction industry is committed to maintaining and improving all road infrastructure,” said Rodríguez. “This includes, roads, bridges and tunnels, all elements that are necessary for efficient and sustainable mobility.”

Recent transport-related initiatives, he said, include the Oresund Bridge, linking Sweden and Denmark, the enlargement of Monaco harbour, ambitious plans for an underground motorway in Madrid, and the mind-boggling Gibraltar Tunnel that will link two contintents. Equally important, though, are the everyday challenges of transport infrastructure maintenance and upgrading. ECTP, says Rodríguez, is developing research and innovation strategies to meet these challenges, based on its vision for 2030, engaging with and mobilising a wide range of skills, expertise and talent within the construction industry.

“Our SRA was published in November 2005,” he said. “In it, we highlight research priorities, including the innovative use of underground space for road transport, reduction of environmental impact, especially in cities, and the use of more intelligent materials.”

Exploring alternatives

TRA 2006 confirmed biomass as the most promising source of alternative fuels for the transport sector in the short to medium terms. The sector is currently almost completely dependent on oil-based fuels, which account for more than 30% of final energy consumption in the European Union. 70% of that oil is imported, making the Union dangerously dependent and vulnerable to fluctuations in the world oil market.

Jeroen Schuppers
Jeroen Schuppers

“Biofuels represent the convergence of several existing sectors,” explained Jeroen Schuppers of the EU’s Research DG. “Industrial biotechnology provides the conversion processes for biomass, crop biotechnology will increasingly contribute to the sustainable supply of sufficient biomass, and energy companies will provide the route to market. The Biofuels Technology Platform brings all of these sectors together with the aim of developing a common strategy for research and exploitation.”

The Biofuels Technology Platform was established in the wake of the report entitled ‘Biofuels in the European Union – A Vision for 2030 and beyond’, drafted by the high-level Biofuels Research Advisory Council (BIOFRAC). The report outlines the current situation in the biofuels sector and presents a long-term view of how to overcome technical and other barriers to biofuel deployment in the European Union and worldwide.

The European Biofuels Technology Platform is a focused initiative aimed at developing cost-competitive, world class biofuel technologies, contributing to the creation of a European biofuels industry and accelerating the deployment of biofuels. Specific tasks include:

  • Addressing all relevant issues to foster the deployment of biofuels in the EU;
  • Promote research, development and demonstration aimed at overcoming technical and non-technical barriers;
  • Provide clear guidance to all stakeholders, including policy makers, and support biofuels research within the Union’s Seventh Research Framework Programme;
  • Develop and present a Strategic Research Agenda (SRA).

What are biofuels?

Leaves on ground
© Peter Gutierrez

Biofuels are fuels derived from the degradation of living matter, mainly plants. They produce significantly less greenhouse gases than conventional gasoline or diesel fuel. The CO 2 emissions produced by biofuels in transport are balanced by the CO 2 absorbed by the plants used in their production.

The most common biofuels in the transport sector are:

  • Biodiesel – used as an additive for diesel fuel;
  • Bioethanol – used directly as a petrol additive or in the form of ETBE, composed of about half bioethanol and half fossil fuels;
  • Biogas – after upgrading to biomethane by removal of CO 2 and compression, can be used in natural gas engines.
  • Other biofuels that can be derived from waste and residues account for only a small share.

The transport sector produces one-third of the world’s total CO 2 emissions. The use of biofuels represents a key option for reducing these emissions.

“This Biofuels Technology Platform represents yet another key step in the integration of biotechnology into the infrastructure of the European economy and moves us further towards meeting the Lisbon goals,” said Schuppers.

On message

For Chairman Rudi Kunze, the ECTP and Biofuels Technology Platforms are effective means of defining research and development priorities, timeframes and action plans on strategically important issues. “This TRA 2006 conference is and should be aimed at getting people together, to talk about our problems and to align our research agendas within a single systems approach,” he said. “And this is what the Technology Platforms are really all about.”