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Road transport sector presents strategic research agenda

A Strategic Research Agenda for the transport sector was handed to the European Commission on 2 February. Representatives from all the players in the sector, working together within the European Road Transport Research Advisory Council (ERTRAC), identified four principal prior...

A Strategic Research Agenda for the transport sector was handed to the European Commission on 2 February. Representatives from all the players in the sector, working together within the European Road Transport Research Advisory Council (ERTRAC), identified four principal priorities for future research: enhancing mobility; safety and security; the environment; and design of competitive production systems. As recognised by several of the speakers at an event to mark the hand over of the agenda, governments and sections of society around Europe have recognised the need to restrain the growth of road transport, principally for environmental reasons. However, the transfer to other means of transport remains slow, and further research in the surface transport sector is therefore justified in order to minimise the impact on the environment, as well as to improve safety and efficiency. The Strategic Research Agenda (SRA) sets out how the road transport sector is to achieve its 2020 Vision, presented in 2004. 'We need a far-reaching vision. Instead of just dealing with problems as they arise, we need an idea of where we want to go,' said Claude van Rooten, General Director of the Belgian Road Research Centre and Vice President of FEHRL, which brings together Europe's national road research centres. Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik was represented by his Head of Cabinet, Peter Dröll. He commented on how impressed the Commissioner is with the speed at which ERTRAC drew up its SRA following the adoption of its 2020 Vision. ERTRAC Chair Rudi Kunze recognised what a milestone the SRA is. When ERTRAC first formed in 2003, 'there was some doubt as to whether we'd be able to work together,' admitted Mr Kunze. The council's members had different, cultures, interests and paradigms, he added. But the challenges - the environment, safety, energy supply - were huge, and no single stakeholder group could have addressed them alone, Mr Kunze emphasised. Ultimately, all stakeholders were able to reach a consensus. Mr Kunze again underlined the importance of partnership with reference to the use of hydrogen to power vehicles. No company will develop hydrogen cars if there are no facilities for refuelling, and no company will build hydrogen stations if there are no vehicles to use them. Mr Kunze referred to this as a 'chicken and egg' situation that can only be resolved through partnership. Not all present were equally enthusiastic about the use of alternative energy sources, however. Wilhelm Bonse-Geuking, Vice President of BP Europe, made it clear that 'the oil industry is prepared and able to play an essential role' in addressing the challenges to the transport sector. He conceded that the industry must not only rely on oil, and should investigate the use of renewable energies. But, 'Our world is restless. The future will no doubt change in many unexpected ways and we can't afford to gamble too early,' he warned participants. While there are a number of uncertainties, there are some certainties, he added: 'liquid fuel will continue to be the main energy source for the foreseeable future.' Asked about the potential for biodiesel and vegetable fuels, Mr Bonse-Geuking said: 'We have to think about how competitive this is. Somebody has to pay for all this. There is a small niche for them, but we have to consider the consequences, and some of them are not very encouraging.' Peter Dröll was more optimistic, saying that if the whole process could be thought through properly, another strategic research agenda in this field could be foreseen. Various appeals were made for further EU support for road transport research. While Ivan Hodac, Secretary General of the European Association for the Construction of Automobiles (ACEA), called for a clearly defined programme for road transport to be incorporated in the EU's Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), Mr Dröll made the case for increased EU funding for research in this sector. The EU budget represents just six per cent of public spending on R&D (research and development) in Europe, he said. This is smaller than the budget of Daimler Chrysler. And even if the EU budget was doubled, it would still be smaller than that of Daimler Chrysler and Volkswagen combined.