Biofuels, natural gas, hydrogen… None of the candidates to replace oil in vehicles are entirely convincing at the moment, according to the Commission which says it lacks a long-term vision supported by carmakers and the oil industry.

Alternatives to replace oil in transport are "urgently needed" but a long-term vision on what technology is best suited to replace it is still up in the air, said Fabrizio Barbaso, Deputy Director General at the Commission's transport and energy department.

Speaking at a conference on "future energy sources for transport" in Brussels, Barbaso indicated that the Commission had already identified three main candidates for the job - biofuels, natural gas, and hydrogen.

But he said each one of these present "tremendous technological challenges" that are just starting to be addressed, for instance by joint EU research efforts such as technology platforms (on biofuels, hydrogen, etc.). Natural gas currently enjoys little support from automakers or the oil industry, meaning the technology would need heavy subsidies to be maintained in the contest for oil substitution.

"My feeling is that we have not yet reached [an agreement on] policies largely supported by all parties," Barbaso said. And until significant progress is made, he said the Commission considers energy efficiency as its "number one priority".

A revision of the Commission's long term strategy (White paper) on transport is due to be presented on 22 June. The new document, seen by EurActiv, for the first time introduces a section on energy. It recommends action be pursued on various fronts, such as reducing fuel consumption, supporting research and bringing mature new technologies to the market through standard setting and regulations (such as Euro 5).

But it also recognises that much is still to be agreed at EU level, in particular under the European energy policy currently in the early stages of definition.