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What role e-fuels can play in the future

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To: 06/29/2022 17:41

From 2035, only new climate-neutral cars will be sold in Europe. Cars with combustion engines only have a chance if they fill up with e-fuels. What are the advantages and disadvantages of synthetic fuels?

Does the thermal car still have a future? Unlike the European Parliament, EU environment ministers want to leave one last little back door open. According to the ideas of the EU states, only new cars without CO2 emissions should be registered from 2035. However, the European Commission must draw up a proposal which could give the internal combustion engine a chance. Because it is a proposal on how vehicles that run exclusively on climate-neutral fuels (e-fuels) could also be permitted after 2035.

Given that EU states have yet to agree on a position on the future of the combustion engine in the forthcoming negotiations with the European Parliament, the option of e-fuels is by no means a deal done. Nevertheless, the question arises as to whether synthetic fuels can be a real alternative to electric cars, which are also the preference of manufacturers.

What are e-fuels?

E-fuels are synthetic fuels that are primarily made from water and carbon dioxide. This requires a high level of electricity. Until now, it is mainly chemical plants that produce e-fuels. These fuels have properties similar to gasoline and diesel.

Do e-fuels protect the climate?

The respect of the environment by the production depends on the origin of the electricity. If green electricity is used, the production of e-fuels is climate neutral. Compared to gasoline or diesel, the production of e-fuel does not increase the cycle of the raw material and does not release any new CO2. Because fuel is not obtained from crude oil.

However, the European think tank “Transport and Environment” (T&E) doubts the climate protection effect. In one study, researchers calculated that cars that run on 100% synthetic fuels emit significantly more CO2 over their lifetime than purely electric cars. “An electric vehicle would be 53% cleaner than an internal combustion engine with synthetic fuels, which is mainly due to electronic fuel production losses and internal combustion engine inefficiency,” according to the T&E study. .

For its part, the interest group eFuel Alliance asserts: “Anyone who drives a combustion engine with eFuels instead of petrol, diesel or kerosene does not emit more CO2 than has been removed from the atmosphere to produce the fuels.” Thus, synthetic fuels could “help reduce CO2 where conventional fuels have been used so far”. Because the electricity used for production comes from renewable energy sources, e-fuels are climate neutral.

What do critics of e-fuels say?

Environmentalists and some mobility experts criticize the e-fuel option as an unnecessarily expensive and inefficient wrong path to climate-neutral mobility. “E-fuels are a fictional solution, they are inefficient, not automatically climate-neutral and will remain expensive and limited in availability for the foreseeable future,” says Antje von Brook, chief executive of BUND. Greenpeace chief executive Martin Kaiser also sees the EU compromise on approving combustion cars with synthetic fuels as “pie in the sky” and a watered-down phase-out of combustion engines.

The T&E think tank sees the gigantic energy requirements of e-fuels as the biggest problem. The researchers found that if just 10% of all cars in the EU ran on electric fuels, the annual demand for renewable energy would increase by nearly 40%. In order to fill the combustion engines that will still run on electric fuels after 2030, 500 terawatt hours of electricity would be needed each year for the production of synthetic fuels, explains Falko Ueckerdt of the Institute for Climate Impact Research in Potsdam. This would roughly correspond to the current total annual electricity demand in Germany.

What do car experts think?

Experts consider the debate over e-fuels to be nonsense. “Synthetic fuels will be so expensive that hardly anyone will be willing to pay for them,” says Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, director of the CAR Center Automotive Research. In addition, the energy efficiency of synthetic fuels is extremely low. “Less than 20% of the output energy is used for propulsion.” Stefan Bratzel, director of the Research Institute Center of Automotive Management (CAM) at the Bergisch Gladbach University of Applied Sciences, also points out that the 15-20% low energy efficiency of synthetic fuels is a significant disadvantage. In electric vehicles, this efficiency is much higher.

What is the auto industry doing?

Most automakers don’t believe in the future of e-fuels. In the short term, e-fuels are not a viable option, says Markus Schäfer, Mercedes board member for development. VW boss Herbert Diess even regards the use of synthetic fuels in mass mobility as “nonsense”. Only Porsche uses synthetic fuels. The sports car manufacturer is investing $75 million in the development of e-fuel production facilities. In Chile, the Swabians are building a Haru Oni ​​pilot plant, which is expected to start production in mid-2022.

Which cars can be refueled with e-fuels?

None at this time. Electric fuels are still being tested in pilot plants. Europe’s largest testing facility is currently located at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg. More than 46,000 liters of synthetic fuels are produced there. Porsche could soon be the first automaker to offer e-fuels. The sports car manufacturer sets up a pilot plant in Chile. The use of synthetic fuels is being studied within the framework of the common “C3-Mobility” project. 32 partners are involved, including Porsche, VW, BMW, Opel, Hyundai, Shell and RWE.

Could the exception rule for the approval of combustion engines with e-fuels be cancelled?

This cannot be ruled out. Because there is still an agreement between the European Parliament, the majority of which calls for a complete ban on new cars with combustion engines from 2035, and the countries of the EU. And the concrete concept of the European Commission demanded by the EU member states does not yet exist. This must first make a proposal on how vehicles that run exclusively on climate-neutral e-fuels can still be registered after 2035. European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans is skeptical. “Currently, e-fuels don’t seem to be a realistic solution,” he said. “But if the manufacturers can prove otherwise in the future, we will be open.” So far, according to European Commission plans, e-fuels should only be used where batteries don’t make sense, for example in planes or ships. Nor is it certain that the European Parliament will accept the compromise reached by EU environment ministers.

What prospects for e-fuels?

At present, the market prospects for e-fuels cannot be accurately assessed until the European Commission develops a clear concept for the new registration of combustion engines using synthetic fuels. However, many experts are convinced that e-fuels are necessary to achieve climate goals. Because after 2035, there will still be several million combustion engine cars on the roads. Driving with e-fuels is a little less harmful to the climate than with petrol or diesel. Electric fuels and electromobility could ideally complement each other, says Stefano Innocenzi, head of new energy business at Siemens Energy. Without synthetic fuels, decarbonization of existing vehicle fleets is “hardly possible”.


Source www.tagesschau.de

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