The debate around promoting synthetic fuels, or e-fuels as they are commonly known, is heating up in Europe. While e-fuel advocates say the technology is the only way to decarbonize internal combustion engines, critics say they are a costly distraction from the global transition. to electrification.
A report published by European Automotive News (ANE) this week said the European Commission’s recent decision to grant an exemption for cars powered by e-fuels to qualify for sale after 2025 has given new hope to ICE-powered vehicles, but warns that fuels made from water, carbon dioxide and large amounts of energy can “cost too much”.
The argument revolves around the point that e-fuel production will shift sustainably sourced electricity away from “more pressing uses,” noting that synthetic fuel-powered vehicles still generate Pollutants include nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide.
However, technology advocates claim the plug-and-play solution is an effective means of decarbonizing hundreds of millions of ICE-powered cars, as well as other means of transport such as freight. , shipping and aviation.
While it is not yet clear what e-fuel regulations will look like or when they will be finalized, prominent supporters of the technology – most notably Ferrari and Porsche – see synthetics as a sort of ‘stop distance’ and a way to continue selling their high-status ICE-powered models.
Porsche and Volkswagen Group CEO Oliver Blume said: “I don’t know of any other possibilities for decarbonizing cars with internal combustion engines.
“This is very good for us, because you can run a thermal car with carbon neutral fuel,” said Ferraro CEO Benedetto Vigna.
But according to SURPRISEIt’s not just manufacturers of premium sports cars that benefit from synthetic fuels.
Stellantis and Renault executives have also pointed out that e-fuel is a valid solution to decarbonize existing ICE powertrains, although both have since stopped explicitly endorsing their use. on new cars after 2035.
Like Ferrari and Porsche, Renault is working with a partner to develop e-fuels.
“It’s good news, but not just good news for Ferrari and Porsche,” Renault Group CEO Luca de Meo said last month, noting that several Renault Group brands will look to switch to electrification “as late as possible”.
Similar, Stellantis said in April that it has completed e-fuel testing across a range of engine familiesand hastily added that it remains committed to selling only battery electric vehicles in Europe by the end of the decade.
Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares said: “By working to ensure our Stellantis engines are e-fuel friendly, we are aiming to provide our customers with another tool in the industry. fight against global warming”.
But critics of the technology – and the decision to allow some manufacturers to run liquid fuels after the electrification deadline – have expressed their disappointment, saying such moves divert the resources from scaling up battery electric vehicle production.
The chief executive of the environmental group Transport & Environment, William Todts, wrote in March that, “advocates of lobbying for e-fuels, primarily the oil industry, are not looking for a fair competition between e-fuels and electric vehicles – they are trying to derail electrification.”
Although not everyone believes that electrification is the key.
Ralf Diemer, chief executive officer of the Electronic Fuel Coalition – a 180-member lobbying group that includes Porsche and 14 others directly involved in the automotive industry, as well as companies energy – says that e-fuel makes more sense when viewed from a “cradle to grave” point of view.
“The question of how to make steel for cars is as relevant as the type of fuel that cars use,” said Mr. Diemer. Automotive News Europe.
He said the revised fuel measurement to include how the fuel or energy source is produced would help “close any gap for batteries” and said, “decarbonization shouldn’t be a game in itself.” zero sum play”.
While acknowledging that e-fuels are currently too expensive for widespread use, Mr. Diemer said prices will fall as the scale of the technology evolves, suggesting lower taxes on e-fuels (compared to fossil fuels). fossil fuels) as another measure.
Mr Diemer said he believes e-fuel can also help break Europe’s reliance on energy supplies from other countries – including natural gas from Russia – by importing natural gas. electronic data from countries that are more favorable in the production of solar and wind energy.
“When it comes to renewable energy, we have to think completely differently. We can bring in politically inclined partners who are more inclined to our thinking,” he said.
And it seems at least one car manufacturer agrees with Mr. Diemer’s view.
Renault Group Chief Technology Officer, Gilles Le Borgne, says SURPRISE that compatibility with existing technology is a tick in the box for synthetic fuels. He said Renault’s own compatibility testing had proven the technology was ready to go, and believes a broader European approach is something many seem to have overlooked.
“We knew the advantages (because) we did our own lifecycle analysis,” he said.
“It was just a matter of adjustment. It is not a hardware problem. The bottom line is that they (e-fuel compatible engines) are a ‘drop in’ solution.
Mr. Le Borgne said European Automotive News that by measuring every aspect of a vehicle’s environmental impact, including initial production and end-of-life credentials, is a much more sensible approach than simply focusing on exhaust emissions or “tank to wheel” statistics.
He said we must consider the energy used in mining and producing steel, aluminum and other materials, any EV batteries and the process in which they are assembled, as well as the energy and resources used. used to generate fuel – renewable or otherwise – or electricity, and overall fuel and energy use.
“If you have a 150kWh battery (in an EV), you have a huge amount of CO2 that has to be repaid from day one. If you realize (measures) for e-fuel, then you can lead. Otherwise, it doesn’t make sense as a solution,” he suggested.
Like European Automotive News The report points out, the main obstacle to the success of synthetic fuels is the allocation of resources, renewable or otherwise.
Speaking to technology consulting firm, Capgemini Engineering, the report said e-fuel production only makes sense when there is enough green energy available.
Peter Fintl, vice president of Capgemini Engineering, said: “The production of e-fuel is only possible with the precondition that green energy is available and abundant. engines against those powered by liquid fuels.
“If you take a kilowatt of electricity from an EV, say from source to wheel, it always takes about 75% of the energy to propel the vehicle. If you look at e-fuel, the best might be 10 to 15%,” he stressed.
Germany’s largest auto club, the Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobile Club (ADAC), recently released results showing how many vehicles can run on a 3.0MW wind turbine per year: 1600 BEV, 600 FCEV or just 250 ICE cars run on e-fuel.
In Mr Fintl’s view, developing ‘green’ hydrogen – which can be used in fuel cell vehicles and a range of other uses – is a better use of renewable energy.
“For every thousand Euros you spend on developing e-fuels, you fall short of that budget in other areas. Ultimately, electrification is cheaper, more efficient and better,” he said.
The next decision on e-fuels rests with the European Commission, which has announced it will create an exemption for the use of e-fuel in the 2035 regulations that mandate all new cars sold. must be zero emissions.
According to a document seen by Reuters Earlier this year, the EU plans to create a car that can only run on carbon-neutral (wet) fuel. It will then introduce a regulation showing how these cars can contribute to the 2035 goal – and how the technology can play a small but important role in decarbonizing the engine. combustion engine for more than 150 years after its birth.
With Automotive News Europe.