What are e-fuels, and may they assist in making vehicles CO2-free?
Germany has voiced its last-minute opposition to a landmark EU law that would prohibit the sale of CO2-emitting automobiles by 2035. It has demanded that new cars with internal combustion engines be sold after that time if they use e-fuels.
Since the EU law would require that all new cars sold after 2035 have zero CO2 emissions, it would be practically impossible to sell cars powered by fossil fuels.
Internal combustion engines (ICEs) would not be prohibited under the rules, which Germany and the majority of legislators and countries in the EU had previously supported.
However, the law is seen as a death knell for the technology because there aren't many options that would make it possible for ICE cars to run without releasing CO2.
All About It
E-FUELS IN WHAT WAY?
E-fuels like e-kerosene, e-methane, and e-methanol are made by synthesizing hydrogen made from renewable or CO2-free electricity and captured CO2 emissions.
When they burn in an engine, the fuels produce CO2 that enters the atmosphere. However, the idea is that the amount of CO2 removed from the atmosphere to produce the fuel is equal to the amount of emissions produced.
WHO MAKES THEM?
The majority of major automakers are betting on battery-electric vehicles, a technology that is already widely available, as the primary means of reducing passenger vehicle CO2 emissions.
However, e-fuels are supported by suppliers, oil majors, and a number of automobile manufacturers who do not want their vehicles to be burdened with heavy batteries.
E-fuels have not yet been mass-produced. With Porsche's support, the world's first commercial plant will open in Chile in 2021 with a goal of producing 550 million liters annually. Norsk e-Fuel in Norway is one of the other planned plants. It is scheduled to begin producing in 2024 and will concentrate on aviation fuel.
E-FUELS: CAN THEY CLEAN UP CARS?
E-fuels can be used in current ICE vehicles and transported via fossil fuel logistics networks, which is good news for companies that transport gasoline and diesel as well as suppliers of ICE car component manufacturers. E-fuels, according to proponents, provide a means of reducing CO2 emissions from our existing passenger car fleet without requiring every vehicle to be electric.
E-fuel production is highly energy-intensive and expensive, according to critics. Utilizing e-fills in an ICE vehicle expects multiple times more sustainable power than running a battery-electric vehicle, as per a 2021 paper in the Nature Environmental Change diary.
Even proponents assert that Europe will have to import renewable energy from other regions because it will not have sufficient spare power to produce e-fuels on a large scale.
E-fuels should also be limited to hard-to-decarbonize industries like shipping and aviation, which, unlike passenger cars, cannot easily run on electric batteries, according to some policymakers.
What comes next for EU law?
German Transport Minister Volker Wissing questioned Germany's support for the EU law days before the final vote, which was scheduled for March 7, surprising policymakers, including the Greens-led environment ministry.
Wissing, a member of the Free Democratic Party, stated that the use of e-fuels should continue to be possible after the year 2035, but a proposal on this topic from the European Commission that had been promised was still missing.
In accordance with climate goals, EU law says that the Commission will make a proposal on how vehicles powered by CO2-neutral fuels can be sold after 2035. However, the transport ministry of Germany seeks more specific assurances.
Some EU lawmakers and diplomats were enraged by Berlin's last-minute move. They warn that allowing one nation to torpedo a law that had already been agreed upon would jeopardize other carefully negotiated deals on EU policies.
One of Europe's most important policies on climate change is currently in flux.
The coalition government in Germany will be required to abstain from the EU vote if it is unable to reach a consensus on the law. Along with Poland and other nations, Italy has already voiced opposition, raising the possibility of sufficient support to block the law.
Officials from the EU are rushing to find an answer. On March 6, the European Commission stated that it is in discussions "at all levels" to finalize the legislation as soon as possible.
What do businesses wish for?
Bosch, ZF, and Mahle, as well as major oil and gas companies like ExxonMobil and Repsol, are members of the eFuel Alliance, an industry lobby group.
The technology is generally supported by car manufacturers like Porsche, Mazda, Piech, and others. Porsche is the sole purchaser of fuel from HIF Global's pilot project in Chile and owns a stake in the company that makes e-fuel.
BMW has put $12.5 million in e-fuel startup Prometheus Fills, while likewise putting billions in battery-electric innovation.
In the meantime, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz, among other automakers, have made it abundantly clear that they are betting on battery-electric vehicles to reduce carbon emissions.