The European Union (EU) plans to ban the sale of new combustion engine vehicles from 2035 as part of its ambitious climate goals. However, not everyone agrees with this decision, especially Germany, which is home to some of the world's largest carmakers. Germany's Minister for Digital Affairs and Transport, Volker Wissing (FDP), is trying to prevent the EU from banning the use of e-fuels for most combustion engines - and thus soften the complete ban on combustion engines.
E-fuels are synthetic fuels that are produced from renewable or decarbonized electricity and capture carbon dioxide or carbon monoxide. Some see them as a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, particularly for long-distance freight, marine, and air transport, which are difficult to electrify. However, e-fuels also face many challenges and criticisms, such as their high cost, low efficiency, and uncertain environmental impact. The car manufacturers have fundamentally different views on the subject of e-fuel – we asked around who was in favor and who was against.
What are the arguments for e-fuels?
The main argument for e-fuels is that they can be used as drop-in replacement fuels for existing combustion engines without requiring major vehicle or infrastructure changes. This means that e-fuels can leverage the existing fleet of cars, trucks, ships, and planes and the existing network of fuel stations and refineries. This would avoid the need to scrap millions of vehicles and invest billions of euros in new charging stations and battery factories.
Another argument for e-fuels is that they can offer a higher energy density and range than batteries, which still need to be improved by their weight and size. This makes e-fuels more suitable for heavy-duty vehicles and long-distance travel, where batteries may need to be able to provide more power or autonomy. E-fuels can also be stored more easily than electricity, which requires complex grid management and storage systems.
A third argument for e-fuels is that they can be produced from renewable or decarbonized electricity sources, such as wind, solar, or nuclear power. This means that e-fuels can be carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative if they use carbon dioxide captured from the atmosphere or from industrial plants that use fossil fuels. E-fuels can thus reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, accounting for about a quarter of global CO2 emissions.
Who is in favor of e-fuels?
Some carmakers supporting e-fuels are BMW, Porsche, Audi, and Volkswagen. These companies have invested in the research and development of e-fuels, as well as in pilot projects and partnerships to produce and test e-fuels. For example, Porsche has invested in the Haru Oni project in Chile, which aims to create synthetic methanol from wind power. Audi is working on e-diesel and e-gasoline projects, while Volkswagen is collaborating with Siemens and other partners to develop e-fuels for maritime transport.
These carmakers argue that e-fuels can complement electric vehicles and offer more choice and flexibility to customers. They also claim that e-fuels can preserve the heritage and performance of their brands, which are known for their powerful and sporty combustion engines. They believe that e-fuels can be a viable solution for the transition to a low-carbon economy, especially for segments where electrification is not feasible or desirable.
Who is against e-fuels?
Some of the carmakers that oppose e-fuels are Tesla, Renault, Volvo, and Ford. These companies have focused on developing and promoting electric vehicles as the only way to achieve zero-emission mobility. They have invested heavily in battery technology, charging infrastructure, and software services to make electric vehicles more attractive and convenient for customers. They also benefit from the regulatory incentives and subsidies that favor electric vehicles over other alternatives.
These carmakers argue that e-fuels are too expensive, inefficient, and uncertain to be a realistic option for decarbonizing transport. They point out that producing e-fuels requires a lot of energy and resources, which could be better used for generating electricity or making batteries. They also question the availability and sustainability of the electricity sources and the carbon capture methods that are needed for making e-fuels. They contend that electric vehicles are already cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable than combustion engines and that they will continue to improve in terms of performance, range, and safety.
What is the EU's position on e-fuels?
The EU has proposed a new regulation to phase out the sale of new combustion engine vehicles from 2035 to achieve its climate targets. The regulation would also set stricter emission standards for new vehicles until then, requiring them to reduce their CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030 and by 100% by 2035 compared to 2021 levels.
However, the regulation would allow some exceptions for certain types of vehicles that use e-fuels or other low-carbon fuels. These include heavy-duty vehicles such as buses, trucks, and coaches, as well as off-road vehicles such as tractors and construction machines. These vehicles would have to reduce their CO2 emissions by 50% by 2030 and by 75% by 2035 compared to 2021 levels. The regulation would also allow some flexibility for niche markets such as sports cars and motorcycles, which could use e-fuels or other low-carbon fuels to meet the emission standards.
The EU's compromise proposal is meant to balance the interests of different member states and stakeholders and ensure a fair and feasible transition to a carbon-neutral transport sector. However, the proposal still faces opposition from some countries and groups that want to preserve the combustion engine industry or promote other alternatives such as hydrogen or biofuels. The final decision will depend on the negotiations between the European Parliament, the European Council, and the European Commission, which is expected to take place in the coming months.
What are the implications of e-fuels for the future of green mobility?
E-fuels are a controversial and complex topic that involves technical, economic, environmental, and political aspects. They have the potential to offer a solution for the future of green mobility, but they also face many challenges and uncertainties. They could be a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, especially for segments that are hard to electrify, but they could also be a distraction or a delay from the necessary shift to electric vehicles. They could be a way to preserve the combustion engine industry and its jobs. Still, they could also be a threat to the innovation and competitiveness of the electric vehicle industry.
The future of e-fuels will depend on several factors, such as the availability and cost of renewable or decarbonized electricity sources, the development and deployment of carbon capture technologies, the regulation and taxation of different types of vehicles and fuels, the consumer preferences and behavior regarding mobility options, and the collaboration and competition among different carmakers and countries. E-fuels are not a silver bullet or a magic solution for green mobility, but they could be part of a diversified and integrated approach that considers multiple pathways and scenarios for achieving a low-carbon transport system.