The European Union is seeking to make certain that cars powered by e-fuels must be 100% carbon neutral so as not to pollute the environment, in response to Germany’s insistence that e-fuel cars be allowed to remain in production beyond 2035.
Banning the sale of fossil fuel-powered cars is one major policy that the EU plans to adopt in its bid to reduce greenhouse emissions. Its main climate policy for cars states that only vehicles with zero CO2 emissions will be allowed to be sold in EU countries after 2035.
E-Fuels vs Fossil Fuels
Unlike fossil fuels, whose production methods and usage emit heavy amounts of greenhouse gases, e-fuels are derived from captured CO2 emissions and hydrogen produced by using renewable or CO2-free electricity. This reportedly makes e-fuel CO2 neutral, meaning it emits the exact amount of CO2 it took to produce, leaving the atmosphere the same.
The rising popularity of electric vehicles (EV), and their environmentally friendly state have gained them a lot of support from car manufacturers and buyers alike. With the advent of e-fuel, however, cars with internal combustion engines (ICE) can have better chances remain in production past 2035, instead of being banned outright.
E-fuels are still a novel fuel source, and aren’t being mass produced yet. Chile is home to the world’s first commercial e-fuel plant, established in 2021. German car manufacturer, Porsche, supports the plant, which aims to produce 550 million litres annually. Norway also intends to build its own e-fuel plant in 2024, but for aviation.
Support for E-Fuels and Criticisms
E-fuels have been gaining support, especially from oil companies, car companies against using heavy electric batteries, and people who don’t want current ICE passenger car fleets replaced by EVs. They argue that modifying ICE vehicles to run only on e-fuels is an alternate course that would also reduce greenhouse emissions.
Critics, however, argue that it is very expensive to manufacture e-fuel. Also, the Nature Climate Change journal highlighted in a 2021 paper, that it takes five times as much renewable electricity to use e-fuels in an ICE car, than it does for running an EV. Policy makers are therefore advocating that e-fuels be used in the shipping and aviation sectors, since vehicles there can’t easily run on electricity.
What’s Next for the EU Ban on ICE Vehicles?
The European Commission is developing a legal route for sales of new cars that only run on e-fuels to continue after 2035, after Germany demanded this exemption. The requirement, the EU stated in a draft, is that e-fuel cars must only be powered by CO2 neutral fields.
The draft rules that e-fuel vehicles must be designed so that the engine would not start if the vehicle is fueled with CO2-emitting petrol. Manufacturers would need to enforce this using devices that track the chemical properties of the fuel, and also develop rules to make sure these technologies cannot be tampered with, the document said.