For some they are thorn in the side, above all in ideological terms; but for others they are an important option for sustainable, climate-friendly transport. CO2-neutral, synthetic fuels produced from water and carbon dioxide using renewable electricity; in short: e-fuels, have great potential.
It sometimes looks like a philosophical war between the proponents of e-mobility and those who continue to rely on internal combustion engines, which in future, however, will be powered by greenhouse gas-neutral fuels.
Yet both approaches are options that are equally needed in order to be climate-neutral in the transport sector by 2050. E-fuels are held to have the potential to immediately reduce emissions in the existing fleet.
E-fuels with special advantages
Several studies (e.g. by Frontier Economics and the German Economic Institute) commissioned by the Institute for Heating and Mobility (IWO), the MEW Mittelständische Energiewirtschaft Deutschland and the German Association of Small- and Medium-sized Mineral Oil Companies demonstrate the advantages of e-fuels.
When produced from renewable electricity, they are completely greenhouse gas-neutral. When they are used therefore, only as much CO2 is emitted as was previously bound during their production. As liquid fuels, they can be transported and stored in the existing infrastructure without any losses.
In addition, e-fuels can be mixed with mineral fuels. They can therefore be successively blended with conventional fuels as availability increases and product prices fall, thus reducing the ecological footprint of transport.
In this way, e-fuels bring an immediate reduction in CO2 emissions in the entire vehicle fleet. A specimen calculation illustrates this: the number of new vehicles registered in Europe each year corresponds to about 5 per cent of the stock. If all the new vehicles were electric cars, this would reduce emissions by 5 per cent according to current calculations. The same effect however could be achieved by refuelling the existing fleet with a fuel mixture that consists of 5 per cent e-fuels. Thus, there would be no need to rely on electricity generation for transport, which involves high investments and only works in practice in a few highly developed countries.
E-fuels would also ensure climate-neutral mobility where charging stations are lacking. Furthermore, liquid fuels have so far been considered as having no alternative in long-distance and heavy goods transport, for aviation and shipping due to their flexibility and high energy density. Battery-powered aircraft are just as far removed from reality as a global overhead line network for trucks.
Another aspect makes e-fuels seem indispensable: Germany will continue to be unable to dispense with energy imports. Currently, the share of renewable electricity in final energy consumption in Germany is around 10 per cent.
Just as today’s energy market is a global one, it will continue to be so in the future. The ideal medium for this is CO2-neutral liquid energy sources. They can be produced at favourable conditions in regions of the world where plenty of sun and wind are available. The required technology could come from Germany, for instance. For the German economy, this would result in value-added effects from the production of capital goods amounting to 29 billion Euros per year and labour market effects of almost 400,000 employees.
At the same time, it would boost the economy in the countries where the e-fuels are produced. States that have been dependent on oil exports up to now could therefore develop a sustainable perspective for the future.
It is now a matter of creating the political environment for such a development. Implementation of the RED II (Renewable Energies Directive II), the EU Renewable Energies Directive, the revision of the EU Fleet Regulation and energy taxation are three essential aspects within this context. This is where it will shortly be decided whether the framework conditions will be suitable for a market ramp-up of e-fuels.
For if “synthetic fuels have to get out of the test tube and into mass production”, as Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer put it during an online dialogue organised by the Hanover Chamber of Commerce and Industry, investors must have a long-term perspective in order to be able to produce and market e-fuels at competitive prices.
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