E-fuels and Europe’s green automotive future

Germany and the European Union recently reached an agreement on the future of cars with internal combustion engines (ICE). According to the agreement, new passenger vehicles will only be allowed after 2035 if they use climate-neutral ‘e-fuels.’ 

This landmark development is part of the EU’s Green Deal, marking a turnaround of the European Parliament’s recent approval of a law to ban the sale of any new ICE car from 2035. The legislative process ground to a halt following Germany’s threat to block the law unless it included the loophole for new vehicles running exclusively on carbon-neutral e-fuels.

The inclusion of the loophole for e-fuels has been met with criticism. Greenpeace has stated that “This lazy compromise undermines climate protection in transport, and it harms Europe.” Other critics argue that e-fuels are an expensive and inefficient diversion from the transformation to electric facing Europe’s carmakers.

So, what are e-fuels, and why are they seen as a potential solution?

E-fuels are synthetic fuels produced using renewable energy sources such as wind or solar power. The process involves capturing carbon dioxide from the air and combining it with hydrogen produced from renewable sources to create a liquid fuel. The benefit of e-fuels is that they can be used in existing combustion engines, which could help to reduce carbon emissions in the short term while the transition to electric vehicles continues.

Despite the potential benefits, there are concerns about the scalability and cost-effectiveness of e-fuels. Some argue that the resources required to produce e-fuels could be better used to accelerate the development and adoption of electric vehicles.

Others point out that the production of e-fuels requires significant amounts of energy, which could potentially offset any emissions reductions achieved by their use. However, it’s counter argued that electricity required can come from renewable energy sources, which, together with CO2 sourced directly from direct air capture, compensates for any CO2 emitted during production.

The upshot is that in their current form, e-fuels are also prohibitively expensive for many. Volkswagen chief operating officer Thomas Schäfer recently called the debate over e-fuels “unnecessary noise”. With Volkswagen (among other manufacturers) planning to phase out ICE cars in the next ten years, he asked: “So why spend a fortune on old technology that doesn’t give you any benefit?”

As an investor, it’s crucial to stay informed about the debates surrounding e-fuels, their potential impact on the automotive industry and progress in the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. While the inclusion of the e-fuels loophole in the EU’s ban on combustion engines could provide short-term benefits, it’s essential to consider the long-term implications and potential alternatives carefully. Making sound investment decisions requires a clear understanding of the risks and opportunities presented by emerging trends and technologies. 

Sign up for weekly insights, including SI Engage and industry news