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Can e-fuels save combustion engines?

The new Euro 7 standard will effectively ban combustion engines from 2025. A synthetic fuel that is climate-friendly and yet can be used for internal combustion engines is supposed to save the traditional engine. But production and costs are causing problems.

The German car company Porsche is known for its traditional sports cars. However, these are threatened with an abrupt end along with combustion engines. In order to save its iconic racers like the Porsche 911, the company is now turning to e-fuel. A synthetic fuel that could keep the one billion combustion engines on the road alive.

E-fuel is produced with the help of renewable electricity and hydrogen. In the process, hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide, which is extracted from industrial waste gases or the environment. This produces synthetic diesel, petrol or gas, which is usually biodegradable. Vehicles with combustion engines can use this fuel as usual. Therefore, driving with e-fuel does not require a new charging structure. It can simply be refuelled at existing filling stations.

The problem with the fuel: to run a vehicle on e-fuel requires up to five times as much energy as an electric car. Only about 13 percent of the energy can actually be used by the vehicle. In addition, the production of the fuel is only really climate-friendly where there is a surplus of green electricity. It is true that the emissions from driving a vehicle powered by e-fuel are lower than those from internal combustion engines. But if coal or natural gas are used to produce the electricity, there can be no question of a climate-friendly alternative to conventional fuels. The price of e-fuels is also a cause for concern. The production of one litre in a pilot plant supported by Porsche in Chile costs as much as 10 dollars.

So while Porsche is relying on e-fuels to keep the combustion engine alive, the parent company VW now wants to move away from the traditional engine. Porsche CEO Oliver Blume himself also sees no alternative to the electric engine in order to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, but apparently does not want to give up the internal combustion engine altogether.

E-fuel could be good news for the many environmental zones in Europe. If more and more of the existing combustion engines are on the roads with lower emissions, air quality would also be improved and tighter regulations would thus become unnecessary. However, if the fuel had to be produced with dirty storm in Chile, for example, this would leave a bitter taste in the mouth.