Environment and Climate

Synthetic fuels – power for the future

If the climate targets are to be met, we will need considerable additional reductions in CO2 emissions from transport over the coming decades. Alongside electric mobility, highly efficient internal combustion engines running on synthetic fuels, called e-fuels, represent a promising avenue.

E-fuels are generated exclusively with renewable energy. To put it simply, hydrogen is produced using renewable electricity and then combined with carbon dioxide, e.g. from industrial exhaust gases or from the air, to form a hydrocarbon with zero net greenhouse gas emissions. This procedure is now commonly known by the terms Power-to-X (PtX), Power-to-Liquids (PtL) and Power-to-gas (PtG). Unlike biofuels, e-fuels do not compete with foodstuffs (food-versus-fuel discussion). Another key advantage is that synthetic fuels are not technically different than their conventional counterparts. They can even be used in classic cars and sold via the existing network of filling stations, and thus gradually blended into existing fuels.

Study of the future potential of e-fuels

In the current political discussion, fleet regulation of “CO2 post-2021” offers a unique opportunity to achieve a lasting increase in the uptake and dissemination of renewable fuels for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. When vehicles run on such fuels, and the quantities of the fuels and their lasting greenhouse gas reductions can be shown unequivocally, the OEM should receive a CO2 credit for the vehicle fleet supplied with these fuels.

However, producing synthetic fuels is still an elaborate and costly process. But in the future they may become a permanent feature of our transport system and make a huge contribution to climate protection. A study by the German Energy Agency (dena) and the consultancy Ludwig-Bölkow-Systemtechnik (LBST) on behalf of the VDA gives a detailed picture of what this scenario might look like in 2050, with more than 70 percent of the final energy needs of all modes of transport in the EU met by e-fuels. The largest proportion will be in freight transport by air, sea and road. However, this will require large-scale expansion of renewable energy in Europe.

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