This is what you need to know about synthetic fuels
Berlin From 2035 onwards, new cars that run on petrol or diesel will no longer be allowed to be sold in the EU. The EU states finally decided on Tuesday to largely end new cars with combustion engines after the decision had been blocked by Germany for weeks.
The federal government pushed through that even after 2035 it should still be possible to re-register combustion cars that are only fueled with climate-friendly synthetic fuels (e-fuels).
Of the German car manufacturers, Porsche in particular relies on e-fuels. Especially with that legendary Porsche 911 continue to drive with combustion engine can, the Stuttgart-based company, together with Siemens in Chile, has a stake in a factory for the production of these same fuels. May from 2026 only e-fuels are used in Formula 1.
But what exactly are e-fuels, how environmentally friendly are they? The most important questions and answers:
What are e-fuels?
E-fuels (English: electrofuels) are synthetic fuels that can be used to operate an internal combustion engine. They are made from water and carbon dioxide (CO2) using electricity. This process is called “Power-to-X”. “Power” stands for electricity, the “X” either for petrol, diesel or kerosene. E-gasoline, e-diesel or e-kerosene could then be used as fuel in today’s engines without any problems.
Are e-fuels environmentally friendly?
Combustion of e-fuel produces basically just as much environmentally harmful emissions as conventional fuels. However, if the electricity for production comes entirely from renewable sources and the necessary CO2 also comes from the atmosphere, biomass or industrial exhaust gases, i.e. is already available, their use would be climate-neutral – but only then.
Do e-fuels already exist today?
Synthetic fuels have so far been virtually inaccessible to normal customers. There are only smaller pilot plants for research and development that only produce minimal quantities. Porsche is the only German car manufacturer to invest in e-fuel production – primarily in the hope of being able to continue operating conventional sports cars for a long time to come.
In the windy south of Chile, the company is building a plant for half a billion euros that will use wind power to produce e-fuels. The Ministry of Economics is supporting the project with a good eight million euros.
What is the energy balance of e-fuels?
In the production of electric-based fuels, several energy-guzzling conversion stages have to be passed through; Large amounts of electricity are required, especially for the production of hydrogen. Therefore, the energy balance of e-fuel cars is significantly worse than that of e-cars.
>> Read here: The approaching end for e-fuels is affecting Porsche and its suppliers in particular
According to the think tank Agora Energiewende, synthetic fuels achieve an efficiency of around 13 percent: So only 13 percent of the electrical energy used moves the vehicle. For e-cars it is 69 percent.
In other words, cars fueled with e-fuels use almost five times as much energy per kilometer as a battery car.
How expensive are e-fuels?
According to the federal government, the cost of electricity-based liquid fuels is at least 4.50 euros per liter of diesel equivalent, i.e. compared to one liter of diesel. The European Commission assumes that the production costs are three to six times higher than the market prices of fossil fuels.
However, since there are only pilot plants so far, it can be expected that production in large plants would be significantly cheaper. That depends above all on where e-fuels are produced and how expensive green electricity is there. This is the main reason for Porsche to produce in Chile, where the wind blows almost three times as much as on the North Sea.
However, the Fraunhofer Institute for Energy Infrastructure and Geothermal Energy assumes that the world market prices for green hydrogen produced from green electricity could triple by 2030. The import of e-fuels from sun or wind countries is therefore probably “not a cheap panacea”. It is true that e-fuel production in North Africa or the Middle East is attractive because of the many hours of sunshine.
>> Read here: This is how car manufacturers want to get out of the combustion engine
However, increasing capital and transportation costs could quickly diminish or even negate these advantages. The federal government expects that the costs for e-fuels “will definitely be significantly higher than those for fossil fuels for the foreseeable future up to the 2030s”.
Does the federal government promote e-fuels?
The traffic light government considers e-fuels to be “essential in order to achieve the climate goals in transport”, but above all for modes of transport that are “difficult to electrify”, i.e. aircraft for which the batteries required would be far too heavy.
“In order to enable climate-neutral flying in the future,” she promotes both research and marketing of e-kerosene. However, due to production technology, certain quantities of e-diesel and e-gasoline are also produced during its production, which could then be used for ships or in road traffic, for example. In total, the federal government is funding more than 30 research projects for synthetic fuels and four projects for their production.
Available in Germany Specifications for the use of e-fuels?
According to the law, aviation fuel must contain 0.5 percent e-kerosene from 2026. The share will then gradually increase to two percent by 2030. There are no direct specifications for cars, trucks or ships. However, there are rules that require fuel manufacturers to add a certain proportion of environmentally friendly fuels to gasoline and diesel. In the past, these were exclusively biofuels and can now also be e-fuels.
What will happen to the petrol and diesel engines registered before 2035?
The end of combustion engines in the EU from 2035 should only apply to new cars. Even according to optimistic estimates, there are still 30 million used combustion engines in Germany alone, which are only gradually disappearing.
>> Read here: Airlines are fighting against EU regulations on the use of bio and e-fuels
The proponents of e-fuels argue that climate change cannot be achieved if they are not then increasingly operated with e-fuel. Opponents believe that the use of e-fuels would ensure that the old combustion engines remain in operation longer than necessary.
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