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  • Writer's pictureThe Climate Coach

E-fuels have been talked about in recent weeks - do they make sense?

E-fuels have been in the press recently in the EU with regulators considering allowing cars powered by e-fuels past the existing 2030 deadline for all new cars sold to be electric. But do they make sense from a climate perspective? And will they negate the need to transition to electric?

No, no they don't.

That was easy then!

But why?

Without going into too many details - e-fuels take carbon from the atmosphere (via carbon capture technology) and then use excess renewable energy (from wind and solar peaks for example) to turn this into a synthetic fuel which can be burned in a petrol car.

The key point to highlight is that these fuels still release CO2 when used.

The creators claim that these e-fuels are "net zero" - because they take carbon out of the atmosphere, use renewable energy to produce and then put the CO2 back in the atmosphere when the fuel is burned - thus there is no more CO2 in the atmosphere than before they were made.

There are two fatal flaws though in this logic...

  1. We don't have enough carbon capture technology to even make a small dint in the CO2 we've already emitted - so any carbon capture we do needs to focus on reducing CO2 levels, not just maintaining them. We simply can't afford to entertain the notion of taking it out to put it back in again right now.

  2. We don't have anywhere close to a fully renewable grid yet - and there are plenty of other use cases for excess renewables for areas that don't have a zero emission alternative (which cars already do in the form of electric!)

The other consideration (although not fatal flaw given who this solution is aimed at) is the cost will be significant. Carbon capture isn't cheap and won't be for a long time - nor is the process to produce the fuel so these e-fuels will be prohibitively expensive for most.

That makes sense, so why are they being considered?

There are obviously a lot of people including businesses who aren't overly pleased about the transition to electric - a hypothetical electric Lamborghini supercar probably doesn't "sound" quite as good as a petrol version. Also, many car manufacturers have spent many many years developing and building internal combustion engine vehicles so they are still looking for possible ways to keep them on the road. Not to mention the huge industry built around internal combustion engine vehicles - from supply chain to motor racing and track days.

At the end of the day though, the why doesn't matter too much. What matter is that right now it's not the time to be entertaining the notion of e-fuels. Unfortunately, because the press have picked up on this - you can already see on social media that people are saying things like "I'll wait for e-fuels thanks" on posts about electric vehicles. This is a real shame and we desperately need to keep the focus on the transition to electric...for now at least.

If you have any thoughts, feedback or ideas you wish to contribute on this or any other topic covered by The Climate Coach - please get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.

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