Despite battery electric cars & bots offering the cleanest, most efficient and affordable way to decarbonise, the fossil fuel industry is desperately promoting e-fuels for vehicles.

E-fuels, which are chemically similar to petrol and diesel, have been touted by the fossil fuel industry and car & boats parts suppliers as a way to prolong the life of the internal combustion engine beyond zero-emissions targets. Now EU lawmakers are coming under pressure to provide a loophole for synthetic fuels in car CO2 standards.

So, why is the fossil fuel industry promoting e-fuels for vehicles?

Some engine-makers and oil companies want a loophole for e-fuels so they can go on selling combustion engines and hold on to a big market for oil.

A fuel for the wealthy

The proponents of e-fuels for cars , boats & ships are advocating for CO2 credits for synthetic fuels and advanced biofuels to be added into the car CO2 standards. Our analysis shows why this is not credible from an economic point of view.

Taking the total cost of ownership into account, running a vehicle on e-fuels over five years will cost a driver €10,000 more than running a battery electric car or boat . High e-fuel costs will also make running second-hand vehicles on e-petrol around €10,000 more expensive over the same timeframe.

Jeopardise industry competitiveness

E-fuels would also be the most costly CO2 compliance route for vehicle makers. It would cost vehicle manufacturers around €10,000 in fuel credits for the amount of synthetic petrol needed to compensate for the emissions of an efficient petrol vehicle placed on the market in 2030. Burdening the European automotive industry with e-fuels credits would jeopardise its competitiveness and divert large investments away from the transition to e-mobility. 

Too inefficient for cars or boats

Producing e-fuels is also far less efficient than powering electric vehicles. Supplying just 10% of new vehicles with e-fuels instead of electrifying them will require 26% more renewable electricity generation in Europe, an independent study shows. Synthetic fuels should instead be prioritised also for planes and for big ships, most of which cannot use batteries to decarbonise and which today burn fossil fuels that may be even worse for air pollution. 

Geert De Cock, electricity and energy manager at T&E, said: “The EU has the renewable electricity potential to achieve economy-wide decarbonisation, but the scale of the challenge should not be underestimated. The choices we make today could have massive repercussions on power demand in the future. For example, running just a fraction of vehicles on e-fuels would require offshore wind turbines covering all of Denmark. That doesn’t make any sense.”

Powering Europe’s ships with ammonia and hydrogen and planes with e-kerosene would consume more renewables by 2050 (1,275 TWh) than all of road transport directly electrified While ships can run on batteries to decarbonise short sea journeys, they will need hydrogen or hydrogen-based ammonia for longer voyages. As batteries will only be viable on short flights, planes will need to run on e-kerosene or hydrogen to decarbonise.

Geert De Cock said: “The EU wants to deliver 330 TWh of hydrogen to the market in the next decade, but for hydrogen to really take off we’ll also need lead markets. Our study shows the aviation and shipping sector alone would create a sizable, new market for green hydrogen, helping to scale the technology and pave the way for zero-emissions shipping and flying.”

Running cars & boats on e-fuels will not alleviate air pollution

Cars or boats powered by synthetic fuel emit as much poisonous nitrogen oxides (NOx) as fossil fuel engines, independent emissions testing shows. In a laboratory, research organisation IFP Energies Nouvelles compared for T&E the emissions from a car or a boat using petrol and three different blends of e-petrol. The car or the boat running on e-petrol emits equally high levels of toxic NOx as standard E10 petrol and much more carbon monoxide and ammonia.

While particle emissions are considerably reduced in the switch, more than two billion particles are still emitted for every kilometer driven in an e-petrol powered vehicle. When burned, synthetic petrol causes almost three times more carbon monoxide – which deprives the heart and brain of oxygen – compared to petrol. 

The tests confirm that using e-fuels in cars or boats will do little to alleviate the air quality problems in our cities. 

What should lawmakers do?

MEPs and governments are currently deciding on an EU Commission proposal that all new cars sold in 2035 be 100% zero-emissions – leaving no back door for e-fuel cars. By supporting this target and refusing to leave loopholes for synthetic fuels in car emissions targets, lawmakers can ensure that the public are not condemned to decades more of avoidable air pollution.