Chloe Allen

Chloe Allen

Our Digital Marketing Executive Chloe is in charge of our e-newsletter. There's no one better placed to inform and delight you every month, so keep your eyes peeled for her newsletter hitting an email inbox near you soon.

Read time of 5 minutes.

It's the end of the road for petrol and diesel. 

It's no secret the world is on a mission to decrease its carbon emissions. The motor industry is already seeing the start of a ‘green revolution’, with the sale of electric vehicles (EV’s) on the rise and government legislation curbing the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles from 2030

With so much recent focus on decarbonising the motor industry, it might surprise you to learn Germany has opposed a landmark European law that all new cars sold from 2035 must have zero CO2 emissions.

So why the sudden U-turn?

No, it’s not because manufacturers want to keep petrol and diesel in play – in the race to carbon neutral what we’re seeing is a shift in gears, not a standstill. While many manufacturers are placing their bets on the electric vehicle (EV), there’s an alternative at play in the form of lesser known e-fuels.

What are efuels?

You might have heard the term thrown around in conversation recently, but what actually are so-called efuels?

E-kerosene, e-methane and e-methanol are some prime examples of what we’re talking about; they are made by capturing and then synthesising the hydrogen and CO2 emissions produced from using renewable or ‘CO2-free’ electricity.

Until now, much of the effort by manufacturers to decarbonise has been focused on developing and selling more EVs than ever before, but some are now exploring efuels as a viable green alternative. Porsche, for instance, has backed the first ever commercial efuel plant, located in Chile, which aims to produce 550 million litres of efuels per year.

BMW has also invested a handsome $12.5 million in efuel start up Prometheus Fuels alongside the billions they’ve set aside for electric-battery technology.

Additional efuel plants are in the works for the immediate future, with Norsk Efuel in Norway due to begin production next year.

Are they a viable replacement for petrol and diesel? 

While production of efuels takes emissions out of the atmosphere, they still release CO2 when combusted in an engine. Arguably these emissions are equal to the amount that are taken out of the atmosphere in production, effectively making them carbon neutral.

From the motor industry’s perspective, there are real benefits in utilising efuels. They can be used in vehicles with an internal combustion engine (ICE) and transported using the pre-existing network set up for fossil fuels.

Essentially, it’s a way to cut carbon emissions without replacing every passenger vehicle with an EV.

Adapting the current infrastructure instead of completely replacing it may be a way of decarbonising which is quicker, easier and with less responsibility on the individual consumer.

There are, however, still problem areas that manufacturers have yet to address.

The production of efuels requires five times more renewable electricity than running a full EV, according to a paper in the Nature Climate Change Journal (2021), making them both energy intensive and expensive to produce.

No doubt this will make them expensive to use – but with traditional fuel costs already skyrocketing in the last year, this may be an unavoidable evil whichever way the industry goes.

Additionally, Europe may not have enough spare renewable power to support efuel production at scale, in which case it will have to be imported from other regions – not ideal, when the focus is on reducing the carbon footprint.

Which is 'greener' - electric vehicles or efuels? 

The sale of EVs has so far been the driving force towards decarbonising our roads, with big names like Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz making it clear this is where their focus lies.

While they produce zero emissions on the road, electric vehicles are not yet a perfect alternative to diesel and petrol.

Production relies on heavy mining and refining of natural elements and minerals such as lithium, copper, cobalt, aluminium, nickel and manganese, in order to create the batteries that EVs rely on.

Some of the biggest producers of these elements are in areas like Chile, Argentina and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), raising concerns about the exploitation of local workers and further deforestation. There are also claims that making an electric car releases roughly the same amount of CO2 as a petrol or diesel car, even before factoring in production of the battery itself.

However, it’s worth noting that the electric vehicle is still in its early stages and further development of the technology may help them become both faster on the roads and greener in production. It’s up to us to demand better controls around deforestation and working conditions if we want to see EV’s continue as the motor industry’s mainstream solution to climate change.

What has this to do with the EU's new green deal? 

The headlines are unforgiving, but Berlin has asked for an amendment to the agreement to stop production of new ICE vehicles by 2035 – not opposed it outright. Their additional clause? To be allowed to produce ICE vehicles that can run on efuels instead of petrol or diesel.

While it hasn’t escaped notice that this move has been backed by the oil industry (the eFuel Alliance was launched by the oil and auto industries in 2020), the motives here don’t necessarily have to be impure.

EVs and efuels both have their benefits – and their negatives. In these early days of the motor industry attempting to decarbonise, the fact that it is putting time, effort and investment into both technologies could be a positive step towards going fully green.

So is there a perfect solution? 

In the short term, not yet. But who knows how technology will evolve in coming years?

Both efuels and EVs are still new – only the latter is currently commercially available – and further ‘green’ technology may develop through innovation.

What is clear is that future investment is needed.

While efuels have promise as a carbon-neutral alternative to petrol and diesel, they are not yet commercially available. Only time will tell if we see them rolled out for commercial use in ICE vehicles, or in industries which are more difficult to decarbonise, such as shipping or aviation.

In the meantime, EVs are here to stay.

The emissions created during their production may need to be examined more closely moving forward, but they are actively reducing emissions on our roads right now.

At the moment we have to accept there isn’t one perfect green alternative to replace fossil fuels. Until one is found, it’s clear the motor industry is investing both time and money in more than one solution to reduce its (and our) carbon footprint.

Electric vehicles are here to stay