VW boss Oliver Blume doesn’t want to put the combustion engine on the sidelines so quickly around the world. E-fuels could make engines more environmentally friendly, but they are still too expensive and rare. After all, a test shows that even old cars could drive with it.
15 million electric cars by 2030, ban on combustion engines from 2035 – politicians in Germany and the EU are putting pressure on electric cars. However, more and more experts are assuming that the goals of a complete electrification of transport are unrealistic. The ADAC is now also demanding that e-fuels should make the German car fleet more climate-friendly in parallel with electrification.
E-fuels are synthetically produced fuels that are produced with wind or solar energy and are more climate-friendly than normal petrol. Depending on the type of electricity production, a vehicle powered by e-fuels can even cause less CO2 than an electric car. The problem: the fuel is still only available in small quantities, the production is very energy-intensive and therefore expensive.
Many companies have already installed systems. The VW subsidiary Porsche is also testing e-fuels with the help of wind energy in Patagonia (Chile). Other alternatives to fossil gasoline and diesel are types made from residues, such as HVO diesel. You can also fill up in Germany, but only at very few gas stations. Other countries like Sweden use climate fuel much more often. There are around 4,000 HVO filling stations across Europe.
But would our cars tolerate the synthetic fuel at all? The ADAC examined this with five different car models in 100 measurements, as well as the CO2 and pollutant balance.
The experts give e-fuels good marks: “The laboratory tests have shown that the synthetic fuels work without any problems, provided the models are approved for the respective fuel. The measurements were able to confirm that the pollutant emissions are not worsened by the alternative fuels,” says the ADAC. The result refutes claims made by the lobby association transport
The HVO diesel produced from waste materials also proves to be problem-free in practice. Audi, for example, approved its diesel engines for HVO long ago. That is also one of the greatest advantages of almost all alternative fuels in practice: the manufacturers do not have to convert or adapt their engines, and the construction of a new infrastructure as with e-mobility is no longer necessary or could at least be reduced. You would simply continue to use the existing gas station network.
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After its series of tests, the ADAC also calls for a stronger focus on e-fuels as a supplement to electromobility. “The opportunity should now be seized to continuously reduce the fossil share by adding e-fuels and thus make an important contribution to environmental protection right now,” says ADAC Technical President Karsten Schulze. You don’t have to wait for the renewal of the entire vehicle fleet. Therefore, the argument that not enough e-fuels are available for the entire fleet does not speak against their use.
The VW boss’s push for e-fuels should give the advocates of climate fuel new impetus, even if it is still unclear in the EU whether an exception to the 2035 ban on combustion engines will be made for e-fuels or not.
Meanwhile, the electric car lobby is vehemently opposed to e-fuels. On the one hand, because this of course puts your own business model under pressure, but on the other hand with a very valid argument: Driving a battery car directly with “green” electricity is much more efficient than first making hydrogen and then synthetic fuel and then using it to burn . A large part of the energy is wasted. The “green electricity equation” only works if it doesn’t have to be siphoned off by other areas of application – such as a country’s normal electricity production.
But efficiency isn’t all that crucial, believes Markus Speith from Siemens Energy. The company operates the wind power project in Chile together with Porsche. Where there are good conditions for wind power, as in southern Chile, but there is no need for it, it makes sense to convert it into fuel, which can then be brought to where it is needed in tankers. With tax advantages compared to fossil fuels, these e-fuels could also be priced competitively with current prices, says Speith.
One thing is clear: the ramp-up of alternative fuel production takes time and would by no means make the CO2 reduction through electric cars superfluous. The required quantities are simply too gigantic for that. Germany alone needs 15 million tons of petrol for cars and another 30 million tons of diesel for cars and especially trucks every year.
Engine expert Professor Thomas Koch from KIT Karlsruhe, who has been researching e-fuels for years and calls for their widespread use, nevertheless sees considerable potential for climate fuel. By 2035, it would be possible to cover Germany’s fuel needs with e-fuels – provided that politicians would promote the technology in the long term.
Of course, such quantities would not be necessary at all, because the strong growth in electric cars will in any case have reduced the need for petrol and diesel significantly by 2035 – whether the EU’s combustion engine ban from 2035 will remain or not.
The expert believes that other fuel alternatives still have plenty of room for improvement. “HVO can be blended to 26% in diesel fuel. Audi, for example, supplies new vehicles with such a mixture. In Europe, the production capacities of HVO in 2025 alone by the Finnish manufacturer Neste Oil are over 10 million tons. An EU regulation ensures that in future this will be offered without any palm oil additives,” says Koch.
However, others do not share Koch’s optimism. Michael Müller-Görnert, for example, transport policy spokesman for the eco-transport association VCD, does not consider e-fuels to be a practicable solution: “Electricity-based fuels are and will remain expensive and would only be approximately climate-neutral if they were made from 100 percent renewable electricity or with CO2 from the air be produced,” says Müller-Görnert. It makes more sense to focus on CO2-neutral electricity production for electric cars.
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