Study on CO2 emissions: E-fuels with a bad environmental balance

Status: 06/23/2022 11:12 a.m

Next week, the EU states will be struggling over their position on the ban on combustion engines that the EU Parliament is aiming for. Is there also a dispute about possible exceptions for e-fuels? A new study gives them bad marks.

Cars powered by synthetic fuels (e-fuels) deliver minimal savings in CO2 emissions over their lifetime compared to traditional petrol or diesel vehicles. This is the result of a study published by the Transport and Environment (T&E) group of experts.

T&E is the umbrella organization of 53 European non-governmental organizations working towards sustainable transport. This also includes the Verkehrsclub Deutschland, which aims to ensure socially and environmentally compatible mobility for all road users.

E-fuels have a larger CO2 footprint than e-cars

The study calculated the emissions of the complete life cycle of cars that will be bought in 2030. The calculations also include production and operation. A vehicle powered by a mix of e-fuels and gasoline would reduce its emissions by just five percent compared to conventional fuels, according to T&E.

An electric vehicle powered only by a battery and electric motors, on the other hand, would cause 78 percent fewer emissions over its life cycle than a vehicle with a combustion engine. The calculation basis for the CO2 footprint in the manufacture and operation of the battery cars was the average EU electricity mix, which is predicted for 2030.

The analysis shows that a car running on pure e-fuel produced with renewable electricity would also emit more over its life cycle than the electric car. An electric vehicle would cause 53 percent less CO2 emissions than a combustion engine with synthetic fuels. This is mainly due to losses in the production of e-fuels and the design-related inefficiency of combustion engines.

Large heat loss with combustors

It is not for nothing that internal combustion engines are also referred to as heat engines. They convert only a fraction of the energy content of the combusted fuels into motion. A large part of the energy used, on the other hand, is released into the environment as heat and is therefore lost.

According to the study, a battery-electric Volkswagen ID.3 gets five times further with the same amount of renewable energy than a VW Golf that runs on e-fuel. A BMW i4 could drive six times further than a BMW 4 Series with a combustion engine.

How will the traffic light coalition decide?

T&E thus opposed the advocates of e-fuels, who are fighting against the complete phasing out of the combustion engine. They see the use of e-fuels as a viable alternative, especially for regions without enough green electricity to operate them and without enough income to buy new e-cars. The FDP, for example, rejects a ban on the sale of new cars with combustion engines from 2035 at EU level. The liberals are demanding that vehicles with combustion engines can be re-registered after 2035 if they can be proven to be fueled only with e-fuels.

In the coming week, the EU environment ministers will discuss the end of newly registered petrol and diesel engines from 2035 and thus their position on the corresponding Decision of the European Parliament. After the governments of the EU states have agreed on a common position on the subject, negotiations with representatives of the EU Parliament follow. If the Berlin traffic light coalition does not reach an agreement by the time the EU environment ministers meet, Germany would have to abstain from the vote.

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