05 Apr 2023, 13:20
Carolina Kyllmann

Researchers critical of German plans for e-fuel use in road transport

Clean Energy Wire

The use of synthetic fuels, also known as e-fuels, is unsuitable for road transportation in the medium to long term based on current knowledge, a report by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI) found. The authors are critical of the German government’s stance that e-fuels will play an important role in achieving climate neutrality in transport in the future, concluding that there are “manifold” reasons against their use for cars and trucks. They cite availability as a significant obstacle and expect e-fuels to be scarce and expensive in the foreseeable future, as global renewable electricity production would have to almost double compared to today's levels to achieve the goal of 10 percent green hydrogen and synthetic fuels by 2050. Cheaper alternatives, high energy demand for production and a questionable environmental balance are further reasons against the use of e-fuels for cars and trucks, according to the report. For example, direct electrification of road traffic would be up to five times more efficient in terms of electricity use because of the “enormous” conversion losses, the authors write.

The authors recommend using e-fuels in areas where there is no other alternative to achieving greenhouse gas neutrality, such as the chemical industry and international air and sea transport, as well as the steel sector and refineries. “If, contrary to expectations, today's scientific forecasts for e-fuels prove to be too pessimistic, their use for road transport could also be considered more closely at a later date,” the authors write. The use of e-fuels in road transport has been discussed in Germany for months as it would allow combustion engine cars to continue to operate in a climate neutral way. Recently, Germany’s pro-business FPD blocked an EU vote that would result in a de facto 2035 combustion engine ban. Ultimately, an exception was granted for cars running on synthetic fuels.

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