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

Status: 23/06/2022 11:12

Next week, EU states will fight for their position on the combustion engine ban that the European Parliament is aiming for. Is there also a dispute over possible exceptions for electronic fuels? A new studio gives them bad marks.

Cars powered by synthetic fuels (e-fuels) offer minimal CO2 emissions savings 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) Expert Group.

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

Electric fuels have a larger CO2 footprint than electric cars

The study calculated the full life cycle emissions of the cars that will be purchased in 2030. The calculations also include production and operation. A vehicle powered by a mix of electric fuels and gasoline would only reduce its emissions by 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% fewer emissions over its life cycle than a vehicle with a combustion engine. The basis for calculating the CO2 footprint in the production and operation of battery cars was the EU average electricity mix, projected for 2030.

Analysis shows that a car powered by pure electric fuel made from renewable electricity would emit even more during its life cycle than the electric car. An electric vehicle would cause 53% less CO2 emissions than a combustion engine with synthetic fuels. This is mainly due to losses in the production of electronic fuels and the design inefficiency of combustion engines.

Great heat loss with the combustors

It is not for nothing that internal combustion engines are also called heat engines. They convert only a fraction of the energy content of combustible fuels into motion. A large part of the energy used, on the other hand, is released into the environment in the form of heat and is therefore dispersed.

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

How will the traffic light coalition decide?

T&E has therefore opposed supporters of e-fuels, who are fighting against the complete elimination of the combustion engine. They see the use of electronic fuels as a viable alternative, especially for regions without enough green electricity to run them and without enough income to buy new electric cars. The FDP, for example, rejects an EU-wide ban on the sale of new cars with combustion engines from 2035. Liberals demand that vehicles with combustion engines can be re-registered after 2035 if it can be shown that they are powered only by electronic fuels.

In the coming week, EU environment ministers will discuss the end of newly registered petrol and diesel engines starting in 2035 and thus their position on the corresponding decision by the European Parliament. After the governments of the EU states have agreed on a common position on the matter, negotiations with representatives of the European Parliament follow. If the Berlin traffic light coalition does not reach an agreement by the meeting of EU environment ministers, Germany should abstain from voting.

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