E-fuels: synthetic fuels - the last hope for the combustion engine? - WORLD

Ja, what now? On the one hand, hardly a boss from the old car world sings that louder right now Song of Solomon as Oliver Blume. On the other hand, nobody is as strong in favor of combustion fuels as the Porsche boss.

It is not for nothing that his company participates on a large scale in the development and production of so-called e-fuels that can be used in conventional gasoline engines. What sounds like a contradiction at first glance could prove to be a clever strategy - for Porsche and for the climate.

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These e-fuels are produced using electricity from renewable energies, water and CO2 made from the air and thus, unlike conventional fuels and fuels, do not generate any additional CO2 free. The industry association of the E-Fuel Alliance in Berlin announced that they are climate-neutral in the overall balance.

He represents around 130 companies from mineral oil to automobile manufacturers. And unlike hydrogen for fuel cells, for example, these fuels can be sold comparatively quickly, easily and inexpensively via the existing filling station network.

Sports car emotions with a combustion engine

These fuels do not burn residue-free either. But with them, millions of existing vehicles could free themselves from the taint of the climate killer practically overnight simply by changing the fuel.

"If you want to operate the existing fleet sustainably in the long term, then e-fuels are an elementary component," says Porsche Head of Development Michael Steiner. At the same time, such fuels would continue to offer manufacturers like Porsche the opportunity to offer emotionally charged sports cars with internal combustion engines.

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It is not for nothing that the Swabians take it 911 in their grandiose electrification plans with a share of at least 50 percent by the year 2025.

As long as the legislature allows it, it will continue to be available with an internal combustion engine, the Stuttgart-based company repeat like a mantra, and e-fuels could give them significantly more air.

E-fuels are still a long way off - will it stay that way?

Unfortunately, there is a catch. So far, these e-fuels have only been available in theory or in small, hardly affordable quantities from research and pilot plants. That is why the Swabians initially invested 20 million euros in a cooperation with Siemens and recently launched the first large-scale commercial plant for the production of these e-fuels in Chile.

Cars with no end to combustion: with e-fuels in overtime?

In touring car motorsport, Porsche is already using bio-based fuel mixtures in some cases
Source: dpa-tmn / Hoch Zwei

With wind energy, it is expected to produce 130.000 liters of fuel annually from next year and over 2026 million liters by 500. As the main buyer of the fuel, Porsche plans to use the e-fuels from Chile in motorsport and driver training in an initial phase before they are also to be used in series models, according to the company.

The impact of e-fuels is controversial

It is true that with Porsche, a prominent manufacturer is campaigning for synthetic fuels. And behind the scenes, many other brands are also hoping for at least a breather in the struggle for lower CO2-Values. But the e-fuels are comparatively controversial among experts.

"The goal of all efforts should be to achieve climate-neutral mobility, and as quickly as possible and without too great a negative economic impact," says engine professor Stefan Pischinger from RWTH Aachen University.

Cars with no end to combustion: with e-fuels in overtime?

With a lot of know-how, fuel should be produced sustainably in the future
Source: dpa-tmn / Marijan Murat

He is convinced that this can only be achieved through the simultaneous use of all possible technologies: "Without e-fuels, we will not be able to be climate-neutral by 2045 and we will not achieve the intermediate goals", he is convinced.

The remaining stock of burners is a cause for concern

He attributes this to the huge number of burners. "Even if the ten million electric vehicles, which are optimistically targeted by 2030, were registered in Germany, that would be just 22 percent of the vehicles on the road."

If these then actually had "zero emissions", that would correspond to a reduction of 22 percent, the expert calculates. The target value for the end of the decade provides for a minus of 65 percent.

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In addition, even with the aggressive expansion of regenerative power generation in Germany, a considerable part of the energy will still have to be imported and stored in 2045. In the absence of transport options and storage facilities for electrical energy, only hydrogen and e-fuels remained as energy sources.

Pischinger's conclusion is therefore clear: the combustion engine is not an outdated technology that needs to be “saved”. But as a highly developed unit, especially in combination with e-fuels, it still offers high development potential and can thus make a major contribution to reducing CO2- Make emissions.

Other experts are discussing the topic controversially

Automotive economist Ferdinand Dudenhöffer sees it fundamentally differently: "E-fuels are a very expensive thing: inconceivable for cars, in trucks they are likely to be replaced by fuel cells and battery-electric drives," says the professor from the Center Automotive Research in Duisburg.

It is true that he gives these new fuels opportunities for aircraft and shipping. But in the case of the car, he sees them as more of an evasive maneuver with which mineral oil manufacturers, suppliers and vehicle manufacturers wanted to gain more time for conventional drives.

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In addition to the high price, he justifies his pessimism with energy efficiency: If diesel is produced from solar power through several energy-intensive transformations and this is then burned with an efficiency of 40 percent, the overall efficiency is 15 percent.

“That means 85 percent of the energy is lost. It doesn't really get any worse. ”With green hydrogen from solar power and fuel cells, 30 percent of the energy is left over, and with the battery it is almost 80 percent. “That is why green electricity is best placed in a battery-powered car,” argues the professor.

Do the fuels compensate for infrastructure problems?

Andreas Radics from strategy consultant Berylls in Munich takes a position in between: “E-fuels could have been an answer to the question of how regions with almost nonexistent e-infrastructure will be served in the future if more and more manufacturers are abandoning classic combustion technology “Says Radics.

But at the same time he complains that these technologies have found too few supporters in recent years and that the die has long been cast, at least for cars.

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Climate policy in check

"For vehicle manufacturers, the division of the drive range into piston engines, fuel cell technology and e-drives means more costs and additional complexity, two things that they can hardly afford in the current situation." That is why the development of cars is clearly heading towards e-mobility .

Fuel cell technology, on the other hand, appears to be the solution for heavy trucks. And if there was a role for e-fuels, then at best as a niche application, especially if they are produced in regions with excess wind and solar energy, he is convinced: “Synthetic fuels have the potential to delay the end of the combustion engine , they won't stop it. "