Around 47 million cars with petrol or diesel engines are on Germany’s roads today. Even if the federal government achieves its goal of 15 million electric cars by the end of 2030, there will still be a good 30 million combustion engines in purely mathematical terms. This is a hurdle for the climate goals. “We need a solution here,” warned BMW CEO Oliver Zipse on Thursday during a visit by Federal Climate Minister Robert Habeck to BMW’s main plant in Munich. “Whether it’s 100 percent e-fuels or admixtures of e-fuels, that will have to be discussed.” Because in Europe it will be “decades before these vehicles are no longer on the market”.
For a decade now, German petrol stations have been offering E10, petrol with an admixture of up to ten percent ethanol made from grain, sugar beets and other plants. This reduces CO2 emissions because the carbon dioxide released was previously removed from the atmosphere by plants. Biofuel manufacturers are already demanding higher admixtures.
Biogenic fuels are also made from biomass, but from residues such as sewage sludge, organic waste and the like. Crude oil is produced by heating with the exclusion of air and refining. In a refinery, this is turned into fuel that can be used like classic fossil fuel or diesel. The technology is relatively robust, says Robert Daschner, head of the energy technology department at the Fraunhofer Institute in Sulzbach-Rosenberg, Bavaria. With appropriate taxation, he considers the resulting fuel to be competitive – also because the starting materials are waste and cost almost nothing or even pay for their disposal. Of course, that doesn’t cover everything, he says. “But for a number of percent of today’s fuel needs, it could well be enough.”
Siemens Energy sees even more potential for e-fuels: synthetic fuels that are produced from hydrogen and other gases using green electricity. Together with Porsche, the company has built a demonstration plant in southern Chile. With three megawatts of wind energy, it produces 130,000 liters of gasoline and 450,000 liters of methanol per year. A commercial plant with a hundred times the capacity is scheduled to start in 2025. Manager Markus Speith expects systems of the order of 2.5 gigawatts from 2027, which could supply half a million cars with petrol. And in this region alone there is wind energy potential for 10 to 20 such plants with potential for 6 to 12 billion liters of gasoline.
infrastructure is available
Driving a battery car directly with green electricity is much more efficient than first making hydrogen and then synthetic fuel and burning it. A large part of the energy is wasted. But efficiency is not that important, said Speith. 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.
Jürgen Karpinski, President of the Central Association of the German Motor Trade (ZDK), said: “With climate-neutral e-fuels or biofuels, all vehicles with combustion engines in the EU could be powered in a climate-neutral manner, and the existing filling station infrastructure would be available.” That would help to quickly reduce CO2 emissions. But this requires “the same state support for synthetic fuels as for electric cars”.
disagreement in politics
“Anyone who only relies on battery drives will not achieve the climate goals,” says the Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA). The manufacturers are curious to see whether the EU Commission will count e-fuels as well as e-cars positively in future fleet limits. Climate Minister Habeck (Greens) is very skeptical about e-fuels for cars. More wind turbines would have to be built for that. “That’s why I see the use of e-fuels primarily in areas that are difficult to electrify.” Heavy traffic is the focus.
What Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) wants is less clear. A week ago, he told Berlin’s “Tagesspiegel”: “In the foreseeable future, however, we will not have enough e-fuels to operate the cars with combustion engines that are now registered.” He could “only advise switching to CO2-neutral drives.” However, he then expressed himself quite differently in the Bundestag. In order to achieve the climate goals, e-fuels are “an important building block,” said Wissing there, “of course also in the existing car fleets. Any contribution to CO2 reduction is important.”
The transport policy spokesman for the Union faction, Thomas Bareiß, scoffed that no minister had fallen over so quickly. And “this week we hear from your coalition partner in the Transport Committee that it has already been decided that the end of the internal combustion engine is imminent. Yes, what now, Mr. Minister?” (By Christof Rührmair and Roland Losch, dpa/mer)
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