December 6. 2023. 6:53

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New EU proposal will not save the combustion car, says e-fuels lobby

The European Commission’s draft proposal for a new category of cars running exclusively on e-fuels will de facto stop combustion engine cars from being sold after 2035 as the technical requirements cannot realistically be met, the head of the eFuel Alliance told Euractiv in an interview.

Ralf Diemer is CEO of the eFuel Alliance, a lobby group promoting the uptake of synthetic fuels, and a director at consultancy von Beust & Coll. Dr Tobias Block is the eFuel Alliance’s head of strategy and a senior consultant at von Beust & Coll. They both previously worked for the German Car Industry Association VDA.

Interview highlights

  • Requirements for e-fuels to be 100% climate neutral include emissions that arise during the transport of the fuel, which so far cannot be entirely reduced to zero.
  • Mandating emissions reductions of 100% would therefore make it impossible for new combustion engine cars to be registered after 2035, according to the eFuel Alliance.
  • DG CLIMA opposed the use of e-fuels from the outset and is now trying to propose something to make the use of e-fuelled cars technically impossible, industry representatives suspect.


We have seen a draft proposal by the European Commission for a new category of vehicles running exclusively on synthetic fuels, which obliges e-fuels for new combustion engine cars to be CO2 neutral as of 2035. You previously said this was not possible to meet. Why?

Block: First of all, e-fuels are climate neutral if used in a vehicle because the same amount of CO2 that is bound in the fuel is later emitted during combustion. It’s a chemical process where you need the same amount of CO2, and it’s not going anywhere else – CO2 in, the same amount of CO2 out.

The problem with the proposal is that it requires -100% emissions, according to the RED [Renewable Energy Directive] calculations. And the RED calculation does not just consider the use phase, it considers all emissions along the value chain. So you have to include the transportation of the fuel, all peripheral devices like a fuel pump at the gas filling stations or a compressor or anything else. For that reason, technically speaking, 100% is not possible as long as other emissions, which we cannot control, are included.

Improvements are possible. You can go to -90%, to -95%. But if the Commission just wants to use fuels or other drive options which have -100% according to the RED calculation, then practically nobody can use it because such a fuel or drive technology does not exist and won’t exist in 2035 – not even electric mobility.

E-fuels for new combustion cars must be 100% climate neutral: EU Commission draft

E-fuels must be climate-neutral for new vehicles with combustion engines to be sold after 2035, according to a new draft regulation – which resolves an internal dispute within the EU Commission – seen by Euractiv.

Is there a date for which you can say: At this point, the trucks and ships to transport the fuels and also the pump stations, everything can be emission-free?

Block: In the future, of course. This is something we are working on. But you still have the construction of the plant, the cement you use, the steel and the mining even if you build a windmill – and keep in mind: we need wind turbines not only to produce e-fuels.

So in a life-cycle approach, it’s basically impossible to reach -100%, for any technology. Even an electric car can be zero emission in the use phase, but if you include the production of the battery, the mining, the transport, and the electricity source, it’s also not -100%.

Diemer: That’s why all the calculations discussing the overall 2050 goal [of climate neutrality] are always also including negative CO2 emissions [such as through storing carbon underground or in natural carbon sinks]. Because you will have some areas where, at least from today’s perspective, it will be very difficult to eliminate all CO2 emissions.

You said it’s essentially impossible to reach 100% emissions reductions. But the Commission’s Directorate General for climate protection (DG CLIMA) said they want 100% emissions reductions. If this goes ahead, what does that mean in practice?

Diemer: This means that this proposal can never be implemented, cannot be fulfilled. Therefore, there will be no incentive for car manufactures to stay on with combustion engine cars after 2035. Because the e-fuels you would need, with emissions reductions of -100%, are not available.

DG CLIMA is moving away from the actual agreement in the Renewable Energy Directive. Even in the Renewable Energy Directive, all fuels that reduce at least 70% of emissions are considered applicable.

So why 100%? What’s the basis for that? Obviously, there is no impact assessment. Why not 98%? Why not 85%? For me, it’s very clear: DG CLIMA never wanted this, and now they are looking for a proposal which gives them the same result.

Block: And it still needs to be approved by the Technical Committee on Motor Vehicles. So it could even be possible that the member states’ experts could decline such a proposal because they are saying it’s technically not possible or – what we hear from other member states as well – because they want to include sustainable biofuels.

So it could be possible that something is proposed that will not get a majority. And then the Commission can say it has been rejected.

Diemer: Which is also in the interest at least of DG CLIMA, because then you still don’t have a solution. In all the years I have been in business, I cannot recall that restricting a technology, artificially dividing the market, prohibiting the use of technologies in advance for specific sectoral applications, has ever positively led to a market ramp-up. DG CLIMA and the Commission are actively limiting the production potential for other transport sectors.

For the German government, having the exception for e-fuels included was important. They only supported the CO2 standards after they got assurance that this was included. If it is indeed the case that DG CLIMA is essentially trying to stop this from happening, wouldn’t the German government have an issue with this?

Diemer: They always have internal debates about this issue, especially with the Greens, because they would go for this proposal if they could decide by themselves. So it’s basically a fight on two fronts. They have to fight that in Europe, and at the same time they have to find common ground in their government.

E-fuels won’t be CO2 neutral by 2035, says German transport minister

The registration of new cars with internal combustion engines running on e-fuels should be allowed after 2035, even if the fuels are not 100% climate neutral, German transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP/Renew Europe) said at an e-fuels conference on Monday (4 September).

Your organisation is also fighting for more flexibility regarding the CO2 used to produce e-fuels, arguing that it should be possible to use CO2 not only from the atmosphere, using Direct Air Capture, but also from industrial sources (flue gas). Is this also something that makes you question the 100% target?

Block: No, that’s a different issue. With the RED delegated act, the Commission said that industrial point sources are only allowed to be used until 2041. But the advantage here is that you have a higher concentration of CO2 in the flue gas. It is much easier to get the CO2 from such a flue gas in comparison to the air, where you just have a CO2 concentration of 0.04%. So you need much more energy to use Direct Air Capture.

Of course, we don’t plan to use industrial point sources which are avoidable. However, there are still industrial point sources like cement production or pulp and paper where it is not possible to avoid CO2 emissions at the moment. Here in particular, CO2 capture and downstream use for e-fuel production are quite feasible as an interim solution.

Diemer: The question is, do we need to make this decision now? Because right now we have a lot of point sources. And it’s very clear that also in the energy field, if you look at it globally, it will take quite a while to eliminate all CO2 emissions. So I think it’s very clear that we will need these CCS and CCU technologies [Carbon Capture and Storage/Utilisation] anyway.

From a climate perspective as well as from an economic perspective, it is not the best solution if you say point sources are not allowed and at the same time you install a direct air capturing facility next to a point source, which is of course much more expensive.

We think we should allow using point sources right now to ramp up e-fuels production. And then there must be a plan for how to switch technologies over time, of course, because at the end of the day, most of the point sources have to be eliminated.

Will the promise of CO2-neutral e-fuels hold?

German transport minister Volker Wissing argued that e-fuels should be permitted as a climate neutral alternative to electric mobility for road transport. But whether e-fuels are truly climate neutral is a matter of controversy.

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