E-fuels are liquid fuels synthetically produced from hydrogen and carbon dioxide. They are produced using renewable energy. The carbon dioxide can either be captured from the air directly or it can be taken from biogenic waste as well as industrial processes. Thus no additional carbon dioxide is emitted while using an e-fuel in an internal combustion engine. The emission equals the exact amount of carbon dioxide that has been chemically bound in the synthetic fuel before.
Explained in simplified form e-fuels are made from water and carbon dioxide. In a chemical process the molecules that also make up fossil fuels are synthetically reproduced.
There are different production processes to make an e-fuel. This first of all requires hydrogen (more precise Hydrogen derivates) which is gained through electrolysis from water. In order to produce green hydrogen only renewable sources of energy (such as wind or solar energy) are used in this process. A common method to produce e-fuels is called the Fischer-Tropsch-synthesis. In this process hydrogen is chemically connected to carbon (gained from carbon dioxide) and synthesized to a liquid fuel. Besides that there is another method called methanation. There are different ways to produce either synthetic diesel, jet fuel or petrol components. The illustration shows that in a schematic way:
E-fuels are practical since they are almost identical to conventional fossil fuel from a chemical perspective, they are easy to transport, easy to store and they can be filled up and used in any internal combustion engine. Due to their high energy density they allow a similar and in some cases even a higher range compared to fossil fuel.
Another advantage is that they can be blended with conventional fossil fuels easily. This is an important aspect when it comes to the market ramp-up with a limited availability at beginning. By blending in a carbon neutral e-.fuel into the conventional fuels a big part of emissions can be prevented right from the start. In that case the complete transport infrastructure can continue to be used unchanged.
The power required to produce e-fuels has to come from regenerative sources such as wind, solar or water energy. In order to get a carbon neutral e-fuel fossil sources of energy such as coal dan’t be used. If produced carbon neutral an e-fuel is a real circular economy since there is no additional emission of carbon dioxide.
E-fuels are climate neutral but they still emit carbon dioxide which is a natural component of our air and atmosphere. The difference to conventional fossil fuel is that no additional carbion dioxide is emitted while operating an internal combustion engine with e-fuels. The amount emitted equals the amount of carbon chemically bounded in the synthetic production process of the e-fuel.
At first sight e-fuels have a low efficiency in a tank-to-wheel consideration. But if you take a look at the complete triangle of sustainability e-fuels have a significant advantage in comparison to other technologies and forms of mobility (on an ecological-socio-economical scale). Current researches have shown that in addition the pollution with other emissions such as particulate matter or nitrogen is reduced compared to conventional fossil fuels.
E-fuels are not produced yet in an industrial scale since the political and legal framework is yet to be formed in order to create an attractive environment for larger investments of the industry.
E-fuels have the potential to become a substantial element of a sustainably power supply. An argument for this above all is that the existing infrastructure of cars, trucks, airplanes and ships as well as the complete network of gas stations and tank farms can be used unchanged. Besides that liquid sources of energy still present the easiest way to store energy over a long period of time or to transport energy over long distances. In the aviation or shipping industry e-fuels are almost unrivaled since all electrical alternatives are technically and physically limited. Experts agree that our current goals in climate protection can only be achieved with a sustainable mix of energy sources – that’s why we need e-fuels.
The industry is ready and several smaller production plants are already booting up. If the market ramp-up is successful the first products will eventually be available this year but for sure during 2023. Of course eFUEL-TODAY will be your trusted source of informations on the latest developments in die field and if e-fuels are available somewhere we will be one of the first to tell.
The term “e-fuels” describes a category of synthetic fuels derived from renewable sources (reFuels), which are produced through electrolysis of hydrogen. The process of hydrogen electrolysis is highly energy-intensive, and the fuel costs are therefore strongly dependent on two cost factors:
- The cost of “green” electricity
- The availability of production facilities and the corresponding “green” electric energy used
The second point reduces the required investment and associated follow-up costs based on utilization. The costs of electricity decrease dramatically in sun- and wind-rich regions compared to costs in Germany. Solar installations in Saudi Arabia reached values of 1.04 cents/kWh years ago and have since been further developed, while electricity from wind turbines in the highlands of Chile, with over 7,000 full-load hours and constant wind direction, still costs between 1 and 2 cents/kWh.
Considering these factors and ongoing advancements, fuel costs in the range of current fossil fuels are not unrealistic, even though they may currently be higher due to the costs associated with pilot plants.
Source: KIT (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) / IFKM
In Germany as well as worldwide a lot of investment projects do already exist. One of them will already deliver synthetic diesel by the end or 2022. The car manufacturer Porsche has announced together with technological leader Siemens that their shared pilot plant in Chile will deliver 550 million liters of e-fuel in 2026. A lot of sunny and windy regions of the world are currently evaluating their possibilities to produce green hydrogen in order to leave fossil sources of energy. In this context e-fuels are considered more frequently. Recent studies have shown that in an international comparison Germany does not play a leading role when it comes to the production infrastructure of green hydrogen as well as the follow-up products such as e-fuels. Even though the national efforts differ widely depending on the geographical conditions it shows that especially China, Australia and Japan are pushing along the development in this field.
E-fuels are produced synthetically and they are tailor-made to the specific area of application. Producers of e-fuel describe these new generation of fuels as a crude oil substitute which is processed as usual in the refinery process and blended with additives afterwards to be used in all diesel or petrol engines. Thus there is no limitation when it comes to the use in already existing vehicles.
Commercially a petrol fuel with a 10% admixture of bio-ethanol is labeled with the title “E10“. Similar to that modern diesel fuels have a biological component of 7% as well according to the DIN-Norm. Already the biological component in both types of fuel is making a measurable contribution to protect the climate. This arrises the legit question if e-fuels resemble bio-fuels and if a pure e-fuel could thus be labeled something like “E100“.
Just like conventional fuels e-fuels have to meet up to the DIN-standards as well in order to be used safely by the consumers. E-fuels are synthetically produced substitutes for fossil fuels and they are not the same as bio-fuels. E-fuels can be blended with conventional fuel without any problems and they can be used in any combustion engine. On a chemical level there is a big difference between bio-fuels and e-fuels which is why the term “E100“ would be incorrect. A broad debate around the compatibility of e-fuels with the current generation of internal combustion engines like the E10-debate back in the days is out of question since e-fuels are a completely accurate substitute for fossil fuels.
No, they are as safe and easy to use as fossil fuels. E-fuels have to meet up the same environmental, health or technical standards like the current generation of fossil fuels.
E-fuels can be used in all the same applications just like conventional fossil fuels. This includes all the different applications of petrol and diesel as well as their precursors in the chemical industry. Compared to fossil fuels e-fuels have a very similar chemical structure and characteristics.
In our opinion there is no such thing as the one “best solution“. In order to achieve our climate goals it is important to exhaust all possibilities. This makes it inevitable to include the existing fleet of cars, trucks, utility vehicles, ships and airplanes into contributing to protect the climate as well and the only way to do that is to work on the fuel that the existing fleet is using. We can not wait until the complete fleet of vehicles has changed towards electric mobility. On the way we have to start to save emissions everywhere. Besides that there are several different requirements with the need for a variety of drive types. Not all terrains can be mastered in an EV.
The current political support concentrates almost exclusively on electric mobility. It’s obvious that battery electric mobility has several benefits as well but when the sustainability of the complete economical system is at stake solutions for all requirements and areas of mobility have to be found. There are severe limitations of renewable energy in most countries and mobility has to be provided regardless if the wind blows or the sun is shining. One significant factor to implement a new technology is the acceptance by the people. The ongoing debate in Germany around the building of new wind energy plants shows just that.
Looking at the efficiency of a drive type in most cases only the direct efficiency of “tank-to-wheel“ is considered. An analysis of efficiency by Frontier Economics which was not limited on the basic premises of “energy as a scarce resource“ and “energy self-sufficiency“ shows that e-fuels are efficient nonetheless.
In a complete life-cycle consideration all the three aspects of sustainability (economical – ecological and social sustainability) have to be covered. This includes everything from the production of a resource over the use of the resource and necessary assets up to the disposal. The current political discussion lacks such an open-ended consideration.
E-Fuels? Yes, please! Sticking for climate protection!
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