Can e-fuels help make cars CO2-neutral?

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STORY: The European Union has plans to create a new vehicle category – cars that run on carbon neutral e-fuels.

The proposal is part of the EU's effort to resolve a spat with Germany

over moves to phase out combustion engine cars.

The new plan would allow sales of new cars with internal combustion engines after 2035

if they run only on climate neutral e-fuels.

So what exactly are e-fuels?

E-kerosene, e-methane, or e-methanol are all examples of e-fuels.

They are produced using renewable electricity from hydrogen and captured CO2 emissions.

The fuels release CO2 into the atmosphere when used in an engine.

But the idea is that those emissions are equal to the amount taken out of the atmosphere to produce the fuel.

That makes them CO2-neutral overall.

The technology is at an early stage of development

and e-fuels are not yet produced at scale.

Most major carmakers are betting on battery-electric vehicles - a technology that is already widely available.

But suppliers and oil majors defend e-fuels, as well as a number of carmakers who don't want their vehicles weighed down by heavy batteries.

Carmakers such as Piech, Porsche and Mazda are broadly supportive of the technology.

The world's first commercial plant opened in Chile in 2021, backed by Porsche.

And BMW has invested $12.5 million in e-fuel startup Prometheus Fuels, while also investing billions in battery-electric technology.

So can e-fuels truly make our cars green?

Supporters say e-fuels offer a route to cut the CO2 emissions of our existing cars, without the need to replace every car with an electric one.

Critics highlight that manufacturing e-fuels is very expensive and energy-intensive.

And some argue e-fuels should be reserved for hard-to-decarbonize sectors, like shipping and aviation – not cars.

Here is Greenpeace spokesperson Benjamin Stephan.

"We will need e-fuels, but a lot of them in aviation, where we have no alternatives. In cars, this solution is completely inefficient because we need a lot of electricity to produce it. And an electric car would go five times as far on the same amount of electricity."