Cars powered by e-fuel will emit almost five times as much CO2 as electric vehicles if the EU waters down plans to require them to be carbon neutral, a new analysis finds. All new cars sold in the EU from 2035 must emit zero CO2 emissions at the tailpipe, but the bloc is set to make an exemption for cars running on synthetic fuel. While the EU Commission says only e-fuels that are 100% carbon neutral can qualify for the loophole, the oil industry wants that criteria weakened.
Transport & Environment (T&E) calculated the ‘well-to-wheel’ CO2 emissions of e-fuels — the total emissions required to produce, distribute and use the fuel. The analysis shows that e-petrol cars would emit 61 grams of CO2 equivalent per km in 2035 if lawmakers apply the weaker 70% carbon neutral criteria, which is required by the current EU renewable energy law. This contrasts with electric vehicles, which would only emit 13 gCO2/km when charged with electricity from the average EU grid from 2035. To be fully carbon neutral, e-fuels would need to be made using captured CO2 emissions that balance out the carbon dioxide released when the fuel is burned in an engine.
Alex Keynes, cars policy manager at T&E, said: “The European Commission has said e-fuels need to be carbon neutral to escape the ban on new polluting cars after 2035. For years the e-fuels lobby told us how clean their fuels are, so it is incomprehensible why they could not meet the criteria as proposed. It’s up to EU governments to stand by the Commission’s carbon neutral requirement.”
While synthetic fuels would be carbon neutral under the Commission’s plan, they will still emit air pollutants, notably toxic NO2 and carcinogenic particles, when burned in combustion engines. T&E tests have shown that cars powered by e-fuel emit as much nitrogen oxides (NOx) as fossil fuel engines (around 22 mg/km) and much more carbon monoxide and ammonia, doing nothing to alleviate the air quality problems in our cities.
E-fuels are also expensive to produce, and filling up cars on synthetic petrol will cost drivers far more than running a battery electric vehicle or even a car on fossil petrol. Producing e-fuels is also far less efficient than powering electric vehicles. Supplying just a small proportion of new cars with e-fuels instead of electrifying them would require significantly more renewable electricity generation in Europe.
The Commission has asked member states for feedback on its proposal to allow only 100% carbon neutral e-fuels in new cars after 2035. EU governments are expected to take a final decision on the criteria before the end of the year.
Courtesy of Transport & Environment.
Analysis – E-fuel cars are not zero emission
In September 2023, the European Commission shared a draft text which defined a new category of vehicles running exclusively on synthetic fuels (or e-fuels). The central point of discussion is around the level of greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction that these e-fuels should achieve. Currently, e-fuels only need to meet a 70% GHG emissions reduction threshold compared to fossil fuels, as per the EU’s Renewable Energy Directive methodology (RED).
T&E analysis shows that e-petrol cars would emit 61 gCO2e/km in 2035 under the existing RED e-fuel system. This contrasts with EVs, which would only emit 13 gCO2/km when charged with electricity from the EU average grid in 2035. Under such a system, e-petrol cars would be considered CO2 neutral but would still emit around five times more CO2 emissions than equivalent EV models. Additionally, e-petrol cars emit air pollutants, including toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carcinogenic particles.
In short, for the EU to respect the official agreement and decision of co-legislators, it is not possible to allow e-fuels that do not reach a 100% GHG reduction when used in cars. In particular a 70% reduction would disregard the existing agreement to only allow “vehicles running exclusively on CO2 neutral fuels”.
- E-fuels allowed in cars should comply with a strict framework to certify and ensure RFNBOs deliver 100% CO2 reduction. Such rules should ensure that all of the electricity used in the process (production of the e-fuel and DAC) is 100% generated from additional renewable energy sources. The carbon used must also be from 100% direct air capture (DAC) to prevent any additional CO2 being released into the atmosphere. Any residual emissions from the transport and distribution of the e-fuel should be offset by carbon capture and storage (CCS) – as per the RED RFNBO methodology – to ensure achievement of 100% GHG emissions reduction.
- E-fuel cars should not be designated as zero-emission for the purposes of regulatory compliance given they still emit toxic air pollutants. Otherwise it would undermine efforts to reduce pollution and establish low- and zero-emission zones in European cities.
Courtesy of Transport & Environment.
 T&E’s analysis is based on the following assumptions:
Conventional petrol car: C-segment car sold in 2035 running on conventional petrol emitting 94 gCO2eq/MJ.
E-petrol car: Same car running on e-petrol with 70% CO2 reduction compared to conventional petrol according to the RFNBO methodology of the EU Renewable Energy Directive. The emission reduction from the e-fuel ‘well-to-wheel’ emissions is achieved by carbon capture.
Electric car: C-segment BEV, average carbon intensity of the European grid.
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