Research undermines jobs and e-petrol claims of the fossil industry in its bid to save engines

January 31, 2022

Lab results and employment analysis blow another hole in the well-funded campaign, which is aimed at lawmakers deciding on new EU car CO2 targets.

A concerted campaign by lobbyists to save the combustion engine and delay the switch to electric vehicles was dealt a blow last month when tests revealed the pollution of their supposedly green technological solution. In lab tests, synthetic petrol, or e-petrol, was found to emit as much toxic NOx emissions as cars powered by petrol.

E-petrol and e-diesel are being marketed heavily to EU lawmakers by the fossil fuel industry and car parts suppliers as a way to prolong the life of the internal combustion engine beyond zero-emissions targets. Chemically similar to petrol and diesel and costly to produce, e-fuels reduce but do not eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions of cars. And now tests by research organisation IFP Energies Nouvelles for T&E confirm that using e-petrol in cars will do little to alleviate the air quality problems in our cities.

A car running on e-petrol emits equally high levels of toxic NOx as standard E10 EU petrol and much more carbon monoxide and ammonia, according to the lab tests. While particle emissions are considerably reduced in the switch, more than two billion particles are still emitted for every kilometer driven in an e-petrol powered vehicle. The laboratory tests compared emissions from a car using fossil petrol and three different blends of e-petrol.

When burned, synthetic petrol also causes almost three times more carbon monoxide – which deprives the heart and brain of oxygen – compared to petrol. The e-petrol powered car also emitted up to two times more ammonia, which can combine with other compounds in the air to form particles (PM2.5) for which there is no safe level of pollution. The health risks of PM2.5 include asthma, heart disease and cancer.

Lobbying campaign

The lab results blow another hole in the well-funded campaign to save the combustion engine, which is aimed at lawmakers deciding on new EU car CO2 targets. Last autumn the various groups spent more than €100,000, based on conservative estimates, targeting Brussels policymakers through ads in newsletters and on social media. 

The lobbyists represent elements of the engine supplier sector, including Bosch and Siemens, which are diversifying their businesses to supply electric vehicle parts too but wish to profit off polluting engine technology for as long as possible. 

The other major player in the alliance is Big Oil, which hopes that extending the life of the combustion engine will keep open a vital market for petrol and diesel, possibly by blending them with e-fuels. Biofuels companies are also supporting the push for e-petrol in cars as they want legislators to treat their products as ‘low-carbon’ fuels too.

Claims debunked

However, their calls for a crediting mechanism for e-fuels ran up against evidence that it would actually be the most costly compliance route for carmakers to meet EU CO2 targets. Manufacturers would need to pay around €10,000 in fuel credits for the amount of synthetic petrol needed to compensate for the emissions of an efficient petrol car placed on the market in 2030, T&E analysis shows.

Engine suppliers also promoted a study on the switch to EVs which cherrypicked data to produce the gloomiest jobs outlook possible. The findings were based on several questionable assumptions and were in sharp contrast to two earlier reports by the Boston Consulting Group. The industry report downplays the EV value chain, which BCG found would create 581,000 new EU jobs by 2030 including in roles related to charging infrastructure and related services. The study also forgets about the role new components – beyond the powertrain – will play in job creation and the pessimistic analysis is not even based on a full EV transition. 

The industry also ignores the battery revolution, saying the timing and likelihood of a deep battery supply chain in Europe is “still uncertain”. This glosses over the fact that 38 gigafactories are planned in the EU and the UK, most of which have already secured full or partial funding. The industry also claims that Central and Eastern Europe will lose out on EV production when, in fact, Slovenia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic are expected to have the highest level of BEV production per capita: 50-80 BEVs produced per person in 2030.

Perhaps most egregiously, the engine suppliers’ alternative solution – its ‘mixed technology scenario’ in the study – is not even Green Deal compliant. Their supposedly superior path assumes only a 65% CO2 reduction from new cars by 2035.

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