E-fuels, which are chemically similar to petrol and diesel, have been touted 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. Now EU lawmakers are coming under pressure to provide a loophole for synthetic fuels in car CO2 standards.

€10,000 Extra cost of running a car on e-fuels over five years compared to a battery electric car

26% Supplying just 10% of new cars with e-fuels instead of electrifying them will require 26% more renewable electricity generation in Europe

So, why is the fossil fuel industry promoting e-fuels for vehicles?

Some engine-makers and oil companies want a loophole for e-fuels so they can go on selling combustion engines and hold on to a big market for oil.

A fuel for the wealthy

The proponents of e-fuels for cars are advocating for exemptions for e-fuels to be added into the car CO2 standards. Our analysis shows why this is not credible from an economic point of view.

Taking the total cost of ownership into account, running a car on e-fuels over five years will cost a driver €10,000 more than running a battery electric car. High e-fuel costs will also make running second-hand cars on e-petrol around €10,000 more expensive over the same timeframe.

Jeopardise industry competitiveness

E-fuels would also be the most costly CO2 compliance route for carmakers. It would cost vehicle manufacturers around €10,000 for the amount of synthetic petrol needed to compensate for the emissions of an efficient petrol car placed on the market in 2030. Burdening the European automotive industry with e-fuels solutions instead of electric cars would jeopardise its competitiveness and divert large investments away from the transition to e-mobility. Learn more about the true cost of e-fuels for cars.

Too inefficient for cars

Producing e-fuels is also far less efficient than powering electric vehicles. Supplying just 10% of new cars with e-fuels instead of electrifying them will require 26% more renewable electricity generation in Europe, an independent study shows. Synthetic fuels should instead be prioritised for planes and ships, most of which cannot use batteries to decarbonise and which today burn fossil fuels that may be even worse for air pollution. Find out more about why e-fuels would be wasted on cars.

Running cars on e-fuels will not alleviate air pollution

Cars powered by synthetic fuel emit as much poisonous nitrogen oxides (NOx) as fossil fuel engines, independent emissions testing shows. In a laboratory, research organisation IFP Energies Nouvelles compared for T&E the emissions from a car using petrol and three different blends of e-petrol. The car running on e-petrol emits equally high levels of toxic NOx as standard E10 petrol and much more carbon monoxide and ammonia.

While particle emissions are considerably reduced in the switch, more than two billion particles are still emitted for every kilometrer driven in an e-petrol powered vehicle. When burned, synthetic petrol causes almost three times more carbon monoxide – which deprives the heart and brain of oxygen – compared to petrol.

The tests confirm that using e-fuels in cars will do little to alleviate the air quality problems in our cities. Read more about the emissions testing

How to prevent e-fuels undermining the car CO₂ standards

Although using synthetic fuels in cars remains a bad idea, if an exemption were to be allowed, only cars running exclusively on 100% CO2 neutral e-fuel should be included.

When burnt in petrol or diesel cars, synthetic fuels release similar amounts of CO₂ (and air pollution) as fossil fuel. It is only by reducing GHG in their production that can make them climate neutral. This means that the hydrogen used to produce these e-fuels must come from 100% additional renewable electricity sources, while the carbon molecules necessary to turn the hydrogen into the fuel should be captured from air (Direct Air Capture – DAC).

T&E has set out in a position paper what the EU Commission must do to ensure any rules are watertight and prevent e-fuels from undermining the EU car CO₂ law.