According to a new study by Bosch, the use of e-fuels—synthetic fuels based on renewable energy—in Europe by 2050 as a scheduled supplement to electrification could save up to 2.8 gigatons of CO2: three times Germany’s carbon-dioxide emissions in 2016.
The calculation is based on an assumed e-fuels blend of 1% in 2025, 10% in 2030, 40% in 2040 and completely replacing the fossil fuel share by 2050.
|Top: Threefold pathway to a de-fossilized powertrain. Bottom: Fuel pathways. Source: Bosch. Click to enlarge.|
If the climate targets set by the Paris conference are to be achieved, CO2 emissions from traffic worldwide will have to be reduced 50% over the next four decades, and by at least 85% in the advanced economies, Bosch notes.
Achieving our future climate targets calls for other intelligent solutions apart from electromobility.—Dr. Volkmar Denner, chairman of the board of management of Robert Bosch GmbH
Even if all cars were to drive electrically one day, aircraft, ships, and even trucks will still run mainly on fuel. Carbon-neutral combustion engines that run on synthetic fuels are thus a very promising path to explore—including for passenger cars. In addition, synthetic fuels can be designed to burn practically soot-free. In this way, the cost of exhaust-gas treatment can be reduced, Bosch adds.
A further advantage is that the existing filling-station network can continue to be used. The same applies to the existing combustion-engine expertise. Moreover, even though electric cars will become significantly less expensive in the years ahead, the development of these fuels may be worthwhile. Bosch has calculated that, up to a lifetime mileage of 160,000 kilometers, the total cost of ownership of a hybrid running on synthetic fuel could be less than that of a long-range electric car, depending on the type of renewable energy used.
It is already possible to manufacture synthetic fuels; Audi’s e-fuels initiative provides an example. (Earlier post.) If the electricity used is generated from renewables (and thus CO2-free), such fuels are carbon-neutral and very versatile. The hydrogen that is initially produced can be used to power fuel cells, while the fuels created following further processing can be used to run combustion engines or aircraft turbines. Pilot projects to commercialize synthetic diesel, gasoline, and gas are currently underway in Norway and Germany.
In addition, because synthetic fuels are compatible with the existing infrastructure and engine generation, achieving a high degree of market penetration would take far less time than electrifying the existing vehicle fleet. Nor will anything change for the drivers of older vehicles, as even classic cars will still run on synthetic gasoline.
At the moment, producing synthetic fuels is expensive. However, a production ramp-up and favorable electricity prices could mean that synthetic fuels become significantly cheaper. Present studies suggest that the fuel itself (excluding any excise duties) could cost between €1.00 and €1.40/liter (US$4.47 to $6.25/gallon US) in the long run.
Ulrich Schulmeister, Steffen Eppler (2017) “Roadmap zum defossilisierten Antrieb” VDA – Technischer Kongress 2017