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  • Writer's pictureSylvain Tornare

Will Synthetic Fuel Save The Combustion Engine?

Although electric power has emerged as the solution chosen by European governments for the future of automobiles, attractive alternatives are coming onto the market. Synthetic fuels, also known as E-Fuels, are one of them and could save combustion engines after the 2035 deadline...

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The marketing of cars with combustion engines will be banned from 2035 in Europe. However, many manufacturers have invested in the development of synthetic fuels that should allow combustion engines to be used without emitting CO2. But is this a good solution?


What are synthetic fuels?

Synthetic fuels are not a new concept. However, the complexity and high costs of production have prevented their commercialisation. Synthetic fuels are produced from hydrocarbon molecules. These are obtained by separating atoms of hydrogen from those of oxygen in water molecules through electrolysis. The hydrogen is then mixed with CO2, creating methanol, and thus the desired fuel.



Is it sustainable?

CO2

The process described above requires a lot of electricity. The ecological impact depends mainly on the origin of the electricity used. The greener the production, the greener the fuel.

Synthetic fuels are more environmentally friendly than traditional fuels because they emit less CO2. When an engine burns unleaded or diesel, it emits various gases, including CO2. Synthetic gasoline producers use CO2 from the air to create their fuel. Once the synthetic petrol is burnt by the engine, the amount of CO2 released into the air is approximately the same as that captured during production. Overall, the savings are expected to be between 40% and 90% according to the latest studies.


Compatibility

The most ecological vehicle is the one that already exists. Indeed, the production of a car is a very polluting process. It is therefore greener to keep using an existing car than to replace it with a new one. From this point of view, synthetic fuels have a huge potential, as they work with existing engines. It is not necessary to replace the entire fleet with new vehicles. Moreover, there is no need to build new infrastructure, as the existing petrol stations are perfectly adequate.



Is it the future?

Car market

Synthetic fuels could lead to a revision of the European government's strategy and become an alternative to the electric car.

However, we will have to wait a little longer to see these fuels available at the pump, as their costs are still too high. Production costs are expected to fall to €1 per litre by 2030. Currently, a litre of unleaded costs about 65 cents to produce.


Motorsport

In addition to the public car market, synthetic fuels are also used to make motorsports more environmentally friendly. In addition, the sport serves as a test platform for the development of these fuels. The World Rally Championship (WRC) has been using them since the 2022 season. The same transition should be made in Formula 1 around 2025.



Conclusion

Synthetic fuels give car enthusiasts hope that the production of combustion engines will continue beyond 2035. Overall, their environmental footprint is better than that of current fuels, but it depends highly on the origin of the electricity used. The overall ecological footprint appears comparable to that of electric cars but without the need to renew the car fleet. For the time being, these fuels are reserved for motorsports because of their high cost, but they could become available at the pump within a few years.



 

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