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Tuesday 20 June 2023


EU Boost for eFuel By Ben Purvis

The rhetoric from the European Union over the future of internal combustion engines has started to change - opening the door to a future of eFuel-powered vehicles where previously there's been a single-minded focus on battery-electric vehicles.

Although the EU has yet to legislate on a date for the end of ICE-powered motorcycle sales, there are rules in place that will see all carbon-emitting new cars removed from sale by 2035. Previously, these rules have been interpreted to include a ban on eFuel vehicles, which use so-called 'drop-in' liquid hydrocarbon fuels to replace petrol or diesel. 

These fuels can be created from carbon dioxide harvested from the atmosphere and combined with 'green' hydrogen, so they remove as much greenhouse gas from the atmosphere during their manufacture as they later emit when burnt. The result is that while an eFuel-powered ICE vehicle still emits carbon dioxide, its net impact on global warming is zero.

It's already a route that's interesting the motorcycle industry, with MotoGP due to adopt a 40% eFuel mix next year and shift to 100% eFuel by 2027, with F1 moving to eFuel in 2026. The aviation industry is also a driving force behind the technology: it's not viable to create intercontinental airliners using zero-emissions electric or hydrogen fuel in the immediate future, and the power-to-weight and power-to-volume issues of those technologies are still seemingly insurmountable problems. Meanwhile, eFuel arguably allows a switch to carbon-neutrality without changing the underlying technologies of combustion engines and jets, whether they're for road transport, shipping or aviation.

'the combustion engine could get a stay of execution'

There are still stumbling blocks, of course. Technologies to make large volumes of eFuel are still in the prototype stage, although there's a pilot plant in Chile, created by Porsche and Siemens Energy, that's pumping out 130,000 liters per year and intends to ramp up to 550 million liters per year by the end of the decade. The electrolysis to derive hydrogen from water to create eFuel is relatively energy-intensive, but provided the plants use abundant solar, wave or wind power to achieve it, there's no environmental impact.

Germany's government, a coalition of Greens, Social Democrats and the business-oriented Free Democratic Party, has been pushing for the EU to allow eFuel-powered combustion engines even after the planned 2035 cut-off for carbon-emitting vehicles. The country's automotive industry is a clear reason for such interest, but it's a technology that could prove essential for motorcycling. 

'drop-in liquid hydrocarbon fuels'

Unlike cars, where there's abundant room for batteries and a few hundred kilos of extra weight goes almost unnoticed, motorcycles have no such luxury, and the challenge of building an electric bike that can match current expectations from combustion engine models in terms of performance, range, weight, handling and cost has so far proved impossible to meet.

Finally, eFuels offer the tempting prospect that they could allow not only future vehicles to be environmentally friendly, but also allow existing combustion-engine machines to become carbon-neutral. If the fuels are brewed as exact drop-in replacements for petrol, they could allow the existing fleet to go green without the huge investment - both financial and environmental in terms of raw materials - needed for a wholesale shift to electric vehicles.

Plus, the economic, social and environmental advantages of not having to completely overhaul established infrastructure is an often overlooked but huge additional benefit.