The fight against climate change is a global task that requires global solutions and one in which every citizen has a stake. The European Union has set itself the goal of climate neutrality by 2050. But effort is needed, especially in road transport, to achieve a sustainable transition. That may seem a daunting task but there is a practical solution: synthetic fuels from renewable energies, so-called eFuels.
Not only can eFuels make an important contribution to achieving this ambitious goal, they can also provide a cornerstone of a modern, carbon-neutral, global energy system that could boost economies around the world.
The transport sector is one of the largest global CO2 emitters. The existing vehicle fleet alone amounted to over 1.4 billion vehicles in 2020, the vast majority of which are powered by combustion engines. A sensible role for eFuels in road transport would allow these vehicles to play their part in climate protection efforts. This is essential, since they will continue to dominate the vehicle fleet for many years to come.
Because synthetic fuels have the same chemical properties as conventional petrol or diesel, they can be blended with fossil fuels and even replace them completely over the medium to long term. As a result, everything powered by an internal combustion engine, including our massive fleet of cars, domestic heating systems and aircraft, could be operated in a climate-neutral way. Better still, a major advantage of eFuels is that they can continue to use the existing infrastructure.
"The sooner policymakers create the necessary framework conditions, the sooner the production of eFuels in the required quantities could begin. If investments in large-scale industrial plants are made now, the first quantities of climate-neutral fuels will be available as early as 2025,"
Ralf Diemer, Managing Director of the eFuel Alliance
eFuels can be easily stored, transported and used worldwide
The EU is a long way from climate-neutral self-sufficiency and will therefore continue to depend on energy imports. Here, again, eFuels provide an answer. They offer the best way to store renewable energy in the form of liquid and gasous synthetic energy carriers, to transport them easily with existing infrastructure (vessels, pipelines, refineries, gas filling stations) and thus to use them worldwide.
Hydrogen and its derivatives are produced most efficiently and cheaply in places where there is an abundance of sun and wind. Whether this means hydropower in Norway, wind turbines in Chile or solar panels in the Sahara, there are many ideal locations around the world. In Freiburg, for example, one of the sunniest places in Germany, the sun shines for an average of 1700 hours a year, whereas it shines for 4300 hours in the Sahara.
A wind turbine in Chile has around four times more full load hours than a comparable one in Germany (source PtX Alliance). This compensates for most of the efficiency losses of the eFuel production. To win the fight against climate change we have to think beyond Europe’s borders. An area of 800 times 800 km in North Africa would be sufficient to satisfy the global primary energy demand.
Green energy production creates jobs worldwide
Investment in green hydrogen production and eFuels would not only pay off for the consumer countries, but would also boost the economy and create jobs in the producer countries. For example, the production of ten percent eFuels for the EU market alone could, as recent studies show, create up to 278,700 jobs in the countries of origin, not only in Africa and the Middle East, but also in swathes of Central and South America, Asia and Australia. Economically weaker countries would benefit just as much as those that are heavily dependent on energy imports.
The European Green Deal is a unique opportunity to set the right framework
Under the European Green Deal, all key legislation is now being overhauled in Brussels to ensure that the European Union achieves its climate goals. This is a unique opportunity for Europe to set out on an ambitious path that will make eFuels, alongside other CO2-reducing technologies, a central building block of a credible climate protection policy.
Europe requires more ambitious targets for the use of renewables, higher quotas for sustainable fuels in aviation and shipping, and a cross-sectoral introduction of eFuels, including in road transport. It needs investment incentives, lower prices, and a fair energy tax based on the carbon footprint of the different energy sources. And it also needs to embrace the potential of eFuels to secure a practical transition that develops economies, supports consumers and protects our precious climate.