Headlines have been suggesting that synthetic fuels like Porsche’s E-Fuel will extend the life of internal combustion engines. That there will be special dispensation for an engine running exclusively on E-Fuels/Synthetic fuels. Namely that engines which run on e-fuels will be allowed to be sold after the ban on conventional petrol engines has passed. (How this is going to be policed ie how ill anyone know what fuel is being used in the waivered cars I don’t know. But for the purpose of this article lets assumed that problem is solved).
Why should e-fuels get an exemption?
Because e-fuels are carbon neutral. The CO2 released by burning e-fuels was originally captured in the manufacturing process of the e-fuel.
The 7 major problems with E-Fuels/Synthetic Fuels
On paper, e-fuels look great, they should allow us to retain the convenience and range of internal combustion engines while being carbon neutral.
However there are 7 huge problems, some might say fundamental flaws with e-fuels.
1.Not designed for environment
E-fuels were created to give us an alternative source of fuel, if the supply of oil was cut off for any reason eg the 70’s oil crisis or losing access to Arabian oil in the second world war. E-Fuels were never intended to be “environmentally friendly”. And probably, the methods would have still be perfected even if they were damaging to the environment.
Which brings us on to the next point.
2.Takes a ton of energy to make
It takes around 27kw/h to make 9 kw/h of e-fuels. The manufacturing process is around 30% efficient. And only around 20% efficient when you take into account energy needed to get it to a petrol pump. Conventional petrol production is around 80% efficient, including transport to the pump.
3.Does not provide national security
Porsche E-Fuel potential manufacturing sites, ignoring South America are generally based around the same places we get oil from now. The energy requirements for e-fuels (and the fact that this energy has to be carbon neutral to give e-fuels any hope of being carbon neutral) means the e-fuel manufacturing sites have to be located in areas where land is plentiful and cheap and where the weather is either extremely sunny for the vast majority of the year. eg deserts.
4.Not capable of replacing oil
The amount of energy that needs to be produced from renewable sources makes the likelihood of e-fuels replacing oil extremely unlikely.
The energy and manufacturing infrastructure required for e-fuels makes the cost so expensive, it would probably lead to the world looking for an alternative fuel instead of e-fuels.
6. Same emissions of conventional fuels
There is no difference in the tailpipe emissions of e-fuels vs conventional fuels. The problem of emissions in highly populated areas is not solved by e-fuels.
7.Better of ways of sequestering CO2
And the biggest issue with e-fuels is that there is a far better, cheaper and more obvious ways of sequestering CO2.
CO2 sequestration in the e-fuel manufacturing process increases the cost of the fuel massively.
On the other hand, CO2 can be sequestered by planting crops. Farming crops which absorb high quantities of CO2 (hemp for example) reduces the cost of fuel because the crop can be sold, you get a tradeable commodity out of the process rather than just putting money in.
In short, companies wanting to create a carbon neutral fuel would be financially better off selling oil based petrol/diesel while simply buying cheap farmland and growing hemp to offset the CO2 emissions of the fuel they sold.
E-Fuels/Synthetic fuels Summary
All of the problems associated with e-fuels come from the fact that the processes were never designed to compete with oil. Oil is the most efficient energy source and the designers of e-fuels knew this. E-fuels were designed to give an alternative source of fuel if the supply of oil was stopped/interrupted.
While oil is available, e-fuel manufacturing seems to be a silly folly. And if creating a carbon neutral fuel is the goal, the CO2 can be sequestered in a profitable way with the use of crops.