efuels, sustainability and sports cars – manufacturers weigh in on the issues

As sustainability really comes into focus, eFuels are primed to be a big part of the solution

Synthetic fuels, or eFuels, are quickly gaining momentum in the discussion about reducing the motoring industry’s carbon footprint. It’s a conversation that’s been going on for decades now, but with the recent push into electrification the depth and complexity of the issue is coming to the fore, and many see synthetic fuels as part of a wider solution.

Widespread electrification might be the obvious answer for many. Indeed, it’s one that both manufacturers and particularly governments are pushing, but running cars on electricity doesn’t entirely solve the root problem of how to reduce emissions.

Synthetic fuels explained: is there such a thing as carbon neutral petrol?

This is where synthetic fuels come in. While the fundamental chemistry is the same – combustion engines will always produce CO2 in the combustion cycle – synthetic fuels are often created through some level of carbon capture, offsetting the emissions produced when they’re burned in the combustion process.

There’s also the matter of the impact that building cars has in the first place. Few manufacturers have been clear about how different types of cars, whether they be electric, hybrid or pure combustion, impact the environment across manufacturing. Companies such as Polestar have begun to recognise the wider importance of this aspect, and are now taking steps to be more transparent and accountable.

eFuels: the manufacturers weigh in

Porsche’s vice president of Motorsport and GT cars, Dr Frank Walliser, believes internal combustion engines using synthetic fuel, or eFuel, will make internal combustion cars as clean as an electric alternative. Speaking at the launch of the new 911 GT3, Walliser explained that Porsche’s development of synthetic fuels is on course to start trials in 2022 and that this fuel could be used in all of Porsche’s current internal combustion engines without any requirements to modify them, including that used in the all-new 992-generation GT3.

‘Synthetic fuels are very important to allow us to reduce our CO2 output. Emissions are way better than those of current pump fuel, with less particulates and less NOx produced – synthetic fuels have between eight to ten components whereas petrol today has 30-40 and not all of them are welcome,’ Walliser explained.

‘Synthetic fuel is cleaner and there is no by-product, and when we start full production we expect a CO2 reduction of 85 per cent. From a “well to wheel” perspective, and you have to consider the well to wheel impact of all vehicles, this will be the same level of CO2 produced in the manufacture and use of an electric vehicle.’

> New 992 Porsche 911 GT3 revealed – a McLaren 600LT killer

Ferrari is also working on synthetic fuels with its fuel partner Shell, with Chief Technology Officer Michael Leiters explaining at the launch of the 812 Competizione, 'We are working with our partners on synthetic and bio fuels, but for now this is all we can as we are already at an advanced stage with this project.'

Andy Palmer, ex-Aston Martin chief executive, has also weighed in on the issue, stating: ‘On the face of it, synthetic fuels seem to be the obvious choice for aviation and in sports cars, where weight is an important factor in determining performance. Drones, planes and sports cars can’t afford to carry the weight of a battery [typically circa 400-500kg in a midsized car]. The big upside is that synthetics are compatible with internal combustion engines. The big downside is that synthesising eFuels is very expensive.’

Audi has also been working with its own partners on eFuels since 2009, and performance car OEMs such as McLaren and Aston Martin have also signalled their support of the technology. BMW M’s head of development, Dirk Hacker, also thinks eFuels are a viable option. Speaking ahead of the launch of the new M4, he told evo: ‘We are looking at eFuel because I think it could be something offered by the petrol industry in the future. eFuel is an additional feature for the challenges we have in the future.’

Bentley has also confirmed its position on eFuels. Speaking at the launch of the Continental GT Speed, Matthias Rabe, board member of engineering, confirmed that it is working alongside Porsche and Audi in the development of synthetic fuels. ‘Some transport solutions will always require a liquid fuel on a small scale and if we need to provide a solution for eFuels, we will.’

Bentley’s CEO, Adrian Hallmark, added: ‘It takes between 20 and 30 years to take a car off the road once it has been built and sold. So if you look at the new petrol-engined cars that will be sold later in this decade, these will be on the road for another two or three decades. The benefit of synthetic fuels is it can be blended with existing fuels or you can use pure eFuels if required when the time comes.’

What about the big auto suppliers?

It’s industry suppliers such as Bosch that have been the most vocal advocates of the new technology, citing that even with the stringent targets being placed on manufacturers now, a majority of cars on the road in 2030 will still be powered by fossil fuels. Development of cleaner alternatives, such as eFuels, will have its own part to play in order to solve at least part of the problem.

While the development of synthetic fuels remains in its infancy and the production process requires large-scale investment for what is considered a small volume (Porsche expects to have 130,000 litres ready by 2022), manufacturers and suppliers haven’t given up on the internal combustion engine just yet and are continuing to invest in eFuels.

As well as allowing today’s internal combustion-engined cars to significantly reduce their emissions and to offer a sustainable alternative for motorsport (currently Porsche only plans to use its synthetic fuel for its motorsport programmes and at its driving experience centres), synthetic fuels would allow older cars to remain on the road without the need for any modifications to their engines while still benefiting from the same reduction in tailpipe emissions.

With governments around the world already announcing plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel-engined cars by the end of the decade, you could argue the development of synthetic fuels is a fruitless task. But the industry is wise to every government’s willingness to make the boldest of U-turns on a whim, and also bright enough to understand that electric vehicles will never be the answer to every mobility need.

How sustainable are electric vehicles across their life cycle?

When tackling the issue of sustainability, to only consider how we fuel cars is ignoring half of the problem, as it’s the reduction of carbon emissions at all levels that is the objective. The reality is that your clean, new car has already produced a few tons of CO2 in the manufacturing process, something that’s especially true of electric cars and their resource-heavy batteries.

While car manufacturers are generally very efficient at building cars in terms of energy use at an assembly level, the raw materials being dug up, refined and manufactured into parts aren’t generally taken into account, leaving a blind spot in the understanding of exactly how much of an impact new cars have before they even reach the dealership.

One manufacturer that has taken steps to make this part of its sustainability claims more transparent is Polestar. It was the first major car maker to reveal a total carbon footprint for one of its cars, the all-electric Polestar 2, which is rated at 26 tons of CO2e* ‘cradle to gate’ – that’s from raw material to customer handover.

This is considerably higher in comparison to one of its equivalently sized combustion models, such as the Volvo XC40 SUV, revealing data that suggests it would take 31,000 miles of driving for the Polestar 2 to break even with an I.C model, and that’s when recharged with what Polestar broadly states as ‘green energy’. This is not a critique of Polestar as such – it is to be commended for this new level of accountability – but the reality of electric cars today.

In an effort to approach the problem Polestar has announced that by the year 2030 it is aiming to deliver its first completely carbon-neutral car from cradle to gate. While this is obviously not going to be a practical reality of mass manufacturing cars in the next decade, it is at least a beginning point to understand how to think about sustainability in a wider sense rather than the narrative which is currently being pushed by both manufacturers and governments.

* ‘Carbon dioxide equivalent’ or ‘CO2e’ is a term for describing different greenhouse gases (GHG) in a common unit.

Recommended

Hydrogen cars – how do fuel cells work and where do they fit into the alternative fuel plan?
Hydrogen cars – pictures
Fuels

Hydrogen cars – how do fuel cells work and where do they fit into the alternative fuel plan?

Many project hydrogen as the ultimate alternative fuel, but how does it stack up now and in the future?
27 Apr 2021
Synthetic fuels explained: is there such a thing as carbon neutral petrol?
Synthetic fuels explained – header
Technology

Synthetic fuels explained: is there such a thing as carbon neutral petrol?

Could carbon-neutral synthetic fuels save the internal combustion engine and safeguard the future of the cars we love?
18 Nov 2020
What’s the future of the performance car? – evo Blueprint
evo
Fuel

What’s the future of the performance car? – evo Blueprint

With electrification upon us, we ask the experts if there’s still hope for characterful powertrains in an electric car world
17 Nov 2020

Most Popular

New 992 Porsche 911 GT3 Touring revealed – now available in manual and PDK
Porsche 911 GT3 Touring – rear profile
Porsche 911 GT3

New 992 Porsche 911 GT3 Touring revealed – now available in manual and PDK

The Touring pack has returned, combining the 992 GT3’s set-up with more understated looks
15 Jun 2021
The reluctant LaFerrari driver – evo archive
evo archive – LaFerrari truck extraction – stop!
Ferrari

The reluctant LaFerrari driver – evo archive

How do you get a £1million hypercar out of the back of a delivery truck? Very, very, slowly…
15 Jun 2021
MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn
MAT Stratos – front tracking
Lancia

MAT Stratos 2021 review – Lancia’s iconic Stratos reborn

It’s been a long time coming, but this Ferrari F430-based reimagining of the Lancia Stratos is finally here
11 Jun 2021
Used car deals of the week
Used car deals
used cars

Used car deals of the week

Here's what caught evo’s fancy this week on the second hand car market
17 Jun 2021
Hyundai i20 N revealed – Ford Fiesta ST rival priced from £24,995
Hyundai i20 N car pictures
Hyundai i20 hatchback

Hyundai i20 N revealed – Ford Fiesta ST rival priced from £24,995

N division's second model set to shake up the junior hot hatch establishment
17 Jun 2021
BMW M5 CS 2021 review – a class act that reaffirms the M division’s brilliance
BMW M5 CS – front cornering
BMW M5 saloon

BMW M5 CS 2021 review – a class act that reaffirms the M division’s brilliance

Nonsensical on paper, but sublime in practice. Never has a modern supersaloon been more tactile or more engaging
14 Jun 2021
Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act
Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition – slide
Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang Steve McQueen Bullitt Edition 2021 review – a 720bhp tribute act

Immense performance from about the coolest modern muscle car out there. It’s expensive, but there’s nothing else quite like it
12 Jun 2021
Triumph Lynx – Dead on arrival
Triumph Lynx
Features

Triumph Lynx – Dead on arrival

With a 3.5-litre Rover V8 under the bonnet and TR7 fastback styling, the Lynx could have been British Leyland’s answer to the Ford Capri
18 Jun 2021
Next generation BMW 7-series spied – flagship saloon to once again set the tone for future models
Next generation BMW 7-series spied – front quarter
BMW 7 Series

Next generation BMW 7-series spied – flagship saloon to once again set the tone for future models

All-new saloon to feature IC and EV powertrains, but once again it’ll also lead the way aesthetically
16 Jun 2021
2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?
Audi RS3 manufacturer spy 1
Audi RS3

2021 Audi RS3 Sportback and saloon previewed – will it finally match Mercedes-AMG A45 S?

Audi Sport is putting the final touches on its new RS3 hot hatch and saloon
10 Jun 2021
Ferrari F8 Tributo replacement to be revealed June 24
Ferrari F171 spy 2021 – header
Ferrari

Ferrari F8 Tributo replacement to be revealed June 24

Ferrari’s going hybrid and V6 for its next mid-engined supercar
16 Jun 2021
Updated in-line six Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door revealed – hybrid V8s still to come
Mercedes-AMG GT53 MY22 – front tracking
Mercedes

Updated in-line six Mercedes-AMG GT 4-Door revealed – hybrid V8s still to come

GT43 and GT53 4-Doors receive a refresh while we await the arrival of the V8 hybrid GT73
14 Jun 2021
Tesla Model S Plaid deliveries begin – 1006bhp super saloon now reaching customers
Tesla Model S Plaid
Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S Plaid deliveries begin – 1006bhp super saloon now reaching customers

The long-awaited Tesla Model S Plaid has finally come to fruition, with first US examples hitting the road
11 Jun 2021
Posaidon’s 217mph Mercedes-AMG E63 RS is faster than a Porsche 918 Spyder
Posaidon Mercedes-AMG E63
Mercedes E63 AMG

Posaidon’s 217mph Mercedes-AMG E63 RS is faster than a Porsche 918 Spyder

Three new Posaidon power upgrades are now available for Mercedes-AMG’s E63 S, bringing hypercar numbers to the four door supersaloon
9 Jun 2021