The European Union has taken a step forward in a direction in which, honestly, we would not have gambled much until just a few weeks ago. It is confirmed that from 2035 new cars with gasoline, diesel, and even hybrid engines will no longer be sold and that the market will be restricted to electric cars, whether battery-powered or fuel cell-hydrogen. But a door to internal combustion remains open, as has been confirmed with the latest Proposal for the Fit for 55 Package.
For a long time we have also been talking about neutral synthetic fuels and assessing how and why they could be an alternative beyond 2035.
And today we can confirm it. In 2035 the European Union will ban the sale of hybrids, diesel and gasolineas we know them now, but it will allow the sale of new internal combustion cars as long as they use neutral fuels. And what does that mean?
The sale of internal combustion cars will be allowed beyond 2035, as long as they use neutral fuels
You can buy an internal combustion car… neutral
We are not going to go into depth to explain what neutral synthetic fuels are, of which we have already talked at length. Except to remember that they are non-fossil industrially produced fuelsso that the processes to produce them save CO2 emissionstwoor capture COtwo of the air, equivalent to that emitted in its combustion. So that its carbon footprint, at least in its production and use, is considered nil and that, therefore, they do not contribute to increasing the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere.
The European Union should still define, with greater precision, what is a neutral synthetic fuel and, above all, what technical specifications must be met by cars that “operate exclusively using CO fuelstwo neutrals”.
Having overcome the regulatory challenge and the acceptance of the European Union as a valid solution beyond 2035, other no less important challenges remain to be overcome. The first, to produce neutral fuels in industrial volumes, sufficient to guarantee that fuel can be supplied to the cars that are marketed. The second, that it be economically viable.
The European Union accepts the neutrality of COtwo and, therefore, the validity of the sale of internal combustion cars beyond 2035 if they use neutral fuels
Will there be enough neutral fuels for everyone?
Fossil fuels – despite the prices they have reached this year, for a mere market issue – are abundant and cheap. They are obtained in huge quantities, drilling the earth’s surface. And they are refined, also in huge quantities, in processes that are relatively simple and inexpensive, both in energy and economic terms. The production of neutral synthetic fuels, on the other hand, requires more complex and costly processes, such as the capture of COtwo or electrolysis, which can be scaled up, but not to the level of fossil fuel extraction and refining.
For example, many neutral fuel production projects are based on the capture of COtwo. It is required to capture a lot of COtwo and, therefore, use a lot of energy, to produce acceptable amounts of fuel. And these projects are necessarily associated with renewable energy production facilities that, therefore, require the availability of this energy, in solar or wind production plants.
One of the most ambitious projects is the one begun in Chile, that of Haru Oni. The expansion of this project to the United States and Australia would allow the capture of 25 million tons of COtwo per year, produce 150,000 barrels of synthetic fuels per day (about 24 million liters per day), which would make it possible to meet the fuel demand of an entire country, such as Spain, and guarantee that more than 5 million new cars are COtwo neutrals.
Neutral synthetic fuels have to overcome two challenges, production in large volumes, and their price, even so we have to hope that their scope and therefore the internal combustion cars that are sold beyond 2035 will be in very limited series, in almost testimonial figures
Will it be viable? What cars can be neutral?
Although projects such as Haru Oni expect large-volume production, these capacities are far from current fuel needs in the world economy. Clearly, by 2035 the need for fuel should have dropped dramatically. But it is also true that, at least at the moment, we should expect new fuel-neutral cars coming on the market in 2035 to be an eminent minority. This solution is likely to be restricted to exclusive, special, iconic cars, or even to making vintage cars usable with less impact on their CO footprint.two.
Transform energy, first to produce electricity through wind or solar installations, then to carry out processes such as capturing COtwo and producing the fuel, and ultimately transforming the fuel into kinetic energy in an engine, doesn’t seem like the most efficient thing to do.
According to Porsche, it is expected that neutral synthetic fuels can be marketed at prices around 2 euros per litre. A price that, without a doubt, would make it viable and that is not so different from what we are paying today for a liter of 95-octane gasoline or diesel.