eFuels Give Classic Cars a Future
14 May 2023 5 min read 20 images
A complete ban on combustion engines within the EU after 2023 is off the table after tough disputes between Brussels and Berlin. As an alternative to the exclusive electrification of individual transport, eFuels can thus be used in combustion engines - provided the fuel is produced in a climate-neutral way. This is good news for classic cars: the engines of automotive icons from the 20th century can be operated with eFuel without restrictions. In this dossier, we present the opportunities that eFuels open up for classic cars.
Mobility, energy and climate are central challenges for mankind today. They are manifested in global warming and the efforts of industry, science and politics to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees by reducing global CO2 emissions compared to pre-industrial times. Road traffic worldwide is responsible for almost twenty percent of global CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Reducing this figure is a central concern of the global automotive industry. This is being achieved through the development of ever more fuel-efficient combustion and hybrid engines, new (electric) drive systems, and synthetic and biological fuels. If classic cars want to remain on the roads in the future, the development of climate-neutral fuels that are compatible with conventional combustion engines is crucial. This is what this dossier is about: eFuels that can also give Classic Cars a future on the roads.
Source: Our World in Data
Source: Our World in Data
Source: Robert Bosch GmbH
1. Mobility: the big challenge
There are an estimated 1.5 billion internal combustion engines running on oil, gasoline, diesel or gas worldwide, including more than 1.2 billion automotive vehicles, according to the Saudi oil company Aramco. Electric drives are increasingly entering the market as an alternative to internal combustion engines. By 2030, the German automotive technology company Robert Bosch GmbH estimates that a maximum of 170 million electric vehicles, or 14 percent of the total number of cars, will be on the roads in Europe. Optimistic scenarios paint a picture that by mid-century, every second vehicle will have an electric drive.
However, there are also limits: Ships or aircraft are not predestined for electric propulsion and require liquid fuels that are easy to store. In addition, electric vehicles can only have a positive environmental footprint if they travel a large number of kilometers - this is because the life cycle assessment of battery production remains problematic as long as green electricity is not used exclusively. The study "Volvo Carbon Footprint Report" shows that an electric drive only achieves climate neutrality after 110,000 kilometers of driving and that this value could be reduced by more than half if only electricity from renewable sources were used at all stages.
An initial conclusion: electric drives alone will not be enough to push C02 emissions in road traffic to climate neutrality.
Source: Our World in Data
2. Energy source: electric drive vs. eFuel
It is the optimistic vision: electric vehicles powered exclusively by green electricity - a trip in this automobile would have virtually no negative impact on the environment. Convenient electric means of transport can be used for local and urban transport: E-scooters, e-bikes, e-motorcycles. Electrified vehicles could also be used in urban logistics, e-commerce distribution — in other words, where there is usually a lot of mileage.
Greater electrification of local and long-distance transport would boost the production of batteries and other necessary components. This would soon reach its limits: necessary raw materials are limited and often in the hands of a few nations, supply chains are sometimes difficult to establish and keep in operation. The production and distribution of electricity for charging batteries is expensive and complex, and naturally places an additional burden on the ecological balance sheet — in an overall consideration of the ecological footprint of an electric vehicle, these values as well as those for the disposal of discarded batteries would naturally also have to be included.
It is the conceivable vision: eFuels will be used on a large scale. These fuels are produced synthetically with the help of renewable energies and can be used in conventional combustion engines, including classic cars, without any problems and without polluting the environment. It's something like man's second invention of the wheel, and it works like this: in simplified terms, it involves using green electricity to produce hydrogen and synthesizing it with CO2 from the air to make a hydrocarbon and thus the basic building block of liquid fuels. These eFuels can be classified as CO2-neutral in the overall view, since as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is bound in the fuel during its production as is later emitted again during combustion — when green electricity is used, this is a self-contained cycle.
For the global automotive industry, this means that the technical know-how of the industry and its value creation can continue to be used, not lost. The infrastructure for refueling automobiles could also continue to be used in this way without any problems. According to current estimates, the cost of a liter of eFuel is a maximum of 1.50 Euros.
A second conclusion: as an energy source for the automotive industry, synthetic eFuel has major advantages over the widespread use of batteries and e-mobility.
3. eFuel: a climate-neutral balance sheet
In 2002, in his essay "The Hygrogen Economy," the American economist Jeremy Rifkin presented a concept of intelligent power grids as an integral part of a "hydrogen economy" of the future: smart grids. A central control system coordinates the grids and balances out power fluctuations resulting from fluctuating renewable energy sources. Like computers, smart grids connect small local plants that use surplus electricity generated from solar energy on site to produce hydrogen.
In this way, a crucial feedstock for the production of eFuel can be obtained. The reason: the basic building block of any fuel is hydrocarbon, a compound of carbon and hydrogen. If eFuel is to be produced sustainably, the hydrogen must come from green sources - as Jeremy Rifkin outlined more than two decades ago. Hydrogen is produced by an electrolysis process, in which water is split into oxygen and hydrogen by electric current from renewable sources. In addition to this green hydrogen, the synthetic production of eFuel also requires carbon, which can be removed directly from the atmosphere via carbon capture, for example. A now established synthesis process is then used to produce artificial fuels that are suitable for conventional internal combustion engines, including classic cars. eFuels are climate-neutral, provided that one hundred percent of the energy required for their production comes from renewable sources. The subsequent use of the synthetic fuel is in any case climate-neutral in the overall balance, since the CO2 emitted via combustion has previously been taken from the atmosphere or also from industrial plants in the same quantity.
A third conclusion: eFuels have long since left the laboratory and are on the threshold of large-scale production.
Source: SOLWIN Suisse
4. eFuel: the potential is recognized
So everything seems set for the big breakthrough of eFuels. The sustainable production process is technically established. The major players among car manufacturers, energy producers, oil companies, and even environmentally conscious philanthropists have recognized the potential of synthetic fuels and are driving forward a wide range of eFuel initiatives worldwide (see map). Only international policymakers, interestingly, are conspicuously absent from an issue that could play a major role in decarbonizing transport: For a long time, the focus there was on banning conventional climate-damaging internal combustion engines in the medium term. However, the energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine also shows us how quickly priorities can change and the operating times of energy production plants that are actually harmful to the climate can continue with political blessing. In such an environment, the topic of eFuels also suddenly slid up the political agenda.
Nevertheless, business believes in the potential and is moving forward accordingly: In America, Bill Gates is investing in sustainable jet fuel. In South America, in Chile, the Stuttgart-based carmaker Porsche, together with Siemens Energy, is currently building production capacity for up to 500 million liters of eFuel per year, which will also be used for aviation and shipping. In Europe, Germany's Robert Bosch, already heavily involved in the hydrogen economy, is now increasingly entering the component business for electrolysis. In the Middle East, oil companies have been looking at alternative fuels for decades — as part of a vision for the post-fossil fuel era. And Aramco, Porsche and Toyota are already actively working to establish synthetic fuels even more firmly in motorsport, in step with the regulations in force.
A fourth conclusion: the business community – manufacturers, oil companies, and other partners in the global automotive industry – has taken the lead in establishing eFuel. Source: SOLWIN Suisse
5. Porsche: pioneer in eFuel
These are clear words from the very top: "We want to drive forward the technology for eFuels. It is part of our sustainability strategy. We see ourselves as pioneers in this." The person saying this is Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board for Research and Development at Porsche, who, together with his colleague on the Executive Board, Procurement, Barbara Frenkel, is heading up an in-house project in Chile. The goal is to develop and produce eFuel on a large scale in Patagonia.
This attitude is no accident. In this house, it is part of the DNA that a successful automobile, especially a racing car, must demonstrate excellence in all its components-including fuel: in the history of this manufacturer, there is a reason for the Porsche 550 RS from 1953, which anticipated prerequisites for a successful racing car by years. It now seems similarly consistent that Porsche is relying on the internal combustion engine with sustainable synthetic fuel, while others are putting all their energy into electric drives. Then, in the fall of 2021, Porsche announced that it had broken ground, together with Siemens Energy and the Chilean government, on the world's first integrated commercial plant for the production of eFuels - which is expected to produce around 550 million liters of eFuels by 2026. Porsche rates this as a "lighthouse project for the hydrogen economy." The synthetic fuel is to be used in Porsche models as well as in the historic vehicles - after all, 70 percent of all Porsches ever built are still on the road. This should also dispel the last doubts as to whether eFuels are also suitable for classic cars. As a kind of bridge between the past and the future, Porsche has already announced that in the future it will deliver new cars to its customers with one tank of eFuel.
__A fifth conclusion: Porsche, synonymous with sportiness and classic car icons, is pioneering the use of eFuels. __
6. Classic cars: ambassadors for sustainable fuels
In the post-fossil age, a great future is opening up for classic cars: the icons of motorisation from the 20th century will become powerful ambassadors for eFuel in the new millennium: they are the driving proof that old engines and new fuels are perfectly compatible. Seen in this light, the 156,000 registered classic cars in Switzerland are rolling advertising pillars for a new, sustainable automotive age and, what is true for Switzerland, is also true for these eye-catchers of human engineering worldwide. They are not scrapped like modern automobiles that have reached the end of their service life, and thus classic cars do not produce any CO2 emissions when they are scrapped.
A sixth conclusion: Classic Cars are the driving proof that old engines and new fuels are perfectly compatible.
7. Classic cars: global market thanks to eFuel
Sustainable fuels are likely to open up a truly global market for Classic Cars and their collectors worldwide. While the activities of the market and collectors have so far been largely concentrated in the U.S. and Europe, and some carefully built collections have also been based in Japan, widespread distribution of eFuels will shift these boundaries. The reason: where the import of used cars and classic cars has so far been hampered by official environmental and emissions regulations, these regulations will become virtually obsolete with climate-neutral eFuel. This opens up completely new possibilities and opens up a truly global market for classic cars. What's more, nations in which classic cars still have no tradition whatsoever could become enthusiastic about this passion as soon as administrative ecological hurdles can no longer play a role. The most prominent example is China: in the Middle Kingdom, a wealthy middle class is growing up that would be enthusiastic about Classic Cars. Classic cars on the Great Wall of China and rallies on the Asian continent are thus becoming a real vision. Just like a truly global market for the driving icons from the 20th century with rising auction prices for Classic Cars worldwide.
A seventh conclusion: eFuel is leading to rising prices for classic cars worldwide.
8. Formula 1: flag bearer for eFuels
In motorsport, top-level sport, especially Formula 1, has always set the pace for technological development. In 2026, the supreme discipline in motorsport will change the regulations for engines: at that time, the hybrid engines, the internal combustion engines in the power units, must be powered exclusively by sustainable fuel and are only allowed to put half of the power on the wheels - the rest is electric. In a way, it is the accolade for eFuel and will give further impetus to the spread of this fuel.
A second, even faster line of development for eFuel leads to the junior series of Formula 2 and Formula 3: there, the climate-neutral synthetic fuel is to be used on a large scale as early as 2023, and two years later the engines of the junior series are to be powered entirely by eFuel - supplied by the Saudi company Aramco, which has already been involved in the development of eFuels for years (see graphic).
Since 2022, the WRC World Rally Championship has been run exclusively on this sustainable fuel. The same happened with the French Formula 4, which raced on liquid fuel derived from hydrogen with the support of Repsol, the supplier of this "new petrol". The World Touring Car Championship, WTCR, is also experimenting with fuels aimed at the same goal. eFuel is also increasingly present in vintage racing, as in the case of Porsche at the 2022 Le Mans Classic.
Aramco is also growing into a test laboratory for Formula 1. Even more: the climate-neutral fuels developed by the world's largest oil production company are later to be transferred directly to road traffic. All these activities have always been about giving combustion engines a future - as an alternative to the exclusive focus on battery cars that the EU Commission had long uncompromisingly favoured. Since March 2023, this lack of an alternative has been history. After a hard-fought political discussion, the EU Commission will continue to allow the operation of combustion engines in the future and without a time limit, provided that the fuel used consists exclusively of climate-neutral eFuel. This means that classic cars can remain on the roads: any combustion engine can be fuelled with climate-neutral eFuels without any adjustments. However, the price for a barrel of eFuel must be affordable and brought down to under 200 dollars.
__An eighth conclusion: eFuel is the key to preventing a total ban on internal combustion engines. __
Source: SOLWIN Suisse