“e-fuels only” vehicles: will we get a light ban on combustion engines?

The result was once again clear: three out of four Germans are against the ban on internal combustion engines. The Green Anton Hofreiter did not find the numbers of the survey in the morning magazine of ARD and ZDF on Friday morning surprising. People fought back when they were personally affected by climate protection. Hofreiter is still behind the Brussels decision for vans and cars: no emissions of CO2. His traffic light colleague Volker Wissing (FDP) sees it differently and manages to soften the hard EU line.
Czech Transport Minister Martin Kupka had invited his colleagues to Strasbourg on Monday of this week to talk about future transport policy and in particular the German blockade of the so-called ban on combustion engines. In addition to Germany, other European countries such as Bulgaria and Italy have now expressed their doubts about the unilateral approach. Here’s the problem: The EU’s regulations stipulate that the drives of small vans and passenger cars must work “emission-free”. Only the emission on site counts. Raw material extraction, construction, power generation and recycling are not taken into account. “Emission-free” today only works with electricity from the battery or the fuel cell. Incidentally, Hofreiter also spoke in the morning magazine about the engine that processes hydrogen directly. He called it “emission-free”. This is an internal combustion engine that does not actually emit CO2, but does emit other substances, so it cannot actually be considered emission-free in the sense of the rules. But the real conflict lies elsewhere, which can be easily demonstrated with synthetic fuels, so-called e-fuels. For them, CO2 from the air is converted into fuel for combustion engines in a chemical process that uses a lot of energy. After combustion, they emit the CO2 that was used to produce them. So these fuels don’t change anything about the CO2 content of our atmosphere, but they don’t make things worse either. That is why they are considered climate neutral. The e-Fuel-Alliance, the Federal Association of Medium-sized Oil Companies Uniti, the Association of Automobile Manufacturers and – according to the coalition agreement – ​​also the Federal Government want to add the second term “climate-neutral” to the term “emission-free” in European legislation. The traffic light had formulated that from 2035 “only CO2-neutral vehicles should be permitted”. From a letter we have from the Federal Ministry for Digital Affairs and Transport to the office of European Vice President Frans Timmermans, it is clear that things got moving when Wissing announced the blockade. Together they are looking for a “perspective for ‘e-fuels only’ vehicles”. The letter also says promisingly: “We welcome your proposal to create a separate vehicle category for ‘e-fuels only’ vehicles in the near future.” Wissing’s house is now hoping for a statement from the European Commission in good time before the final vote. Now it is obviously about the legal integration of the new vehicle category. The Federal Ministry is looking for a quick way through otherwise lengthy European procedures and therefore proposes setting up the new regulation by amending an existing one. For example, the Euro VI emissions regulation could be supplemented by “e-fuels only” vehicles. Ralf Diemer, the national managing director of the e-fuel alliance, now explained: “The CO2 reduction targets or the basic regulatory system do not necessarily have to be renegotiated. A second reading could be completed within two to three months.” In the end, the regulation could be as follows: From 2035, only drives that are operated with emission-free or climate-neutral fuels. Incidentally, this would bring vans and passenger cars up to par with trucks, ships and planes, which Brussels has long since allowed for climate-neutral fuels and their offsetting. The road to 2035 must also lead to CO2 savings in cars with combustion engines. This can be done analogously to the processes with the CO2-saving additions to E5 and E10 that are customary today. Every liter of e-fuel that is filled up anywhere in the world replaces one liter of fossil fuel, so it is good for the climate. However, this effect must also be traceable locally and be able to be offset against the various bonus and penalty systems. Diemer, for example, therefore considers the introduction of an obligation to provide evidence of the use of renewable fuels to be necessary. Allianz prefers accounting solutions that do not involve a great deal of technical and bureaucratic effort. Diemer: “Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which specific vehicle is running on e-fuels. The decisive factor is that the calculated share of e-fuels is brought onto the market and that fossil fuels are replaced.” Experts assume that a compromise by the Commission will include such crediting systems and accounting procedures for fuel providers, the fleet emission value of the manufacturers and the individual car must. The “crediting system” is intended to prove that sufficient additional renewable fuels have been brought onto the market that can completely compensate for the CO2 footprint of a vehicle over its lifetime. A correction factor (Carbon Correction Factor) takes into account the proportion of renewable fuels already on the market. “Due to the long-standing use of low-CO2 biofuels, this factor is overdue anyway,” says Diemer. “Regardless of whether it is Euro 7 or CO2 fleet regulation – such a verification system would be necessary to prove the use of renewable fuels.” This describes the expectations of the association. They will certainly play a role in the ongoing discussion in Brussels. In any case, Volker Wissung asks for “an ambitious and binding schedule”. The time pressure does not come from him alone, but also from the public discussion. Wissing can now always point out that every day without e-fuels is a bad day for the climate. In addition, the style of hostilities will not go unnoticed by even the hardest-boiled politician. Perhaps it is enough for him as satisfaction if Anton Hofreiter has to reorient himself. The 75 percent of German drivers will be relieved to take note of the e-fuels-only solution. They will not be expropriated or patronized again. You will see how Timmermans acts. (cen/Peter Schwerdtmann)

Pictures for the article

Volker Wissing.

Authors’ Union Mobility/Federal Ministry of Transport/Laurence Chaperon

Volker Wissing.

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