Currently reading: EU oil refineries back synthetic fuels for climate-neutral future
Trade body says synthetic fuels should be used beside electrification as a means to achieve emissions targets
Rachel Burgess
News
5 mins read
15 June 2020

Europe’s major oil refiners are calling on the automotive industry to pave the way for synthetic fuels as a significant means to achieve the European Union's target of climate neutrality by 2050.

FuelsEurope, which represents 40 companies that account for almost 100% of EU petroleum capacity, said its plans, laid out today, could bring CO2 reductions of 100 million tonnes by 2035. It claims that is the equivalent of 50 million electric vehicles on the road.

While FuelsEurope recognises that synthetic fuels will be particularly suited to sectors such as aviation, maritime transport and heavy-duty transport, where no viable technological alternatives exist, it says that road transport must lead the way as “the sector is already heavily regulated and price signals already exist. This market will then enable [synthetic fuels] to become competitive.”

Until now, the oil refinery industry has been largely quiet on alternatives to petroleum, but the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has apparently hastened its reaction. 

John Cooper, director general of FuelsEurope, said: “Today we are setting out an ambitious pathway for enabling transport to contribute to EU’s climate neutrality ambition by 2050, based on scale up of low-carbon-liquid fuels supply and use, across several transport sectors. 

“With a clear societal and scientific case for far-reaching climate action, and taking into account the economic and social impacts of the coronavirus crisis, we respect that there will be no return to business as usual for the fuels industries. 

“With the focus increasingly turning to recovery and new investments, we believe now is the time to start policy discussions with EU and national policy makers and customer stakeholders to design the enabling policy framework for the deployment of these essential low-carbon fuels.”

What are synthetic fuels?

Synthetic fuels, also known as low-carbon liquid fuels (LCLFs), are sustainable fuels from non-petroleum origins with no or limited CO2 emissions produced during production and use. They're typically blended with conventional fuels but could progressively replace them altogether and wouldn't be carbon-neutral until this occurs. 

The enabling technologies for synthetic fuels include sustainable biofuels, hydrogenation of vegetable oils, biomass-to-liquid fuel (BtL) and e-fuels (liquid fuels created from electricity), as well as carbon capture and storage and clean hydrogen applied in refineries.

A number of car makers are already investigating synthetic fuels. Mazda is in the early stages of developing recyclable liquid fuels from microalgae, for example, while McLaren is planning a development car that runs on synthetic fuel to prove the technology’s validity as an alternative to battery-electric vehicles.

Electric cars vs synthetic fuels

FuelEurope says today’s announcement isn't a counter-proposal to electrification. A spokesman said: “We are convinced that [synthetic fuel] and electrification will live side by side, as there is no silver bullet… that will address the challenge of decarbonising the entire transport sector."

The body acknowledges that electrification will be particularly significant for cars and in certain regions, but it notes that full-scale electrification doesn't exist for most modes of transport, such as aviation and shipping. “[Synthetic fuels] and electrification are thus complementary,” it concludes. 

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Benefits of synthetic fuel compared with electrification include less required infrastructure, more consumer choice and more competitiveness, particularly as these fuels are compatible with existing engine technology.

Calls for changes to emissions legislation

One major criticism of battery electric vehicles is that their impact on the environment is measured only on tailpipe emissions, rather than well-to-wheel. FuelEurope is calling on policy makers to adjust this approach, stating that the current method “flatters the EV and doesn’t recognise… energy production”. 

“The climate impact of technologies cannot be narrowed to the exhaust pipe only. A more holistic approach around each technology manufacturing should be adopted,” it said.

The body asked that legislation is changed to recognise the contribution of synthetic fuel to the improved CO2 performance of vehicles. 

It also called for regulation to shift from energy taxation to carbon taxation to incentivise investments in advanced renewable fuels and a “predictable and stable regulatory framework to attract investors”.

However, while the well-to-wheel argument is valid for CO2 emissions, it doesn't factor in the highly charged issue of harmful pollutants such as nitrogen oxide (NOx), carbon monoxide and particulate matter (PM), for which EVs are clearly beneficial.

In response to this criticism, FuelEurope said: “With the evolution of vehicle technologies, the latest Euro 6d and Euro 7 [engines] are extremely clean. Recent tests under real driving conditions have shown that Euro 6d vehicles are fully compliant with emission level limits (for PMs and NOx) set by the EU.

“Studies show that [synthetic fuel] will bring significant contributions to the EU’s climate-neutrality objectives, with no negative impact on air quality.”

What’s next?

FuelEurope estimates that, to achieve its outlined goal, investment of €30-40 billion (£27-36bn) is needed over the first 10 years, with a total investment to 2050 estimated at €400-650bn (£360-584bn).

It namechecks a handful of existing pilot plants running at small industrial scale but said the industry will be ready to build its first commercial operating plants “as soon as the enabling policy framework is implemented”.

The body hopes that by pushing its agenda with legislators, it will attract investors who are vital to achieve its goal of a commercial synthetic fuels plant by 2025.

Talking about the plans, Cooper concluded: “This pathway is ambitious but achievable with multi-stakeholder collaboration. These new technologies are exciting but capital-intensive, and their development at scale will require investor confidence and political vision. 

“Everyone must be on board. We call on EU policy makers to establish a high-level dialogue with all relevant stakeholders as soon as possible. For the fuels industry’s part, we are ready to take the lead.”

READ MORE

Mercedes R&D boss: synthetic fuel not a viable option 

McLaren advocates synthetic fuel as alternative to EVs 

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Rtfazeberdee 16 June 2020

"One major criticism of

"One major criticism of battery electric vehicles is that their impact on the environment is measured only on tailpipe emissions, rather than well-to-wheel."

Who is putting this nonsense out?  Its been proven time after time that EVs trounce ICE on well to wheel very single time.

Seems like the fossil fuel industry is finally staring its demise in the eyes.  Stop buring stuff for transportation and power generation.

shiakas 15 June 2020

Biomass-to-liquid fuel is

Biomass-to-liquid fuel is probably the least efficient way to turn sunlight into energy.
An e-fuel powered car will use 3 times more electricity (to create the fuel) to move an ICE car than an equivalent EV.
This is nothing but greenwashing from a sector that has resorted into using the Tobacco industry playbook. Smear and downplay.
Even if all these half measures are applied, air pollution in city centers will not get better.
typos1 16 June 2020

shiakas wrote:

shiakas wrote:

Biomass-to-liquid fuel is probably the least efficient way to turn sunlight into energy. An e-fuel powered car will use 3 times more electricity (to create the fuel) to move an ICE car than an equivalent EV. This is nothing but greenwashing from a sector that has resorted into using the Tobacco industry playbook. Smear and downplay. Even if all these half measures are applied, air pollution in city centers will not get better.

Youre not thinking straight - cleaner ICE fuels should be used in all the ICE cars on the road reducing their CO2 emissions, if we scrap them all and replace them with electric vehicles pollution will go up - making cars casues a lot of pollution. So no, it isnt green washing, its logic. Althoguh it clearly should ahve been done 20 years ago when peopel first started talkign about it.

Andrew1 15 June 2020

A dead-end

Of course they back this because the alternative is they go out of business.
However, their plan is stillborn. The alternative fuels might be carbon neutral but will still generate chemical pollution and fine particles.
Solar and wind generated electricity is the way to go.
shiakas 15 June 2020

Andrew1 wrote:

Andrew1 wrote:

Of course they back this because the alternative is they go out of business. However, their plan is stillborn. The alternative fuels might be carbon neutral but will still generate chemical pollution and fine particles. Solar and wind generated electricity is the way to go.

 

So true!

I would even question the "carbon neutral" claim of biofuels. It pretty much ignores all the carbon emitted during farming ( Fertiliser, farm equipment), refining and distribution.

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