Currently reading: Germany requests e-fuel exemption from EU’s 2035 ICE ban
Low-carbon fuels could allow the continued sale of new ICE cars past 2035, argues German transport secretary

Germany has requested that the European Union considers allowing the sale of new ICE vehicles powered by carbon-neutral e-fuels after 2035.

The European Parliament recently voted to confirm an effective ban on the sale of new ICE vehicles from 2035 by requiring a 100% reduction in CO2 emissions from all new vehicles sold in the bloc by that deadline.

However, German transport secretary Michael Theurer has now called on fellow European ministers to further consider whether e-fuels can play a role in reducing transport emissions.

He said: “The [European] Commission should come forward with a proposal how e-fuels can be used or how combustion engines which are run with climate-neutral fuels can be organised.”

The argument for e-fuels is that they're produced using captured CO2 emissions and hydrogen, the latter sourced from renewables such as wind or solar power. In theory, this makes them CO2-neutral, because the carbon emitted at the tailpipe is removed from the atmosphere when more of the e-fuel is produced. 

Environment ministers previously set a 2026 deadline for manufacturers to prove whether e-fuels are truly carbon-neutral in practice.

Various car makers – typically those with sporting ambitions or which have been lauded for their combustion engines – have made significant investments in the technology.

Porsche has arguably led the progress, having kick-started pilot production of its own e-fuels in Chile late last year, targeting roughly 130,000 litres annually. 

Initially, it will be used to power cars at the firm’s experience centres, as well as its Mobil 1 Supercup racers.

Production is planned to ramp up to 12 million gallons (55 million litres) per year by the middle of this decade and 10 times that amount just two years later.

Porsche mobil 1 supercup e fuel

Although Porsche’s e-fuel isn't completely carbon-neutral (instead it's described as “nearly” CO2-neutral), its emissions are “way better”, according to Porsche's former sports car product boss, Frank Walliser. “We see less particles, less [NOx], so that's going in the right direction,” he said in 2021.

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Mazda has also invested heavily in e-fuels as the first car maker to join the e-Fuel Alliance, a lobby organisation comprising oil companies, car makers and others.

In December 2022, the Japanese manufacturer used an e-fuel made from agricultural waste by UK firm Coryton to drive an unmodified 2.0-litre MX-5 convertible some 1000 miles between England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, averaging 45.6mpg. 

For reference, a 2.0-litre Mazda MX-5 officially averages 40.9mpg on petrol on the WLTP combined test cycle. 

Coryton director David Richardson said: “It's a solution that performs incredibly well, works with our existing vehicles and has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of CO2 we currently release compared to traditional fossil fuels.”

Whether e-fuels offer a sufficient reduction in emissions to justify their use post-2035 is still under question. As detailed above, Porsche’s e-fuel is only “nearly” CO2-neutral, reducing CO2 emissions by 85% compared with petrol, according to Walliser.

Mazda mx5 filling up fuel

Considering that the EU’s 2035 ban on sales of new ICE vehicles is designed to support the bloc’s ambition to be completely carbon-neutral by 2050, a permanent exemption for e-fuels in their current form is unlikely. However, they could be used to prolong the use of ICE vehicles while still making progress towards climate targets.

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This appears to be the tack now adopted by the UK government. Despite previously announcing a 2030 ban on sales of new ICE vehicles, it last month announced £32.5 million in grants for projects exploring e-fuel replacements to red diesel – a fossil fuel used for agricultural and industrial purposes.

Energy and climate minister Graham Stuart said: “This latest round of funding will help to speed up industrial decarbonisation, providing industry and consumers with effective low-carbon alternatives to red diesel while boosting green investment to futureproof the resilience of British industry.”

It should also be noted that the EU has been flexible in its approach to decarbonising transport, offering ban postponements and exemptions to low-volume vehicle manufacturers. Those producing up to 10,000 vehicles per year are exempt until the end of 2035; while those building less than 1000 annually are permanently excused from the ban.

Read more: EU's 2035 ban exemption gives small UK sports car makers lifeline

Charlie Martin

Charlie Martin Autocar
Title: Editorial Assistant, Autocar

As a reporter, Charlie plays a key role in setting the news agenda for the automotive industry. He joined Autocar in July 2022 after a nine-month stint as an apprentice with sister publication, What Car?. He's previously contributed to The Intercooler, and placed second in Hagerty’s 2019 Young Writer competition with a feature on the MG Metro 6R4

He is the proud owner of a Fiat Panda 100HP, and hopes to one day add a lightweight sports car like an Alpine A110 or a Lotus Elise S1 to his collection.

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jason_recliner 3 March 2023
Funny how everybody eventually realises they need hydrogen...
LP in Brighton 28 February 2023

It seems like a no brainer to actively encopurage the development of e-fuels - if only from the perspective of carbon reduction amongst the huge existing fleet of vehicles with ICE engines. EVs are not the only solution to global transport needs.  

Paddy Asphalt 28 February 2023
Putting aside any arguments on green credentials and affordability, don’t you find it a bit sinister how keen folk are that we are beholden to a fuel supplier/manufacturer?

We’re not anywhere near it yet, but the beauty of electricity is that it can be produce myriad ways by anybody with the gumption to do it.

If you are responsible for a company that produces efuels or sells barrels of oil, a true democratisation of energy is your greatest threat.