Pros and cons of the EU’s decision to phase out internal combustion engines | Remarks

author: Thomas Siebel

The European Parliament has spoken out against the use of synthetic fuels in cars and vans. This complicates the path to climate-neutral car mobility. Nevertheless, the decision is right.

From 2035, new passenger cars and light commercial vehicles will no longer be able to emit greenhouse gases. This is what the majority of the European Parliament wants, which specifies that synthetic fuels are also prohibited in these vehicle classes. This means that by the middle of the next decade, the internal combustion engine in passenger cars will be phased out.

While the German car industry, after years of resistance, has engaged in battery-electric drives and is making significant investments, interest groups such as VDA and ADAC are opposing the decision against e-fuels. By doing this, they are doing what associations are expected to do: they stand up for their members, their industry. Drivers do not want to be branded as polluters, member companies want to make money from internal combustion engines for as long as possible, and the industry must succeed in reducing emissions by 40% over this decade. We remind you: in the years 1995-2019, the absolute emissions from car traffic increased by 5%.

Clever or unreliable – or both?

A path through climate-neutral synthetic fuels would only be logical. They are made of hydrogen, which is known to be produced in large quantities as soon as possible using renewable energy sources, and carbon, which can be obtained, for example, from unavoidable industrial emissions. Synthetic fuels would be an effective lever to make a large number of internal combustion engines less harmful to the environment in 2035. This argument is conclusive, valid – and clever! A closer look reveals what exactly representing the interests of this most important industry in Germany is: the lack of solidarity.

Of course, the car industry also realizes that huge amounts of hydrogen are needed to transition to a climate neutral economy in a very short time. Likewise, the demand for green hydrogen is likely to exceed supply in the coming years.

Priority for the movement of steel and heavy goods

Therefore, the use of hydrogen and its synthesis products in air, ship, truck, metallurgical and basic chemistry traffic is of priority importance. Why? As sectors rich in greenhouse gases have no alternative to climate neutrality. The steel industry, which produces a third of Germany’s industrial greenhouse gases, estimates that up to 28 tonnes of CO2 emissions can be avoided by 1 tonne of hydrogen used. And it is anticipating that it will initially have to partially run its new power plants with natural gas from 2030 because too little green hydrogen will be available.

The biggest challenge for the industry is the expansion of hydrogen production. In Germany alone, we need a generation capacity of 5 GW plus imports from abroad by 2030. However, currently the most powerful electrolysers have a capacity of only 24 MW. The gigawatt industry must grow out of the industry of manufacturing companies in a very short time. What is the claim of the automotive industry, which has a battery electric drive that converts wind and sun energy into driving performance five times more efficiently than an internal combustion engine for e-fuel?

No detours to electric drive

Let us continue with what would have happened if the European Parliament had not spoken against synthetic fuels for passenger cars and vans. The pressure on manufacturers to switch to electric drives would ease, the number of internal combustion engines on the road would remain sufficiently high in 2035, but absolute car emissions would likely be significantly lower than today. It would be a success for the automotive industry, a high-cost success, as at the same time steelmaking and aviation would have to use fossil fuels longer, while e-fuel furnaces burn valuable renewable energy with an overall efficiency of 13%.

The auto industry has no choice but to follow the bumpy path. He needs to take off his flaps and put his arguments in favor of climate-neutral car traffic in general economic terms. Then she would have only one conclusion: switch to electric car production as soon as possible.

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