Enthusiasm for e-fuels is growing, but it is still unclear where the renewable energy will come from to produce them
The oil and gas industry does not believe the internal combustion engine is history just yet. In its Vision 2050, unveiled in 2018, FuelsEurope, a Brussels-based trade association representing EU refiners, plots a future for “low-carbon liquid fuels”. These are drop-in replacements for diesel and petrol that offer an alternative to going fully electric. Traditionally, this has meant biofuels from plant matter and organic waste, but policy makers, fuel suppliers and NGOs in Brussels now see greater potential in so-called e-fuels.
E-fuels, also called powerfuels or power-to-liquids, are renewable power turned into fuel. The idea is that wind or solar energy powers an electrolyser, which splits water into hydrogen (and oxygen). The hydrogen is subsequently combined with carbon to create a new, green fuel. E-fuels are likely to have most potential to help decarbonise hard-to-electrify sectors, such as aviation.
“Global demand for liquids is growing. If you look in particular at aviation, shipping and petrochemicals, they are all growing out to 2040,” said John Cooper, director general for FuelsEurope, at the launch of its Vision 2050 plan. He highlighted that while electrification can be a solution for half the oil currently used in Europe, green solutions for the other half are still to be found. If the EU wants to be climate neutral by 2050 — and the world wants to live up to the Paris climate agreement — “low-carbon liquid fuels" are a necessary part of the picture, says Cooper.
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