Could eFuel be the Internal Combustion Engine’s Answer to Electrification?
Carbon neutrality and low-emission pledges are something that you’ll see more and more companies announcing, left, right and center. And this comes as we’re seeing climate movements scale to new heights, bringing everyday consumers to make more sustainable choices in their lives – and that includes what they use to fuel their vehicles.
Everyone is talking about EVs and sustainable technology right now – and there’s so much you can do in terms of sustainability that automotive companies and their engineers are just starting to scratch the surface of. In this episode, we’re giving a high-level overview on eFuel – speculations, concerns, benefits and more.
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Here’s a quick summary of this week’s show:
“In short, the idea behind creating this eFuel is that companies producing it will be able to take in and eliminate as high amount of CO2 as the vehicles using the fuel will actually burn.”Gretchen Reese, Could eFuel be the Internal Combustion Engine’s Answer to Electrification? | Utilimarc Fleet FYIs Podcast
“The question is, is a reduction of nearly 85% of internal combustion engine emissions worth the initial higher price of this new fuel? Some may say they’re not ready to make the switch.”
Could eFuel be the Internal Combustion Engine’s Answer to Electrification? | Fleet FYIs: Season 2 Episode 10
Gretchen Reese (00:06):
Hey there. Welcome to Fleet FYIs, the weekly podcast by Utilimarc that reveals how you can make the most of your data for smarter fleet management. My name is Gretchen and every week you’ll hear from me and some of the industry’s finest in candid conversations that will shed some light on not only two decades worth of data insights, but some of the industry’s hottest talking points and key metric analysis with the aim to help you better understand your fleet from every angle.
Gretchen Reese (00:33):
But before we begin, if this is the first time you’ve heard our show, thanks for stopping by. I’m so glad you decided to come along for the ride with us. I’ve got a quick favor to ask you. Once you’ve finished today’s episode, if you could take a few minutes to leave us a review on your favorite podcasting platform, we would really appreciate it. Give us a rating, five stars, I hope, or tell us what you liked, or leave us a comment or a question about what you’ve heard in today’s episode. If we haven’t yet covered a topic that you’re interested in hearing more about, let us know. We would be happy to go over it in detail in a later episode. If that sounds good to you, let’s get back to the show.
Gretchen Reese (01:09):
Hey everyone, and welcome back to the Fleet FYIs Podcast. Before I get this episode off and running, I wanted to ask you all a question. Have you ever found a topic just so fascinating that you end up jumping headfirst into a total rabbit hole to learn as much as you can? A little bit less Alice in Wonderland style, but I think you know what I mean.
Gretchen Reese (01:37):
That’s somewhat similar to how I’ve been in these last few days. So unless you’re under a rock or if you haven’t listened to the Fleet FYIs Podcast before… which if you haven’t, welcome. I’m glad to have you here… you’ll notice we’ve been focusing a ton on electrification and that’s electrification of fleets, new vehicle launches, company pilots, and even digging a bit more into the sustainability of this technology, as well as battery composition.
Gretchen Reese (02:02):
It’s been a lot of information, but it certainly seems as though this is the way that the industry is heading. I can’t even begin to tell you just how many times that I’ve been hearing electric vehicles are the future or plug-in hybrids and EVs are the next big thing. It’s for good reason. Carbon neutrality and low emission pledges are something that you’ll see more and more companies announcing left, right, and center. This comes as we’re seeing climate movement scale to new heights, bringing everyday consumers to make much more sustainable choices in their lives. That also includes what they use to fuel their vehicles and to get them from A to B.
Gretchen Reese (02:43):
So like I said, everyone is talking about EVs and sustainable technology right now. There’s so much you can do in terms of sustainability that automotive companies and their engineers are just starting to scratch the surface of. You can’t force new technology or new products for that matter on end-users. The reason is because that breeds room for pushback. So instead, you need to provide for them an opportunity to take a chance on the vehicle or new technology themselves and then create a chance for each end user to be an instrument of change.
Gretchen Reese (03:16):
This, I think, is going to be the key for sustainability movements in the future, especially as electrification is taking on a new stride. If you’ve been anywhere near this podcast, or even just involved in fleet or automotive, you know there’s some push and pull with this electrification movement, especially depending on the region and the industry you’re in. It begs the question though, where exactly does this leave internal combustion engine vehicles? Does it leave them behind in the dust? This is where things are beginning to get a bit interesting.
Gretchen Reese (04:00):
What’s then next for internal combustion engines? That’s one thing that I’ve been really interested in looking into because I think this bit is where we’re going to start to get the heritage car lovers or even the heavy duty construction fleets ear’s cocking because it’s thought that this could be the internal combustion engine vehicle’s answer to electrification.
Gretchen Reese (04:22):
Granted, it may still be years away, which is a little bit unfortunate, but it’s at least a start, right? The answer, what some are thinking is eFuel. You might wonder exactly what this is, how it works, why it’s making news, et cetera, et cetera? I actually think that it’s quite a fascinating solution when it comes to looking into how internal combustion engines can be made more sustainable.
Gretchen Reese (04:46):
The key point that many who stand behind eFuel make is that the technology of the internal combustion engine isn’t what’s non-sustainable. In fact, it’s actually just the type of fuel being burnt to create the energy. The thought enters center stage, why not create a more sustainable fuel? Because when you think about it in the long haul, that would actually just be more simple in theory than creating an entirely new type of engine that could burn petroleum more sustainably. That’s the traditional petrol that we’re speaking of, traditional gasoline, traditional diesel, making that more sustainable.
Gretchen Reese (05:21):
That may not be feasible in the coming years or even coming decades. Though I’m not sure if that could even be possible ever. I guess we’ll see on that one. But technically speaking, fossil fuels still are considered a nonrenewable resource. So anyways, I digress. Moving on to the next piece.
Gretchen Reese (05:43):
My point is that eFuel could be an interesting way to retain internal combustion vehicles as a core part of vehicle offerings available without the nasty pollution. Because no one loves that, let’s be honest here. It’s not just the manufacturers in the U.S. that are looking into what they call synthetic fuels. In fact, many countries in the EU and in the UK are leading the charge.
Gretchen Reese (06:07):
Not too long ago, an interview was done with an organization representing the fuel refining industry in Europe. They actually issued a plea to politicians and to car makers, or I should say vehicle or automotive manufacturers, the like, to take synthetic fuels seriously because they could help the world to meet its climate targets in a very substantial way. They stated that the CO2 reductions that it could bring by 2035, and even moving forward, are the equivalent of replacing 50 million internal combustion cars with battery electric vehicles or battery powered electric vehicles. Some call them BEVs.
Gretchen Reese (06:42):
Bosch, who is headquartered in Germany, also joined the conversation by adding that 2.8 gigatons of CO2 could be saved/removed from the atmosphere by 2050 if synthetic fuels are widely adopted, which is an interesting thought. The beauty of this new fuel is seen more so not just in the fact that it simply exists, but more on its method of production. In my opinion, this is actually the piece that makes me the most excited to see this initiative come to fruition.
Gretchen Reese (07:24):
The true sustainable magic is shown when we delve into how this eFuel is created, especially because of its said to be carbon neutral nature. So in short, the idea behind creating this eFuel is that companies producing it will be able to take in and eliminate as high amount of CO2 as the vehicles using the fuel will actually burn.
Gretchen Reese (07:46):
Let’s make this short story a bit longer here. Here’s my understanding as to how this eFuel is produced. Now granted, I’m not a scientist nor an engineer when it comes to this, so this is going to be very high level and based on a few week’s worth of research. But here’s a general idea of what exactly makes it so special.
Gretchen Reese (08:03):
So firstly, it’s composed of two main molecules, hydrogen and CO2. The manufacturing process itself actually captures CO2 as the synthetic fuel is made, which has the potential to make huge leaps towards climate goals for the future like we said previously. It’s said that for these climate goals to be reached CO2 emissions from traffic and other pollution sources will need to be reduced by roughly about 50% over the next four decades. If we can do so even higher, that would be great.
Gretchen Reese (08:33):
Synthetic fuels actually entering the mainstream production has the potential to get us there. It’s said that the production of this synthetic fuel will rely on pulling hydrogen out of water and also on large walls of fans and filtration systems that would be used to pull the CO2 out of the air. So filtering the air as it comes through the fans and collecting the CO2 as it goes.
Gretchen Reese (08:54):
Because of this, greenhouse gas actually becomes a raw material, which everyone’s producing anyways, whether it’s from landfills with methane production or any other industry that produces emissions. This raw material now, from what gasoline, and diesel, and substitute natural gas can be produced with the help of electricity from renewable energy sources, which is kind of exciting if you think about it.
Gretchen Reese (09:19):
If you think about every type of vehicle or industry that has noted that electrification could be difficult or even too far to plan for now, this could be a total game changer. Like I said, so you’re thinking heavy construction, trains, planes, cruise liners, the whole lot, even sometimes storm response teams.
Gretchen Reese (09:37):
This could mean a huge overhaul for the transportation industry, especially because the thought is that the engine technology to continue to burn this synthetic fuel shouldn’t need to change. You shouldn’t need a whole new vehicle. You shouldn’t need a whole new engine in theory. Because it’s thought that the way this fuel is burnt is the same way that your standard gasoline is burnt.
Gretchen Reese (10:00):
Another standout advantage of the combustion engine using synthetic fuels is that the existing filling station network can still continue to be used. The same can be said for existing combustion engine expertise. So even though it’s thought that electric cars will become significantly less expensive in the years ahead as wider scale adoption occurs, the development of these fuels still provides an interesting opportunity to make the internal combustion engine much more sustainable, which I think it’s going to need to be.
Gretchen Reese (10:27):
Because if you have some companies that are actually banning the production or banning the sale of fully internal combustion or fully petrol based vehicles past 2030. I think in the EU, it might be something around 2035. If I’m not mistaken. You’re going to have to find a way to still appeal to the customers that still have those cars and still wish to drive them, or maybe it’s even a heritage or luxury car collector that aren’t electric, or can’t manage without some sort of internal combustion feature.
Gretchen Reese (10:56):
Because truly, I think that a vast portion of the true sustainability of this type of fuel that synthetic fuel it’ll come from the refineries in which it’s produced. When we’re speaking about sustainability of the internal combustion engine… and I feel like I’ve said that word a ton in this episode, which I still got some more in me, so just you wait… I think when we’re looking at trying to create a sustainable internal combustion engine… there it is again… what we really need to focus on is the components of the fuel and how it’s produced.
Gretchen Reese (11:28):
For example, taking power from the traditional electric grid or from burning coal, it doesn’t exactly make for clean energy. You could probably assume that no matter how much you know about it. However, if you’re refining this synthetic fuel in a truly sustainable refinery, for example, something that’s completely solar powered, or wind powered, or maybe even hydro powered, then your aim of achieving a renewable energy source is much easier to achieve.
Gretchen Reese (11:58):
But with every innovative technology, as I’m sure you’ve assumed, there will always, always, always be a level of pushback. Arguments against battery powered electric vehicles, like I said, otherwise known as BEVs, usually end up with the argument arising that hydrogen is the real eco-friendly alternative to fossil fuel. It couldn’t possibly be electricity.
Gretchen Reese (12:26):
Those who aren’t so keen on EVs have a new target when it comes to opposing the battery powered vehicle, which is synthetic fuels, as we’ve been speaking of. These can be an interesting choice, especially for those that aren’t as big a fan of changing over to a new type of technology. So why? In theory, they can be used with current internal combustion engines and refueling infrastructure like it previously mentioned.
Gretchen Reese (12:48):
However, the naysayers do have a theory that eFuels are less likely to solve our climate issues even more than hydrogen. I think we should probably break it down a bit from there because there’s a lot of potential advantages to the synthetic eFuel initiative, but there’s also a lot of drawbacks.
Gretchen Reese (13:06):
The first being, synthetic fuels, they’re not new, not in the slightest. But they’ve recently resurfaced as a potential solution to make the internal combustion engine much more sustainable after the head of research and development at Porsche… his name is Dr. Michael Steiner… claimed that eFuel could allow the automotive company to continue to sell internal combustion vehicles alongside their current and future EV offerings.
Gretchen Reese (13:31):
This is especially interesting in markets like the UK and the EU, as they’re currently posed to be eliminating the production of internal combustion vehicles in favor of EVs beginning in 2030, respectively. I think the UK is first in that respect, less than 10 years away. They’ve been currently developing this new fuel initiative in a refinery in Chile, Porsche, that is.
Gretchen Reese (13:54):
It could be interesting for the argument that these fully sustainable refineries may not be able to exist in all regions of the world, especially if you want to keep them, like I said, truly sustainable. The question is, is a reduction of nearly 85% of internal combustion and emissions worth the initial higher price of this new fuel? Some may say they’re not ready to make the switch and you might agree once you actually hear the pricing scope, but we’ll get to that in a second.
Gretchen Reese (14:21):
Though the argument for synthetic fuels has grounds, especially when it comes to allowing drivers to continue using their same vehicles without modification, as well as no change to the refueling process and current infrastructure that’s already available, you can start to see where people would like to buy in. It seems like a pretty easy switch, especially when you consider that ethanol has already been actually introduced into the fuel world quite recently, recently being within the last couple decades.
Gretchen Reese (14:51):
There’s still a way to incorporate these alternative fuels that aren’t just petrol based. Here’s where things start to get a little bit tricky. Main electric vehicle vendors like Tesla, and Volkswagen, and Renault, and Kia Hyundai aren’t taking the approach of artificially limiting their vehicle offerings abilities.
Gretchen Reese (15:13):
It’s at this point where we take into account that not even Steiner is expecting synthetic fuels to make battery powered electric vehicles irrelevant, but instead, I think it will allow Porsche and automotive companies and the like to start selling specialist vehicles, for example, like the 911 GT3. This is one that if you read some of their latest news, which you can see it on Car and Driver, you can see it from Porsche themselves, and pretty much on any news outlet possible that they’re creating this new vehicle to really test drive their eFuel initiative.
Gretchen Reese (15:45):
One of the constraints of this eFuel initiative is actually time, especially if we’re looking at it for a mass market production, rather than just a specialized vehicle for one part of the vehicle offering line from one automotive manufacturer. This timeframe currently proposed actually could make it more difficult to scale for mass adoption of this fuel initiative.
Gretchen Reese (16:06):
For example, the first trial output from their refinery in Chile, Porsche again, will not be until 2022 with a production run only going to be about 55 million liters by 2024. Which when you think about it, especially when you calculate it into gallons… I don’t have that number right off the top of my head here… but it’s significantly less. Then they’re looking at about half a billion liters by 2026. So a decent jump, but still it’s on the lower end.
Gretchen Reese (16:32):
Let’s put this into perspective, shall we? Let’s look at it from a global lens and compare it to the main markets that we’ve previously mentioned in this show, the U.S and the UK. I mention the UK just because they’ve been making a lot of news with their huge sustainability efforts, especially when they’re saying that now anywhere in the UK, you’re no longer more than… I think the number is about 34 miles, if I’m not mistaken… 34 miles from an EV charge point. So it’s a pretty well-rounded electrification infrastructure in place there.
Gretchen Reese (17:03):
The U.S. on average is probably consuming about 125 billion gallons of gasoline in a year with 2020 showing no different. Last year, the U.S. consumed roughly 123.5 billion gallons of finished motor gasoline. Translated into liters, it’s just under 470 billion. Comparing this with the UK, the UK consumes about 45 to 50 billion liters of fossil fuel per year. It’s a pretty stark difference, if you ask me.
Gretchen Reese (17:34):
A lot of this has to do with country size, and population density, and size, and multiple other factors. When you look at the output of this Chilean plant that Porsche will be sourcing their fuel from, their current production output is roughly about a 10th of a percent of what the U.S. alone would consume by 2026.
Gretchen Reese (17:50):
It’s currently low volume, which in part can be due to just the pilot testing initially would need to be much more highly scalable to be an effective, sustainable solution, which I’m sure you can assume. Because if they don’t have any eFuel, then the initiative really doesn’t go anywhere, so it needs to be produced on a higher scale.
Gretchen Reese (18:09):
Like any initiative, the transition wouldn’t happen overnight, nor would you expect it to really. Almost like what’s happened with this ethanol integration to mainstream use, the eFuel Alliance has actually stated that they see a synthetic admixture to conventional fossil fuels rather than just an immediate switchover.
Gretchen Reese (18:26):
It’s almost like you’re dipping your toes in before you jump in with two feet, similar to the hybrid model for vehicles now before transitioning to a fully electric, just to see if you like the technology, or if it works for you and your lifestyle. This can ease the pressure of the initial low volume output, especially as production will jump in the coming years. It’s expected to be at about a 4% admixture by 2025, 12% by 2030, and finally up to 100% by 2050, so we’re looking at a little while down the line for full adoption, but it’ll be interesting to see, I think, nonetheless.
Gretchen Reese (19:02):
However, many are saying that this could be a little bit too late for current climate protection goals, especially when you factor in pricing for wide-scale adoption. Right now, the eFuel Alliance projects that 2050 will be between $1.63 to 2.64 per liter, which is about 1.38 to 2.24 in Euro. Bosch actually thinks that they’ll take on this pricing by 2030, which is a pretty big jump.
Gretchen Reese (19:27):
However, more realistic estimates are claiming that it will be around the $3.54 to $4.72 per liter, which translated to a by gallon price equates to about $13 to $14 per gallon. So at that price, no thanks. That’s a bit much for now. We all know that it’s a hard sell, especially when you have people cringing like me at $2.50 per gallon. Yikes. You’ll probably see people go through to the EV route or stick to traditional gasoline rather than switching over if the pricing stays that high, in my opinion.
Gretchen Reese (20:18):
Does anyone else sense an elephant in the room or is it just me? The true question is just how efficient is this new fuel when compared to the battery of an electric vehicle? When we’re looking at the production of eFuel, we are seeing the combining of hydrogen and CO2. You then go into manufacturing the fuel subtypes, so think gasoline, or petrol, kerosene, or diesel. It’s a multi-stage process and one that adds multiple layers of costs and actually of energy consumption as well.
Gretchen Reese (20:47):
If we take a peak at eFuel’s key element, which is in fact, hydrogen, it leads to questions initially provoked by looking at hydrogen fuel cells. A hydrogen fuel cell is an electrochemical cell that converts the chemical energy of hydrogen and an oxidizing agent into electricity through a pair of redox reactions. The trouble here is that hydrogen loses a lot of its power during the process of production.
Gretchen Reese (21:08):
According to transport and environment, hydrogen fuel cells are actually 2.3 times less energy efficient than batteries with the deficit dropping to about two times less efficient by 2050 as technologies continue to evolve and get better with time. Especially when we’re looking at EV batteries and this new Ultium technology coming out from GM.
Gretchen Reese (21:26):
Synthetic fuels are actually said to be less efficient still, which in my mind is a little bit surprising. The estimate is actually about four times worse than batteries and very little improvement is projected to be seen by 2050. So putting it plainly, powering the current electric or not the electric car fleet, but just the current car fleet with synthetic fuels instead of batteries will actually require about four times as much electricity generation. So we’re looking at this as a whole, it seems a bit impractical, if you ask me.
Gretchen Reese (21:54):
This is also in the hope and the assumption that the eFuel being made is produced at renewable refineries like I previously mentioned a fuel time. So solar powered, hydro powered, wind powered, which right now it’s only at about 1% of eFuels being produced in this way. Otherwise, it’s not necessarily as green a fuel as you think. Actually right now, it’s not even considered a green fuel at all. Some say that it’s the oil and gas industry trying to keep up with the more sustainable demands of customers as environmental concerns stay top of mind for many. Potentially, it’s a relevance question, but I digress. That’s not my call to make.
Gretchen Reese (22:29):
When you compile everything together, there are some that say that eFuel will become a mass scale adoption initiative too late. Right now, it’s looking like eFuels will provide about an 85% reduction in total internal combustion engine CO2 emissions. Whereas, you also have electric vehicles that will take a large portion of the sustainable transportation market, which can eliminate CO2 vehicle emissions completely.
Gretchen Reese (23:05):
Which technology will come out on top? Or do you see these two technology options as something that will work in tandem until each price point is accessible for the everyday consumer or fleets looking for more sustainable option? Tell me what you think. I’d love to hear your thoughts on LinkedIn. Just make sure you use the hashtag Utilimarc Fleet FYI. So I can find it because I’m fascinated by this conversation, and I’m really interested to see how far it’ll go and how quickly. So until next time, I’ll be back in your headphones next Thursday. I will see you there. Bye.
Gretchen Reese (23:37):
Hey, there, I think this is the time that I should cue the virtual high five because you’ve just finished listening to another episode of the Fleet FYIs Podcast. If you’re already wanting more content, head over to Utilimarc.com, which is Utilimarc with a C, U-T-I-L-I-M-A-R-C .com for the show notes and extra insights coming straight from our analysts to you. That’s all for me this week, so until next time, I’ll catch you later.
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