Fuel Systems Add Additional Levers to Electrification for Accelerating Reductions in Carbon Dioxide Emissions from Transport

Electrification offers significant life-cycle benefits for reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Transitioning to alternative fuel systems such as e-fuels and hydrogen can accelerate this reduction. Appropriately developed e-fuels can reduce emissions from the current parc and not only rely on a transition to a vehicle technology that relies solely on the rollout of new vehicles. Both electrification and e-fuels are currently severely constrained in their ability to reduce emissions from the current parc. Electrification is limited due to the inherently slow increase in the cumulative number of vehicles within the overall parc. E-fuels are limited due to their meager supply availability.

FS CO2 4-13-23 blogSource: The ITB Group, Ltd.

Advanced onboard hydrogen systems can offer acceptable vehicle ranges while refueling times are comparable to those of liquid fuels. It is no surprise then that there is tremendous interest in the use of hydrogen as a fuel with forecasts showing that the number of light-, medium and heavy-duty vehicles by 2030 could globally be more than 4 million. Hydrogen will not be viewed as the key energy vector for light-duty vehicles, for years to come. Electrification will emerge as the dominant energy form within ten years for light duty vehicles as shown in the exhibit.

Forecast Development of the Global Electric Vehicle Market

bar chart 1a outlines for web

Source: The ITB Group, Ltd.

The global light duty parc has been estimated to be around 1.2 billion vehicles. This number fluctuates over time due to factors such as changes in population, economic conditions, and transportation trends. The use of e-fuels by even a small percentage of the global parc can be shown to lead to a sizeable reduction of emissions in the shorter term, while electric vehicles are rolled out.

E-fuels are synthetic fuels produced from green hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Green hydrogen is produced by the electrolysis of water using green electricity while carbon dioxide is captured either from a concentrated source such as flue gases or directly from air. Given the low concentration of carbon dioxide in ambient air, this approach is excessively energy intensive. E-fuels have also been referred to as electrofuels, Power-to-X (PtX), Power-to-Liquids (PtL), Power-to-gas (PtG) or simply, synthetic fuels.

Of course, in terms of overall efficiency the use of e-fuels cannot compare with electric vehicles. With e-fuels electricity is used to produce hydrogen. A common next step, the synthesis of hydrogen and carbon dioxide produces clean syngas (hydrogen and carbon monoxide). Syngas can then be processed to produce various e-fuels including e-methane, e-gasoline, e-diesel and e-jet. Syngas is typically converted to e-gasoline or e-diesel via methanol or a Fischer-Tropsch synthesis.

Processes for the Production of e-Fuels

Wie-werden-efuels-hergestellt_RGB_09-21_EN_RZ_vb copy for webSource: efuel-alliance.eu

Electric vehicles operate efficiently with electricity as the energy vector. In fact, it has been calculated that they are 4 to 6 times more efficient than e-fuels used in combustion engines. A major benefit of e-fuels is that their use requires minimal infrastructural change from present day vehicles. Existing storage, distribution, refueling assets can be used. For vehicle use, appropriate e-fuels require little modifications to existing vehicles and have far higher energy storage density than batteries.

Various studies have in the recent past shown that a 1.5ºC warming of the earth could highly likely occur in the next decade. Transport’s contribution to this occurrence cannot be sufficiently reduced in this timeframe merely by the introduction of new electric vehicles. By reducing emissions from the vehicle parc, e-fuels can make a major contribution to this reduction in the medium term. There is a major problem: the meager availability of e-fuels. An analysis by the Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) demonstrated that all worldwide planned e-fuels projects will result in only meeting 10% of Germany’s demand for e-fuels in aviation, shipping and chemicals over the next few years. Massive investments are urgently required to overcome this shortage.

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions from transport over the next 20 years depends not only on investing in the most efficient solutions but also solutions that will limit overall life cycle emissions in the shorter term, 5 to 15 years. By making massive investments in e-fuels in the short term, this will lay a solid foundation for the availability of green hydrogen that can be used in the longer term, as a direct energy vector for transport. Eventually cleantech transport will involve primarily electrification and secondarily, hydrogen.

ITB has dialogue with companies throughout the mobility value chain to determine unmet needs and innovations for improved automotive thermal management, energy storage systems, sustainability and interiors. Recent efforts have involved the impacts of moving away from ICEs, developments in hydrogen technologies and e-fuels including a quarterly Global ICE Briefing.

For more information please Contact Us.