Can we really trust synthetic fuels over EVs?
The EV revolution is inevitable, but is this the way that they can coexist with combustion cars?
I was reading autocar's recent interview with Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkleman, and one topic that repetitively popped up was synthetic E-fuels. I inferred that whilst he hadn't entirely ruled them out as an option, he believed that Lamborghini should still retain engines for their "super sports cars" (think Huracan and Aventador), albeit with hybridisation over E-Fuels.
Interest on them has significantly died out over the last year or so, with Porsche and F1 being the sole main advocates in the industry. Companies such as Audi, who were once highly intrigued by the renewable alternative to petrol, diesel and kerosene, have vowed to end production of engines with near immediate effect, implying that their studies in synthetic fuel are over, and that they have come to the conclusion that electrification would be better overall for the environment and the economy. But is it really? The enthusiasts certainly don't think so. A common view is that we are only looking at EVs because governments are forcing that legislation onto us. But why is that legislation there? Is it justified? I'll explain.
According to Polestar, their car, the 2 will produce a total of 50 tonnes of CO2 on the current global energy mix. The combustion engined equivalent, an unspecified Volvo XC40, will produce 58 tonnes over the same time period. Of said 58 tonnes, about 40 come from tailpipe emissions. Porsche state that E-Fuels produce 85% less emissions than a petrol powered car of the same variety, and 85% less than 40 = 6. There are 18 tonnes of CO2 produced with the exception of tailpipe emissions, and 18 + 6 = 24 tonnes. That's a significant advantage over the EV. However, on entirely renewable fuelling infrastructure the EV will reduce its emissions to 27 tonnes. Unfortunately for the EV, given the amount of third World countries globally, in 2035 (a year when most countries will have banned the sale of new combustion cars) chances are that those emissions would come down to about 35 tonnes of CO2. Obviously there are other pollutants, such as tyre particlulates, NOx and CO amongst others, but CO2 is the main perpetrator given its quantity. Anyway, it is clear that synthetics have a large lead over EVs in this department, and if synthetics were to progress at a similar rate to EVs it is likely that by 2035 they would be producing under 15 tonnes of CO2 per car.
An EV will beat a fossil fuelled ICE on emissions every time, but when the combustion car runs under renewable synthetic E Fuels they fall behind.
Synthetics can barely hold a candle to BEVs here. Synthetic fuels have a meagre 8% efficiency, meaning only 8% of energy created is used over its lifetime. On the other hand, BEVs tend to sit around the 70% mark.
Efficiency is often closely intertwined with economics, normally with the most efficient being the cheapest. This is true here. Synthetics need so much energy (normally in the form of electricity) to source that it can cost thousands to source just a tank of fuel, as the process of sourcing and creating it is highly complicated. This is reflected down on to prices, which are 7 times more than standard petrol. BEVs cost next to nothing to source electricity for, which mean prices are also very low.
It's no secret that EVs have an imfamously short range and long charging time. However, given their need for electricity alone, at least charging time can be combatted as it can charge up at home whilst you sleep, like a phone. Range, whilst often underwhelming, is fine unless you travel 200 miles at least weekly too, and is rapidly improving. They are also all but silent, which whilst isn't appealing to the enthusiast, is nicer in the everyday. The same goes for the lack of necessity of a gearbox and instaneous delivery of torque. Also, given they use roughly 10% of the parts a combustion car uses in the powertrain, they are more simple to service and less like ly to break down.
Overall all the ICE has over the EV in terms if convenience is long range (which chances are you won't need anyway) and refuelling times (which cost significantly more). However, with its lack of convenience it goes doubtless that an ICE car is far more involving and for many that means more fun.
To conclude, are synthetics the answer? No. Are EVs much better? No, not really. Both have their positives and negatives, and governments and manafactuers need to understand that to best combat climate change, we don't need one single solution, but multiple to combat all issues that face us.