This Tuesday, the EU Council votes to ban new gasoline, diesel or hybrid vehicles from 2035 after the deal unlocked this weekend. Germany, which expressed doubts about the regulation at the last minute, ended up agreeing with the EU to incorporate a clause that will allow the registration of vehicles with a combustion engine if you use only synthetic fuelsthose manufactured with CO2 and hydrogen generated from renewable energies, still in a very early stage of development.
In the absence of knowing how to translate this exception, another country, Italy, fights for vehicles with a combustion engine can continue to circulate if they use biofuels. In the opinion of his government and many of the deputies who voted against it at the time, this option would expand the possibilities for consumers.
While the automotive industry is moving towards forced marches towards electrification, voices in the sector defend, like Italy, that limits should not be established in advance for other alternative technologies to the electric car, which in principle would also meet the objectives green from Brussels. These are the fuels, under investigation or already commercialized, that intend to be an alternative to gasoline:
Synthetic fuels are made from CO2 captured from the atmosphere and hydrogen obtained from renewable energy and water (known as green hydrogen). From both raw materials, a chain of hydrocarbons is obtained that can be used as fuel in conventional combustion engines of all types of means of transport: cars and also trucks, boats… It would be a carbon neutral fuel: although a combustion will always emit CO2, it would be CO2 previously captured from the atmosphere in the production process. Therefore, Germany considers it perfectly comparable to other formulas.
From the refining sector they explain that “It still has development stages to make it an industrial and competitive reality“, but they argue that it is necessary to bet on them, among other things, because there are sectors for which electrification is not an option. Among the automobile companies, the most interested are those in the luxury sector, which are looking for a formula in this fuel so that their vehicles can continue to circulate and circulate in cities with the zero emission label.
The Italian bet is on biofuels, much more developed than synthetic ones. The big companies in the sector are focused on the development of first generation biofuels, produced from biomass, and especially second generation, created from all kinds of organic waste and free from the problem of having to dedicate crops for this purpose.
The sector highlights how this type of fuel is manufactured from raw materials as diverse as forest and agricultural waste, used oil… They also highlight that they can be used today in combustion engines of any type and take advantage of existing distribution networks. Among the European projects, in Spain, the one by Repsol in Cartagena stands out for the construction of a plant that produces 250,000 tons of advanced biofuels per year and which should start operating in 2023.
As for the degree of development, the first generation was introduced in the market and the second generation would also be in use, although on a smaller scale. Current efforts are focused on the latter.
Other low carbon fuels
It would be, according to the Spanish Association of Petroleum Product Operators, another type of fuel made from non-biological waste, such as urban waste or plastics.
The sector defends that all these fuels will be essential for sectors such as maritime or air, but they also advocate them for the automotive sector: They speak of enabling a “fair and efficient transition” that “includes all citizens, regardless of their economic resources.”