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Around half the vehicles that will be on European roads in 2030 have already been sold, most with gasoline or diesel engines. 

This is a huge problem for the world’s low-emission goals, as these vehicles will have to play their part in cutting CO2 emissions. But how can this be achieved? The answer, according to Bosch, is renewable synthetic fuels. 

Ansgar Christ, an expert for renewable synthetic fuels at Bosch says that the idea is to create a cycle where the CO2 emitted by burning renewable synthetic fuels is reused to produce new fuels. This means that internal combustion vehicles on the road, when powered by synthetic fuels, become climate-neutral

But, to get to this point, this movement needs to be pushed by industry leaders and energy giants. 

“Although it is technically already possible to manufacture synthetic fuels, capacity is lacking,” says Christ. “It has to be expanded rapidly to meet demand. Incentives could come from fuel quotas, offsetting CO2 savings against fleet consumption, and long-term planning certainty.”

And this isn’t limited to the automotive industry, as renewable synthetic fuels will be vital to current airplanes, ships and heavy-goods vehicles, which must also contribute to reduced CO2 levels.

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Ecological Impact 

Battery electric vehicles rely on a well-developed infrastructure of charging stations which, ultimately, do not exist today. This presents yet another advantage of synthetic fuels, which can be used with today’s infrastructure – including engines in vehicles on the road… even classic cars!

The advantage of renewable synthetic fuels, says Christ, is that their use has a much faster ecological impact than replacing vehicles and infrastructure, as existing filling stations can remain in operation. “We need both, renewable synthetic fuels in addition to electromobility to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he adds. 

So why has the industry been put off by synthetic fuels? Well, a lot of this comes down to costs. However, due to new renewable synthetic fuels, it will become far cheaper, thanks to expanding production capacities and the falling cost of electricity generated from renewable sources.

“Present studies suggest that a pure fuel cost of between 1.20 and 1.40 euros a litre can be achieved by 2030, and as little one euro by 2050,” states Christ. “These fuels’ cost disadvantage compared with fossil fuels could be significantly reduced if the value was ascribed to the environmental advantage of renewable synthetic fuels.”

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EVs – not the be-all and end-all… 

Although electric vehicles will play a huge part in the transport of tomorrow, they may only be suitable in short-distances – such as in cities. This creates another argument for renewable synthetic fuels as viable alternative applications – especially in long-haul – where range and performance comes into play. 

Christ agrees that, for long-haul applications, synthetic fuels are predestined. “Hydrogen is the synthetic fuel easiest to produce,” he says. “Especially for trucks and cars that are mainly driven long-haul, Bosch is developing a hydrogen fuel cell system. 

“If it uses green electricity during production, hydrogen allows CO2-free driving,” he continues. “The hydrogen tank can be refilled with highly compressed gas in a matter of minutes and lasts for typical driving distances of today’s trucks.”

This is just the start in the industry’s drive towards hitting targets, such as the Paris Climate Agreement’s long-term goal to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 °C and to limit the increase to 1.5 °C. If achieved, this would substantially reduce the risks and effects of climate change.

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The fossil CO₂ emitted by road vehicles will have to be reduced to nearly zero over the next three decades for this to happen,” adds Christ. “To achieve this goal, we will need electromobility – battery electric and fuel cell electric vehicles. Additionally we will need renewable synthetic fuels, we will still miss our targets if we do not replace fossil with synthetic fuel.”

In short, there is no silver bullet when it comes to the climate crisis. Synthetic fuels may have had a bad reputation in the past, but they hold the key to supporting the transition over to such innovations as battery electric and hydrogen vehicles that are still in there relative infancy.

After all, EVs are only as emissions-free as the production of electricity that charges their batteries.

If you would like to attend our free live event debating the future of fuel, click on the link below.

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