Germany wins regulation change for post-2035 sale of e-fuel IC engines

It has been reported by various media outlets that the German government has secured an agreement with the European Commission which would see internal combustion (IC) engine-powered passenger vehicles exclusively using synthetic e-fuels exempted from the blanket ban on the sale of vehicles with IC engines due for implementation in 2035.

“We have found an agreement with Germany on the future of e-fuels in cars,” said Frans Timmermans, the EC’s Green Deal chief in a Twitter post. “We will work now on getting the CO2 standards for cars regulation adopted as soon as possible.”

The deal brings to a close a possible block to the blanket ban which had been organised by Germany and some allied countries just days before the 2035 ban on IC sales was to receive formal approval.

Timmermans is reported to have said that the Commission will now look to turn what was previously a non-binding annex to the law into a concrete workaround which will permit the sale of IC vehicles using e-fuels. This will likely take the form of an e-fuel only addition to the Euro 6 compliance regulations.

Germany had been demanding that a legal element be included in the legislation to ensure the demands were met, even if the European Parliament or courts had attempted to block or alter the addendum.

So while the legislation covering a ban on sales of IC vehicles will still pass, it sets up a further round of discussions covering technical additions applied to e-fuelled vehicles that will satisfy lawmakers in Berlin. The vote on the 2035 ban on IC engine sales is scheduled for 28 March (Tuesday).

The wrangling over the 2035 blanket ban on IC engine sales dates back to 2013, when then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel added amendments to the legislation intended to support OEM carmakers.

While most vehicle manufacturers are advancing electric vehicle development programmes, various car makers and their suppliers have looked for ways to maintain the sale of their IC products.

Using e-fuels in an IC engine still results in tailpipe emissions, but the fuel is considered largely CO2-neutral as carbon is removed from the air as the biomass used to produce fuel is grown. Although CO2-neutral, it is likely e-fuel vehicles will still only make up a small fraction of total sales, simply due to the cost of the fuel and limited availability.

That said, European lawmakers have been keen to enforce the sale of vehicles which produce zero-emissions at the tailpipe, while largely ignoring the upstream output of CO2 related to material sourcing for battery production or the need to put in place sufficient recycling points for expired battery packs.

How the exclusive use of e-fuels will be monitored/enforced has yet to be defined. It’s possible that all fossil-sourced fuel (petrol, diesel) could be removed from pipelines and forecourts, replaced by e-fuels. Existing infrastructure should support exclusive delivery of e-fuels, although without massive investment production volumes and supply will still be far below that of fossil equivalents.

In a related story, in late 2022 ExxonMobil became the last fossil oil giant to withdraw its support related to development of algae to produce biofuel. Investment largely covered the genetic modification of algae to produce greater amounts of lipids (fat) which serves as the basis for biofuel. Without considerable investment, possibly totalling multiple billions of dollars, it could be decades before algae-sourced fuel is produced in sufficient quantities to replace current demand for fossil fuels.

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