What are synthetic fuels?

The new EU law proposes a phaseout in two steps: the first, to be achieved by 2030, will require all new cars sold in the bloc to emit 55% less CO2 compared to 2021 levels. By 2035, all new cars sold in the bloc will have to emit zero CO2. “The direction is clear: in 2035 new cars and vans must have zero emissions. It brings a big contribution to climate neutrality by 2050 and is a key part of the #EUGreenDeal” tweeted Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president for the European Green Deal, following Tuesday’s vote.


E-fuels–a type of synthetic fuels—are a controversial part of the green transition. They are created by mixing CO2 with hydrogen derived from water using renewable energy. Proponents argue these are carbon-neutral because the captured CO2 used in the fuel mix offsets the one resulting from the engine combustion. But critics note that capturing CO2 just to release it again results in a net contribution of greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere.

Cars that run on synthetic fuels also emit tailpipe pollutants like carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and sulfur oxide. While they are marketed as emitting substantially fewer pollutants than traditional combustion engines, real-world tests have cast doubt on that assertion.


Currently, there is no widely available automobile with an engine that runs entirely on synthetic fuels. Due to the speculative nature of the technology, and its cost, it is likely that synthetic fuel-powered engines will only be used in luxury vehicles.

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