NG Barratt’s well-known Jaguar E-Type is already running on synthetic fuel
With the EU aiming to reduce 100 per cent of CO2 emissions from all new vehicles sold after 2035 and a UK ban on new ICE car sales coming into force five years earlier, this could have a knock-on effect for owners of older cars. However, German transport secretary, Michael Theurer, has requested that the EU reconsiders its position on carbon-neutral fuels, issuing an exemption for e-fuels – and the UK could potentially follow.
The advanced technology uses no fossil fuels. Electricity created by wind turbines is used to produce hydrogen through electrolysis; in tandem, CO2 is captured from the ambient air or biological waste, and once combined they create eMethanol. Through a process of synthesis, the eMethanol is converted into synthetic gasoline, which enables the nearly CO2- neutral operation of petrol engines.
Porsche, in partnership with Highly Innovative Fuels, ExxonMobil and Siemens Energy, is leading the fight for renewable fuels. At the end of last year, Porsche opened its e-fuels pilot plant in Chile, where it is producing synthetic fuels on an industrial scale – 130,000-litres annually. Porsche has already invested over $100m (£81m) in the development and production of e-fuels, which could save its halo 911 model from electrification.
Member of the Executive Board for Development and Research at Porsche, Michael Steiner, comments: “The potential of e-fuels is huge. There are currently more than 1.3 billion vehicles with combustion engines worldwide. Many of these will be on the roads for decades to come, and e-fuels offer the owners of existing cars a nearly carbon-neutral alternative.”
In the UK, the Historic&Classic Vehicles Alliance (HCVA) is working with fuel specialist Coryton, and is pushing for government investment via the Automotive Transformation Fund (ATF), a £1bn programme supporting large-scale green industrialisation. There are different categories of sustainable fuels, ranging from advanced bios to synthetics and e-fuels. Coryton’s work with advanced bios replaces fossil chemistry with a sustainable, environmentally-friendly alternative. It essentially recycles the carbon already present in our atmosphere, using waste to create a bio-ethanol, reformed into liquid to fuel cars. The end product has none of the same properties as traditional ethanol, which can prove corrosive inside older vehicles.
Garry Wilson, who recently stepped down from his role as the HCVA’s CEO, told us before his departure: “We’ve had Coryton’s fuel running in road and racing cars, and we recently helped it place a pump on site at Bicester Heritage, fuelling Starter Motor cars – the charity for young drivers – with sustainable fuels. It’s not like the E10 or E5 debate; it drops straight in.” According to Garry, these are secondgeneration bio fuels: “They don’t use crop land to produce specific bio mass. They use waste, such as the husks from oaks and corn harvesting that usually get ploughed back into the ground, releasing toxic methane.”
The HVCA is also pushing the government to reduce duty on sustainable fuels, promoting early adoption and accelerating roll-out. It is seeing plenty of interest from individual owners, but also businesses keen to put sustainable fuels in classics following a service, restoration or before a sale. In combination with carbon offsetting schemes, there is the potential for the classic car industry to present a positive message.
While sustainable fuels are currently expensive, mass adoption will reduce costs. Like conventional fuel, they are easy to transport and store, and they can be distributed using existing infrastructure. They also allow legacy cars to emit zero emissions, which could circumnavigate increasingly strict urban regulations, such as London’s ULEZ.