e-fuels – the future?



e-fuels – the future?

e-fuels have been making the headlines of late. Following the first commercial e-fuel plant being built in Chile in 2021, much has been made of the solution’s capacity to offer an alternative to automotive electrification.

Made from hydrogen and CO2, e-fuels are synthetic alternatives to fossil fuels that can be used in traditional combustion engines, which can be distributed at pre-existing fuel stations. While e-fuels do still produce CO2 when burnt, these emissions are offset because of the CO2 captured from the atmosphere in the production of the fuel.

In March, the European Commission and Germany announced a deal to allow the sale of vehicles with internal combustion engines (ICEs) that run on e-fuels. Before this development, automakers across the world were taking steps to prepare for wider automotive electrification. It is no secret that many governments have introduced legislation banning the sale of new petrol, diesel, and, in some cases, hybrid vehicles across the 2030s. As has been seen here in the UK, this hasn’t moved at the pace that many had hoped; there remains insufficient infrastructure to make widespread automotive electrification the go-to solution.

While this is expected to change as the years go by, e-fuels certainly offer an intriguing alternative. Should they come into play on a large scale, drivers and fleet operators of vehicles that aren’t fully electric would have a ready-made solution and wouldn’t have to buy a new electric vehicle or an ICE-powered vehicle in an inflated second-hand market. Similarly, vehicle manufacturers would continue to be able to produce these types of vehicles.

In this scenario, hybrid vehicles would continue to be produced beyond the initial deadlines set by various governments. This will see more hybrid vehicles on the road than would have been the case had e-fuels been ruled out as an alternative to electric vehicles. Not enough has been made of one of the major downsides of many hybrid vehicles on the road today – the electric motors that power them alongside their engine. Although hybrid vehicles were designed to reduce emissions, the conventional permanent magnet motors within them cause a lot of environmental issues.

Since we started Advanced Electric Machines in 2017, we’ve made no attempt to shy away from these problems. For every permanent magnet motor produced, 2kg of rare-earth materials are mined. As we’ve discussed on many occasions over the years, this is extremely damaging to the environment and harmful to those involved, as well as increasingly expensive.

Should e-fuels become a viable option in the future and new hybrid vehicles can continue to be sold, an alternative motor needs to be implemented. Fortunately, our unique semi-sinusoidal motor technology does away with rare earth magnets, offering a sustainable solution. The benefits of this go beyond environmental concerns, with the motors improving efficiency, increasing performance, and even lowering cost. If more countries follow Germany’s lead, our electric motors can ensure that the hybrid vehicles of the future are free from rare-earth materials and the issues that stem from their use.