But only if the engine is impossible to run on regular gasoline.
Germany's efforts to get the European Union to make allowance for a synthetic fuel exemption in the 2035 CO2 ban have yielded fruit, but that fruit is not as tasty as hoped. Here's what happened.
Germany, Italy, and several other EU member states refused to agree to the so-called combustion ban without a clear allowance for the implementation of synthetic fuel. The preexisting wording in the legislation effectively allowed for the use of synthetic fuels post-2035 as its fight is against CO2 emissions, not combustion. But it was not explicit, so the German transport minister, Volker Wissing, refused to lend support to the legislation without a caveat, saying that "a ban on the combustion engine, when it can run in a climate-neutral way, seems a wrong approach."
Now that concession has been approved and clarified, but there's a drawback. "Vehicles with internal combustion engines can still be newly registered after 2035 if they fill up exclusively with CO2-neutral fuels," wrote Wissing on Twitter, as reported by Reuters.
The problem is that the stipulation within the concession is too restrictive. Yes, a car with an internal combustion engine can be sold and used in Europe after 2035 if it runs on carbon-neutral fuel, but the problem is that these cars can run on carbon-neutral fuel only. That means that the industry faces a problem.
The whole attraction of synthetic fuels is that they use hydrocarbons created by capturing carbon dioxide from the air and synthesizing it with green hydrogen. Its chemical makeup is the same as regular gasoline and it functions exactly as regular gasoline would. A regular Porsche 911 has already proved that this is possible. Thus, existing engine technology need not be adapted, and gas stations need make no modifications.
But if this legislation forces synthetic fuel to somehow operate in a unique way so as to prevent the use of non-carbon-neutral fuel, then most of those advantages are nullified. To make e-fuel different from regular fuel undoes years of research and development that was explicitly aimed at making e-fuel work in existing engines.
In a nutshell, this legislation says that the combustion engine can live on, but only if synthetic fuel is different from traditional gas (effectively necessitating a whole new approach to the concept of e-fuels) or the engine itself is unable to run on traditional fuels, which would surely require additional investment in new engine development. Perhaps it could be as simple as developing a sensor that would prevent the car from running if regular gasoline is detected, but again, that requires the synthetic fuel to be noticeably different from regular fuel.
Either way, this seems expensive and effectively forces most manufacturers to double down on EVs as it makes continued engine development much more expensive, especially for those automakers that have already stopped working on combustion powertrains.
For some, like BMW, Toyota, and Porsche, this concession could be relatively positive if the need for extra investment in e-fuel is minor. But it could also be the straw that breaks the camel's back due to prohibitive costs. And for the majority of automakers who have already doubled down on EVs, this new piece of leeway for the combustion engine means almost nothing in its current form.
That said, the constant flip-flopping over this debate means that we should take nothing as set in stone just yet. The world has failed to meet climate goals for decades, and whatever the solution, this continuous debate over what to do and exactly how seems to be progressing far too slowly. For all we know, we'll still be arguing come 2035.
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