Germany, one of the European Union’s most powerful member states, called on the EU to modify its ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles, set to come into effect in 2035. It suggested that new cars built with internal combustion engines could be allowed after the deadline as long as they run on e-fuels.
If the proposals were to go ahead, cars powered by e-fuels would become a new category of vehicle, and sales of such vehicles would be allowed in the EU.
Cars running on e-fuel do still produce pollution at the exhaust, but the carbon-capturing processes that can be deployed when making synthetic fuel offsets those emissions.
Any vehicle which could run on e-fuels would have a “fuelling inducement system” which would prevent the car from working if it were filled with conventional petrol or diesel, according to Reuters.
Hugo Griffiths, consumer editor at carwow, said the particle U-turn was inevitable given the issues with affordability, charging infrastructure, supply chains and electricity-generation capacities around the continent.
He added that he hopes this “forward-thinking, progressive policy” will be echoed in the United Kingdom.
Mr Griffiths said: “It is nothing short of inevitable that the European Commission has drafted legislation allowing the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035 as long as they can run on synthetic fuel.
“The question now must be when, not if, the UK will echo these changes.
“While electric cars are in many ways superior to petrol and diesel vehicles, consumers have legitimate concerns over affordability, charging infrastructure, supply chains and electricity-generation capacities.”
Since the UK has left the European Union, if plans to allow e-fuels were to go ahead, the legislation would not apply to the United Kingdom.
According to carwow, current vehicle legislation runs in parallel with European Union rules, meaning that any cars that are “type approved” in the EU would also meet UK requirements.
The UK has more ambitious net zero benchmarks. From 2030, five years earlier than the EU, sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles will be outlawed in the UK.
This is set to be followed by a sales ban on hybrid vehicles five years later, and a potential ban on the most polluting lorries by 2040.
Mr Griffiths added: “Car company after car company has spoken out against a blanket ban of new petrol and diesel cars, but it took national action from governments – namely Germany and Italy – to wake legislators up.
“However noble the intentions may be, the laws of physics and economics are more powerful than a policymaker’s pen.
“Cleaning up urban air and reducing vehicle CO2 emissions are essential but mandating that only electric new cars can be sold by 2030 is unworkable.
“Practicable solutions, such as those offered by carbon-neutral e-fuels, suggest forward-thinking, progressive policy, which we need to see replicated in the UK.”
Recent research found that classic car owners would favour synthetic, or e-fuels, rather than converting the vehicles to electric.
A Footman James survey found that more than three-quarters of respondents said they would prefer to continue using fuel.
They cited the expensive price of converting their historic vehicles to electric, although the price is slowly falling as electrification becomes more popular.
Stephanie Searle, Regional Lead at the International Council on Clean Transportation, wrote in 2020 that e-fuels “wouldn’t save the internal combustion engine”.
A report stated that significant volumes of renewable e-fuels won’t be made for less than €3 (£2.65) or €4 (£3.54) per litre by 2030.
The technology required to make e-fuels can also be expensive, in addition to the process.