08.09.22 “The plan is to ban combustion engines and do everything with electricity” Interview with Monika Griefahn, Chairwoman of the Board of the eFuel Alliance • Reading time: 4 min.

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Dr. Monika Griefahn is a founder member of Greenpeace Germany and a former Social Democrat environment minister in the German state of Lower Saxony. Her current role is chairwoman of the board of the eFuel Alliance. Its members are companies and research institutions from a variety of industries that want to push ahead with the production of electricity-based fuels (e-fuels).

Monika Griefahn, you have played an active role in environmental policy for decades. Why are you now committed to the cause of e-fuels in particular? 

I am doing this because electric vehicles alone will not allow us to combat climate change quickly enough. We must not only focus on the new vehicles, but also take the existing cars, trucks, and construction machines into consideration. E-fuels extract CO2 from the atmosphere and this is then emitted when they are burned, which means that they could make all the existing vehicles climate neutral immediately. That must be better than continuing to use fossil fuels for decades, given that the 1.4 billion existing vehicles will definitely still be on the roads for years to come. In Germany alone there will still be 30 million vehicles with combustion engines in use by 2030, alongside the planned 15 million electric cars. And aircraft and ships cannot operate using batteries. In these industries, e-fuels are the only means of achieving climate neutrality. 

E-fuels are often criticized for the poor efficiency of the production process. What is your response to this? 

I would say to these critics that in Germany we currently import 80 percent of the energy we need in the form of fossil fuels, and I do not understand what they have against us obtaining climate-neutral fuels in the future from regions where there is a surplus of renewable energies. One big advantage of e-fuels is also that they can be transported much more easily by tanker or pipeline than green hydrogen. In addition, the import of e-fuels would be an economic policy that puts our partner countries on an equal footing. We would not simply be buying raw materials from them, but a product. This opens up considerable value creation opportunities in these countries and makes e-fuels a very attractive prospect for them.  

Energy security is currently an important consideration. Which parts of the world would the e-fuels come from? 

Chile is one well-known example, because it is very windy there. Other countries include Australia, Namibia, South Africa, Tunisia, and the Arab states, which are investing heavily in renewable energies. The sources would in any case be much more diversified than they are today, and there would be more democratic states on the list of suppliers. By contrast, when it comes to fossil fuels, we are currently highly dependent on countries like Russia and Saudi Arabia. We also rely on China for many of the materials that we need for electric vehicles. 

Your aim is to combat climate change more quickly with the help of e-fuels. When will the new fuels be available in large quantities? 

The technology is ready for use, and it should be possible to manufacture e-fuels quickly on an industrial scale. However, we do not currently have the right policies in place for ramping up production. E-fuels are subject to exactly the same taxes as gasoline and diesel and are not offset against the fleet emissions limit. We are calling for them to be treated as being just as climate friendly as electric vehicles. The energy tax should be set at or very close to zero. In addition, permission should be given to blend e-fuels with conventional fuels. If that were to happen, we could meet part of the demand with e-fuels by 2026 and a large proportion of it by 2030. The government is unfortunately dragging its feet on this at the moment, because it is putting all the emphasis on electrification.

Why are the policies so unfavorable? The government must surely have an interest in promoting e-fuels? 

It does, but only for use in aircraft and ships. The problem with this is that are 20,000 aircraft and between 50,000 and 90,000 ships throughout the world, depending on how you calculate the figure. But the amounts that they would use do not make it possible to produce e-fuels at attractive prices. To achieve this, we need the huge car market with the vast number of existing vehicles. In addition, alongside kerosene the refining process for e-fuels produces gasoline and diesel, which should not be wasted. 

What will the e-fuels cost when they are available in large quantities? 

According to the manufacturers, the price for consumers in 2030 is likely to be around one euro per liter. In 2025, it will still be roughly 2.50 euros. If we blend e-fuels with gasoline or diesel, for example at a rate of five percent, they would be competitive now, because the price of fossil fuels is constantly rising. But the real problem with the costs is the tax system. 

Is the government delaying giving its support because it wants to get rid of combustion engines at any cost? 

That is what I am afraid of. The decision-makers in the German government and the EU Commission whom I have spoken to want to ban combustion engines and do everything with electricity: heat houses with heat pumps and run cars on batteries. But there are limits to this. For example, in the city where I live many of the houses cannot be fitted with heat pumps. It is important for us to consider other models when it comes to heating and mobility. Much of this has not yet been fully thought through. 

Can e-fuels also be used for heating? 

Yes. Many people have relatively new heating systems that could be made climate friendly with the help of e-fuels. The very old oil heating systems would of course have to be replaced, but the ones with condensing boilers could still be used. Older peoplein particular are often not in a position to invest a lot of money in their heating systems, because in many cases they cannot get loans.


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