UK Gov now says it won’t follow EU lead on synthetic fuels

March 30, 2023 by

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Transport secretary says “We are not in Europe, we don’t have to do what Europe does” with regard to EU’s e-fuel ruling

The Transport Secretary grant Shapps has given a clear indication that the UK will not follow the European Union’s policy of allowing cars with conventional internal combustion engines running on synthetic fuel to remain on sale past 2030/35.

According to current policy, only zero emission cars and hybrids capable of travelling a “significant distance” in zero-emission (IE battery) mode can be sold new from 2030, before only “zero emission” (IE electric) cars are allowed from new in 2035 and beyond.

A Department for Transport (DfT) source previously told This Is Money it may follow the EU’s lead and allow cars running on so-called ‘e-fuels’ to be sold past the 2035 cut-off – as long as the fuels are “effectively” zero-emission.

Now, however, DfT boss Grant Shapps has denied the UK will follow this path, saying: “We are not in Europe, we don’t have to do what Europe does” with regard to EU’s e-fuel ruling, and that “We’ve always been more forward leaning on this stuff than the EU.”

Cars running on synthetic e-fuel still produce carbon dioxide from their exhausts, but the huge amounts of CO2 absorbed during the production of synthetic fuel means that on a large scale, they could be achieve carbon neutrality.

This is Money previously reported that the Department for Transport’s said that if synthetic fuel is proven to be “effectively zero-emission”, then cars running on the fuel could be sold past 2035 – a comment that has now apparently been contradicted by the department’s boss.

The technology behind so-called e-fuels sees renewable energy used to synthesise fuels that ignite in an engine in a manner similar to petrol and diesel. Carbon is captured either directly from the air or industrial plants, before renewable energy is used to produce hydrogen, which is combined with CO2 to make hydrocarbon-based fuels.

Cars running on e-fuel still produce pollution at the exhaust, but the carbon-capturing processes that can be deployed when making synthetic fuel offsets those emissions.

The European Union is also slated to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars from 2035. But, earlier in the month, and following objections from a number of EU countries (most notably Germany), Reuters reported that the European Commission has drafted plans that would allow e-fuel cars to remain on sale past 2035.

This infographic from 2015 shows how a project from Audi synthesised e-fuel

Reuters says the European Commission’s plans, which it has seen, would create a new category of vehicle capable of running on synthetic fuel, but a “fuelling inducement system” would prevent the car from working if it were filled with conventional petrol or diesel.