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E-fuel greener than an EV? Not so fast, new study says

A handful of companies want to see synthetic, sustainable gas take off, but one study says the benefits aren't as rosy as they seem.

Porsche fuel door
Porsche has been a big proponent of e-fuels, though said in the past that EVs will take the lead.

E-fuels, or synthetic gasoline, holds a lot of promise for fans of the internal-combustion engine. Particularly because sustainable and renewable gasoline can cut emissions and make the cars we know and love from today, and yesteryear, a whole lot greener. However, Transport & Environment, a European group focused on environmentalism, published a new study late last month that provides evidence suggesting e-fuels are not the best way to decarbonize the automotive sector. Instead, battery-electric cars are the best alternative with the technology we have today.

To be up front, electrification is absolutely winning the battle when it comes to sustainable ways of transportation. However, T&E's analysis comes as some companies lobby to include e-fuels in the upcoming Euro 7 emissions regulations for emissions-reduction credits. T&E instead provides evidence e-fuels do not provide the same carbon reductions as an EV, and in their research, cost consumers more money in the long run than an EV.

Specifically, the group's total cost of ownership model shows running a car on e-fuel would cost $12,000 more than charging an EV. Another data point: e-fueling up a car would be 43% more costly for the average driver than plugging in an EV. The group also said that compared to automakers focusing on EVs, turning to e-fuel may cost around $12,000 in credits to compensate for associated emissions come 2030. EVs, on the other hand, may only require $3,600 in credits to offset emissions associated with manufacturing the car.

T&E assumes synthetic gasoline production remains expensive and that battery-powered cars reach a price parity with traditional gasoline-powered cars sometime in the middle of this decade. Those are two big assumptions, although data does project EVs will continue to drop in price through this decade. Nonetheless, it's good to highlight.

As for actual climate-friendliness, EVs are greener. Even if societies didn't replace electricity grids running on fossil fuels, but largely switched to EVs through this decade, battery-powered cars would produce 40% fewer CO2 emissions than a car running e-fuel. In other words, T&E argued e-fuel provides fewer climate benefits and would require more renewable energy (and investments) to make things balance out.

Keeping in mind this is only one study, it still raises valid points. So far, e-fuel development has largely focused on high-performance cars and vintage vehicles. Even Porsche, one of the largest companies researching synthetic gasoline, explicitly said any advances will not replace its plan to electrify the cars it sells. Instead, e-fuel could keep cars that can't flip to an electric powertrain on the road without the fear of any future penalties or climate guilt. Then again, Porsche also believes the e-fuel it's working on is just as clean as an EV, when taking production-related emissions into consideration.