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Synthetic fuels are an ‘ant-hole’?

The European Union (EU) has agreed to allow sales of petrol and other internal combustion engine vehicles to continue after 2035, as long as they use synthetic fuels that do not emit greenhouse gases when burnt.

Germany, which was asked to review the policy by the automotive and other industries, requested the review.What impact will this last-minute revision of the policy, which comes at a time when the procedures for a 35-year ban on the sale of new petrol cars are in their final stages, have on the future of the automobile?

First, the significance of adding synthetic fuels as a decarbonisation option is not small. However, given their relatively high cost, it is unlikely to reverse the trend towards the widespread use of electric vehicles (EVs), which are ahead of the pack.

Rather, there is a possibility that the search for practical applications as an alternative to fossil fuels in areas such as aircraft, ships and city gas will continue. Various ideas have emerged for decarbonising aircraft and ships, such as electrification, but they lack the decisiveness of EVs in cars. Synthetic fuels have the advantage that existing pipeline networks can be used, even for city gas.

The impact on vehicles should not be ruled out as limited. This is because some believe that this amendment may be an ‘ant-hole’ leading to the next one.

The agreement calls for 100% synthetic fuel if internal combustion engine vehicles are to continue to be sold. However, if the conversion to EVs does not progress as the 35-year period approaches and the supply of synthetic fuels is limited, discussions on the continued use of petroleum-based fuels in the form of blending synthetic fuels with petrol and diesel oil may emerge. It is also necessary to prepare for discussions on blending biofuels with petroleum-based fuels.