2019-12-16

E-fuels are an emerging opportunity to decarbonise the energy, transport and industrial sectors while making the best use of existing infrastructure.

Electricity-based synthetic fuels (E-fuels) are fuels produced from electricity through the Power-to-X process. E-fuels include gaseous and liquid fuels such as hydrogen, synthetic methane and synthetic methanol.

Significant quantities of these fuels are needed to replace fossil fuels and decarbonise the economy, especially in those sectors which are hard to decarbonise, such as shipping, aviation, and some industries. This is also due to the limited availability of sustainably sourced biomass which in turns constraints the supply of biomass-derived fuels. Therefore, the latter will have to be complemented with E-fuels to meet the future demand for sustainable fuels.

E-fuels can promote decarbonisation provided that they are also sustainably sourced. This means that they need to be produced with low or zero-carbon energy sources, ideally from renewable origin. With an increasing installed capacity of renewables, soaring EU carbon price and rapid technological advancements it is expected that E-fuels can be produced at a competitive cost, allowing them to play a significant role in the decarbonisation process. These energy-dense carriers can be stored and transported. And with some exceptions for hydrogen, they are also compatible with most of the existing energy infrastructure and assets, thus requiring only limited or no further adaptations.

It is also worth noting that while the efficiency of producing E-Fuels is increasing, there are still considerable energy losses involved in the production process, as described in figures 1 and 2. These losses indicate that large volumes of clean electricity are needed to produce the required amount of E-fuels. Thus, it is very important to consider this aspect when planning their final use. As mentioned before, their application can bring the most value to hard-to-decarbonise sectors, like aviation, shipping and some industrial sectors.

Besides, they can also play a key role in balancing the electricity grid. E-fuels could be employed to generate electricity when this is needed to address the fluctuations of variable renewable energy (VRE), like wind and solar energy, or to overcome the seasonality changes between the demand for electricity and the supply of VRE electricity.

Fig 1 - E-fuels Technology Focus

Figure 1: Example of individual and overall efficiencies for cars with different vehicle drive technologies, starting from renewable electricity (source: Agora Verkehrswende, Agora Energiewende, and Frontier Economics, 2018, pag 12)

Fig 2 - E-fuels Technology Focus

Figure 2: Example of individual and overall efficiencies for different heating systems, starting from renewable electricity (source: Agora Verkehrswende, Agora Energiewende, and Frontier Economics, 2018, pag 13)

Through the concept of Clean Energy Hubs, Energy Technologies Europe fully supports the integration of E-fuels into the EU energy mix as a tool to promote both grid stability and decarbonisation of the economy. Energy Technologies Europe advocates for an adequate policy framework that accelerates their commercial uptake.