The "triumph"​ of technology neutrality

A few facts about E-Fuels

by Barnabas Szantho

A lot can change in 12 years

EU member states have agreed to ban the sale of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars from 2035. But Germany’s transport minister stalled the process at the last minute and pushed for the continued sale of E-Fuel cars. The result is being hailed by supporters as a “triumph for technological neutrality”. Here are some facts to better understand what the decision is all about.

The aim was to change nothing
E-Fuels are essentially carbon-based fuels. That’s a fact. Burning them causes as many cases of lung cancer as burning conventional fuels. Cars do not need to be modified to run on E-Fuels. You can fill up any conventional gasoline car with E-Fuel and drive away happily. (Today’s cars could have been used longer anyway. The 2035 ban would have applied only to new car sales.)

So the “triumph” means that by 2035, engineers will have to find a way to make cars that cannot use gasoline but can still run on E-Fuels. But both have the same characteristics. An interesting challenge.

Economic inefficiency is not an issue
It is also a fact that electric cars are 3x more efficient than their ICE counterparts. From another perspective, the amount of energy currently used for transportation could power 3x as many vehicles if they were all electric. Or, 3x less energy would be needed to power the same number of EVs as there are ICE cars on the road today.

Another fact is that if you add the energy needed to produce E-Fuel into the equation, the efficiency difference between an E-Fueled car with an ICE engine, and an Electric Vehicle powered by electricity is nearly tenfold. There is currently no efficient process for producing E-fuel. Nor is there sufficient manufacturing capacity. So, as a first step, significant investment would be required to implement a costly, inefficient manufacturing process.

The “triumph” is therefore the victory of a technology that is harmful to health, not economical and currently not available in sufficient quantities.

Euphemism for free market fundamentalism
By technological neutrality, the proponents of the amendment mean that no technology should be artificially restricted, that free competition should decide which solution will prevail. This is in fact the definition of free market fundamentalism. If that were the guiding principle, the world would not have restricted the production of the ozone-depleting freon to this day, because better technology wins. That the Earth would have become uninhabitable in the meantime is a secondary consideration.

The victory of hopelessness
In fact, this “triumph” has nothing to do with technological neutrality. The minister has responded to the demands of a lobby that plans to produce the very same technology in 12 years. Kodak also delayed investing in new digital technology for a long time because it would have jeopardized its traditional business model, which was based on film processing. In the end, it declared bankruptcy. The companies that are lobbying for the current change are not planning to spend any significant amount on the technological change either. But 12 years is a long time. They could change a lot of things. To use an industry example, Tesla was a small company 12 years ago, in 2011. They sold just 2,100 cars. Fast forward to 2023, and the company is selling 1.3 million vehicles per year and has become the most valuable car company in the world.

Or to look at the (soon to be missed) opportunities from another perspective, 12 years ago, the above was what state-of-the-art earbuds looked like.

(The article was published on 25th of March 2023 on LinkedIn.)

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