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Biofuels, thus catching up on e-fuels

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Biofuels, thus catching up on e-fuels

TURIN – The first battle ended with a defeat for the Meloni government, but Italy aims to win the war and recover biofuels as an alternative element to electric alone, even for cars, from 2035 onwards. For now, however, the EU has admitted, after German pressure and the government’s threat to send back to the sender the stop on the sale of petrol and diesel-powered cars in twelve years, the e-fuels. Only way for manufacturers to keep internal combustion engines alive. How all this will be accomplished is difficult to say.

The vice president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, has pledged to have an ad hoc regulation written on the subject. And it is not clear whether there will be annual registration limits in the Old Continent and what the mechanisms will be to verify that cars actually use e-fuel and not traditional petrol or diesel after 2035.

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Several possible scenarios. Next year there will be the European elections and forecasts point to a rightward turn. Which reassures the Italian government led by Prime Minister Meloni convinced that in the end biofuels will also come into play and that in 2026, the year of the revision of the rules and the assessment of the social and industrial impacts, the rules will change again. On the other hand, in the final acts of the last G7, biofuels are mentioned as an alternative, in the name of the “technological neutrality invoked” by Italy. And at the end of the trilogue, the confrontation between the European Parliament, the Commission and the European Council, bio-fuels are one of the possible fuels for aircraft.

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It is also true, as the technicians of Trasport&Environment point out, that it is one thing to talk about cars, it is a different matter for ships, planes and trains. «Electrofuels are wasted in cars and their use, like that of green hydrogen, must be reserved for the decarbonisation of those sectors where there are no alternatives, such as air and sea transport, which are not easily electrified», says Carlo Tritto of YOU.

Today in Italy there are different experiences of biofuels. And there is even a product that arrives at petrol pumps. HVOlution is already available at 150 stations with the six-legged dog flag. It is produced in the Gela and Marghera plants, transformed in biorefineries, from waste raw materials and plant residues, and from oils generated from crops that do not compete with the food supply chain. An already usable product. And in various African countries, such as Kenya, Mozambique and Congo, Eni is developing a network of agri-hubs in which vegetable oils capable of growing in marginal lands and degraded areas will be produced and not in competition with the food supply chain. The goal is to cover 35% of supply from Eni biorefineries by 2025.

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The road to e-fuels for Italy seems longer and more tortuous. There are no productions. And according to the e-fuel Alliance association, a lobby made up of Exxon Mobil, Repsol, Eni, Neste, Siemens Energy, Bosch, Mahle, ZF, Iveco and Mazda, there are 18 production sites worldwide, including experimental ones. Plants in Spain, Germany, France, Iceland, Texas and Chile, where a Porsche project is active. It is thought that e-fuel could be a petrol suitable for small series, sports cars and supercars.

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How are synthetic fuels produced? By chemically combining hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Hydrogen is obtained by electrolysis from water. We need a lot of electricity, both green and from renewable sources, such as the sun or the wind, so that the fuel has zero emissions, and a lot of water. The hydrogen is then combined, using methods such as the Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, with the CO2 extracted from the air in a high pressure catalyst: this is how e-fuel was born. The zero emission derives from the fact that the CO2 that will come out of the combustion will be equal to the one already used during the production of the fuel.

The only synthetic petrol that can currently be purchased, or rather bookable, by private individuals and to be delivered at the end of 2023 is the 95-octane Zero Syn95 from Zero Petroleum which costs 2,852 euros per liter in the special Launch edition collector’s tank. At Zero Petroleum, a British company led by Paddy Lowe, a former Formula 1 engineer, they aim to then drastically cut spending up to “bring it in line with that of fossil fuels”.

While waiting for bio, Italy wants to take the synthetic route. “Our commitment to hydrogen, which is the basis of e-fuels, is very strong,” said Environment Minister Gilberto Picetto Fratin at the 19th Italy-Spain dialogue forum. Adding: «We are ready to invest almost 4 billion in the three-year period. And we agree on the development of e-fuels. The Italian one will arrive between 2028 and 2032».

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