AAt first glance, the decision seems like a double whammy against combustion engines and new types of fuel, which Opel is also researching in Rüsselsheim: If the European Parliament has its way, no more combustion engines will be allowed to be registered from 2035 onwards. In addition, MEPs rejected the idea, supported by the CDU and FDP, of replacing petrol and diesel in one market with so-called e-fuels. Reason: Your production consumes too much energy.
Is Opel now giving up work on alternative fuels at the International Development Center? A good four years ago, the brand with the lightning bolt entrusted this task to one of 15 competence centers. It’s been pretty quiet about it since then. When asked, Opel does not comment exactly on the progress and also not on the decision of the European Parliament. But that obviously does not mean that the only German subsidiary of the Stellantis group is withdrawing from this area. Statements in the employee magazine “Opel-Post” suggest this. The alternative fuel, which has been tried and tested over 3000 kilometers in a Grandland SUV, can be used without any technical modifications to the engine.
Green electricity for production
E-fuels are fuels that are made from electricity and water. In order for them to pass as “green”, ideally green electricity is used. In a multi-stage process, hydrogen is first produced and then the desired fuel with properties such as gasoline, diesel or even kerosene for aircraft, as Opel engineer Felix Eitel explains. He and Group Manager Arndt Döhler accompanied the research project realized with the Grandland for three years.
According to Döhler, combustion engines can be operated in a climate-neutral manner if either carbon dioxide is extracted from the air or from coal-fired power plants for the new type of fuel. The greenhouse gas is first bound and then becomes a raw material. The bottom line is that no additional carbon dioxide is released into the air by burning an e-fuel. This is comparable to burning wood.
46 million combustion engines in Germany
Opel has now set itself the goal of offering every model in electrified form by 2024, i.e. either as a hybrid or as a purely electric car. Eitel and Döhler draw attention to e-fuels, but also and especially to cars that have been on the road for a long time or will soon be registered – and consequently will still be driven to a considerable extent in 2035: At the moment, a good 46 million combustion engines alone are in Germany approved. In principle, they could all be operated with e-fuels. Eitel: “If you were to add just one percent of e-fuels to the entire German fuel mix, you could operate the equivalent of one percent of the fleet CO2-neutrally – that corresponds to 465,000 vehicles.” That in turn roughly corresponds to the number of newly registered vehicles within twelve months electric cars in this country. This shows the great potential.
Opel is testing the e-fuel Grandland as part of a federally funded project. The SUV is therefore a 1.2-liter petrol engine. This is an engine “off the shelf without any modifications”. Operation has been tested with both pure 2-butanol and mixtures, including synthetic gasoline. The butanol has been shown to be compatible with conventional fuel pumps and injectors. A central advantage of such fuels is that they can be transported like petrol and diesel. And also fueled. Unlike in the case of charging stations for e-cars, no additional infrastructure needs to be created. However, e-fuels are even more expensive. According to experts, a liter produced on a small scale costs around 4.50 euros.