The car industry is accelerating towards a diverse future. The Paris Climate Agreement means there is a clear goal for the entire automotive sector to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050, but exactly how on this increasingly warm Earth we’re going to get there is still up in the air.
With so many millions of cars spread across such a diverse collection of first, second and third world countries, the truth is there isn’t one magic, fix-all solution. Which is why car companies are looking for multiple answers that will help us all help fight man-made climate change.
Mazda is at the forefront of this challenge, simultaneously developing electric cars, such as its current MX-30 EV, while also showcasing its advanced plug-in hybrid technology in the forthcoming Mazda CX-60 PHEV model. The award-winning MX-30 R-EV also features an ultra-compact version of the Japanese carmaker’s iconic rotary engine as a range extender in markets abroad.
And now, Mazda has announced it will be part of a unified effort to help spur the development and widespread adoption of synthetic, carbon-neutral fuels.
Better known as eFuels, these newly developed liquid fuels have the potential to allow carbon-neutral motoring, using existing engines and infrastructure, for a fraction of the cost of switching to an all-electric vehicle.
Vitally, they will also be able to cater to other transport industries - such as aviation and shipping – where electrification isn’t viable with existing technology.
Mazda recently announced it has joined a Japanese conglomerate of fellow car makers and fuel companies, known as The Research Association of Biomass Innovation for Next Generation Automobile Fuels. This group also includes ENEOS Corporation (one of Japan’s leading petroleum companies), Toyota Motor Corporation, Toyota Tsusho Corporation, Suzuki, Subaru and Daihatsu.
Hiroyuki Yamashita, Senior Principal Engineer responsible for technological research at Mazda, said it was an honour for the company to be included in this group, which has already begun work on developing eFuels in Japan.
“Through the Research Association, we will work together with other member companies to promote research and development on production technology for bioethanol fuel and other technologies. We will make every effort to increase the potential of carbon-neutral fuels, a promising option for achieving a carbon-neutral society.”
While eFuels or synthetic fuels have the potential to play a major role in the future of motoring, for many of us they are still largely unknown. So let’s break down exactly what eFuels are, why they are environmentally better than conventional fuels, like petrol and diesel, and what role they can play in the future.
WHY EFUELS ARE IMPORTANT?
One of the critical elements of eFuels according to the companies developing them, is they can replace existing liquid fuels without any modifications to an existing petrol or diesel internal-combustion engine.
In theory, this means every car on the road can become carbon-neutral overnight, which means the world can move towards a net zero carbon future sooner and without forcing every motorist to buy a new electric car.
Another major benefit for eFuels is that they can take advantage of the existing fueling infrastructure. This means motorists will be able to refuel their cars in the same way they already do, reducing the pressure on the growing EV charging network.
The potential for eFuels is significant, which is why the Japanese Research Association isn’t the only organisation looking into the technology.
HIF Global has been another leader in this field, combining the resources of ExxonMobil and Siemens Energy to get a pilot facility up and running in Chile. The company has already announced plans for three more eFuels production plants, including one in Australia, which will be located in north-west Tasmania.
ARE EFUELS BETTER OR WORSE THAN ELECTRIC CARS?
The reality is the answer isn’t binary and instead both are needed for the future of mobility. This is why the European Union recently changed plans to mandate electric vehicles by 2035 in favour of a carbon-neutral target that will allow eFuels to be used alongside widespread EV adoption.
Critics will point out that a car running on synthetic fuel still produces tailpipe emissions, but the goal of synthetic fuel providers is to ensure eFuels are produced in a way that those emissions never exceed the amount of CO2 captured from the atmosphere in their production - thus ensuring they are carbon-neutral.
Obviously, by allowing combustion cars that currently add to the CO2 in the atmosphere to switch to eFuels, the net result will be a reduction in harmful emissions.
The other challenge for synthetic fuels is cost. With production limitations, the cost per litre is extremely high, so until supply is increased, eFuels will remain a niche option.
Importantly, while Mazda and the Research Association are primarily focused on developing eFuels for cars, in the future synthetic fuels will likely play a major role in other industries that cannot switch to electric power easily.
These will include shipping, aviation and heavy transport, which are currently amongst some of the heaviest CO2 producers in the world, so transitioning these to carbon-neutral fuel has the potential to make a significant advancement towards net zero carbon by 2050, in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement.
So, in the future, you will see car companies, including Mazda, providing motorists with multiple options for carbon-neutral driving. These will include more EVs, as well as the same kind of cars and SUVs currently already enjoyed by Mazda customers around the world.