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Before the foundation of our association, we listened a lot. We wanted to know which questions and what possible objections could be raised against the recognition of synthetic, (almost) CO2-neutral fuels in the CO2 emissions control scheme. In the following you will find answers to the most important questions.


Basic understanding 

What is CO2 emissions control?

As of the July 2012, the EU and Switzerland introduced CO2 emissions regulations for new passenger cars. The Swiss importers were obliged to reduce the CO2 emissions of the passenger cars registered for the first time in Switzerland to 130 grams per kilometre by 2015 on average. If the CO2 emissions per kilometre exceed the target value there will be sanctions, which have been in place since 1 July 2012. Source: SFOE

What are synthetic fuels?

Synthetic fuels (synthetic fuel, synfuel), are distinguished from conventional fuels (diesel, gasoline, kerosene, etc.) by a more elaborate production process (change of the chemical structure). What is  an important characteristic of some is the replacement of petroleum as a raw material source. The XtL fuels, for example, can have properties similar to conventional fuels, but use natural gas (GtL), coal (CtL) or biomass (BtL) as raw material. Other types of synthetic fuels allow an increase in performance in the internal combustion engine (methanol, ethanol, etc.) or are used for special tasks such as rocket propellants (hydrazine, syntin, etc.). Very different definitions are used. Partially, gaseous fuels (hydrogen, methane), oil products from unconventional sources of raw material (oil sand, oil shale) and others to the synthetic fuels are also counted. (Source: Wikipedia)

How can you filter CO2 from the air?

The CO2 collector absorbs CO2 from the air and converts it in such a way that new fuels, such as diesel, gasoline or methane can be produced. With the combustion of these fuels, CO2 is generated again. The collector resembles an overgrown camera. Eight of these collectors form a module that can be placed anywhere. Thanks to the collectors, CO2 from ambient air becomes the central building block of synthetic fuels. The fuels do not pollute the atmosphere, as they burn just as much CO2 as was produced during production.

How do you use gasoline, diesel, kerosene or methane with CO2?

The so-called Power-To-Liquid technology produces synthetic fuels from CO2, water and surplus renewable electricity.

What is the significance of this technology for climate protection?
Die Welt wrote that the inauguration of Fuel 1 is probably more important for the world’s climate than the result of all climate talks of the past 20 years. Actually, it was the German Federal Research Minister Johanna Wanka, who said this during her speech at the Fuel 1 inauguration. Switzerland has not played a decisive role in climate conferences, but now, with the help of synthetic fuels, Switzerland could have more influence than all the great nations in climate talks over the last 20 years.

Would not it be better to use electricity directly for electric vehicles?
It is not a case where one option is better than the other. With renewable electricity there are network fluctuations, dependent on weather and day time hours. Power-to-gas or power-to-liquid can make an important contribution to solving this problem. This technology stores energy.  In Switzerland there is even a certain potential amount of green electricity that can not currently be produced, but which could be produced and used for fuel synthesis.
We are also a long way away from having 100% electric mobility. In the interim, it is important to be able to use almost climate neutral e-fuels for mobility.

Are these fuels really climate- and CO2-neutral?
Absolute climate neutrality can only be said when fossil energy is not used at all. With Climeworks’ filter method, fossil CO2 emissions of 20 to 30 kilograms are released every 1,000 kilograms of CO2. This corresponds to a proportion of 2 to 3 per cent of the total quantity and therefore the subsequent fuels produced are almost climatically neutral.

If you need green electricity for the production of synthetic fuels, is it not missed elsewhere?
Today, one could theoretically produce more green electricity than is currently produced. More isn’t currently produced because a higher share of green electricity leads to fluctuations in the electricity grid. The additional quantity can be generated for the production of synthetic fuels without the need  to take green electricity from elsewhere.

Is it not the case that the proposed policy change is so the car industry and sell cars with lower efficiency?
The same argument could also be used against the credit of biogas, which is already calculated. Even if the suspicion were correct, we need this technology to reduce our fossil CO2 emissions faster than before. Not all mobility can be based on electric vehicles: goods traffic, aircraft, ships can not be operated with electric motors.

How efficient is the e-fuel?
The efficiency of fuel synthesis is between 50 and 70 percent, with a tendency towards 70 percent, which is more efficient than current fuels.

Critical issues

Is it true that the use of power-to-gas / liquid fuels (here: PtX), possibly in combination with CO2 capture from the air or from concentrated CO2 sources, e.g. Coal-fired power plants, the long-term potential of the SFOE to reduce fossil CO2 emissions if the electricity used for this is derived from renewable sources and is not replaced by fossil sources elsewhere?
CFN: Renewable electricity is, of course, the prerequisite, but CO2 capture from the air or from concentrated CO2 sources, such as Coal power plants is not an option in the long term, because fossil coal would have to be burned to synthesise these fuels. This is precisely what the industry does not want. The aim must be to replace the coal-fired power stations. In particular, those who are only operated to cover peak demand. Here, synthesis plants could act as shadow power plants.

Assertion: The production of synthetic fuels from electricity is also associated with high conversion losses. For example, a passenger car powered by synthetic methane requires at least 6x more electricity per km than if it were used directly in an electric vehicle.
CFN: This is basically correct, but it is like comparing apples with pears because it is explicitly about applications which are not relevant for electric vehicles. For example: Operating todays cars that have combustion engines until they are replaced by electric vehicles; Some areas of application have no purely electrical solutions (trucks, ships and airplane); network stabilisation through grid convergence in order to make the expansion of renewables more economical. (Quite apart from declaring that electric vehicles are declared as CO2 neutral, without looking where the current really comes from, there is still much to discuss when it comes to either-or)

Assertion: If all cars in Switzerland were operated with synthetic fuel, at least today's annual electricity production of all power stations in Switzerland would be needed to produce it. Therefore, the use of synthetic fuels is particularly indicated where large amounts of renewable electricity can not be used or diverted elsewhere, which in the end is ultimately surplus.
CFN: This is, in principle, correct, but a pilot plant is not about supplying the entire fleet with synthetic fuels, it is about supplying a few hundred vehicles for the first step. With the experience gained there, the synthesis plants can be expanded step by step, while the renewables are being expanded and more and more internal combustion engines replaced by electric vehicles. One has to consider the matter dynamically, systemically and not so one-dimensionally. At some point, the entire electricity production of Switzerland will be renewable. Then, there will inevitably be surplus phases (see graphic of swissgrid: https://www.swissgrid.ch/swissgrid/de/home/reliability/griddata/balance.html) and supply bottlenecks. In order to compensate for this, a temporary store is required. Power-to-X is ideal for this. Batteries can not support this currently. They may at some point, but not soon and climate change does not leave us much time to wait.

Assertion: It is no coincidence that Audi's power-to-gas pilot plant is close to large onshore and offshore wind turbines near the North Sea coast. Isn’t the share of strongly fluctuating renewable energy sources such as wind or photovoltaics in Switzerland is comparatively low today and in the long term?
CFN: Today, yes, but the transformation of the transport sector will take decades, and if we do not start today, we will soon fall behind others. One must also see that Switzerland has a great opportunity for a pioneering role in this sector. The CO2 collector was invented in Switzerland and Audi would like to build the pilot plant in Switzerland. Do we want to give this opportunity to other countries?

Question: Up to now, large stores are missing. Would a large-scale deployment of new energy storage be useful only in the long term, ie after 2035?
CFN: We agreed, but we must start the process moving today. The construction of a pilot plant, takes two years and to gain experience from it will take at least another two years. By then we will have already passed the year 2020. By 2035, it will probably be difficult to build enough capacity. Apart from this, the forecasts regarding the expansion of renewable energies have turned out to be massively wrong in the past. The forecasts were regularly exceeded hugely. The forecast for solar energy from the year 2002 proved to be too low in 2010 by a factor of 17. (See last Arena broadcast at Minute 22). Do we really want to rely on these forecasts?

Question: Should the government promote innovation?
CFN: The industry does not need and does not want support from the state, but does expect logical policy, ie. it should not punished for CO2 emissions, which it will not produce at all. That would be enough. The state should not interfere here, but should let the industry operate in a way that it can counteract climate change on its own.

Assertion: Synthetic fuels that meet the ecological criteria of the mineral oil tax legislation can benefit from tax relief.
Answer CFN: This is the wrong approach. The industry is not to be punished for fossil CO2 emissions, which it does not at all. If the industry is not opposed to this, this is seen by the top decision makers as a non-willingness of the policy to support this technology and then it must be expected that these research departments no longer receive the necessary funds.

Assumption: Consumption has to go down one way or another. Due to the need for action in the area of climate policy and in view of the high-consumption of the Swiss fleet, there is now a primary need for a significant reduction in CO2 emissions by increasing efficiency on the vehicle side.
Answer CFN: That is why the proposal is also to limit the credit to the vehicles that comply with the limit values. If the SFOE really wants to reduce CO2 emissions, then it should recognise that it is better if a car consumes 3 litres of synthetic fuel over 100 km than 2 litres of fossil fuel.

Question: How much CO2 emissions a vehicle per kilometer causes is measured at the time of the first registration? If synthetic fuels were to be credited to individual vehicles, the operation of the vehicle would have to be recorded. The enforcement of the regulations would become extremely complex and complex, or not?

Answer CFN: That's not true. If the importer feeds synthetic fuel equal to the value of the vehicles lifetime fuel consumption into the network, then one has to measure nothing afterwards. The vehicle can then be safely considered as CO2-neutral.

How can we be sure that a vehicle, like an Audi in Switzerland, uses only Solardiesel or wind diesel?
Answer CFN: This is also not necessary, if one the whole quantity of fuel for a cars lifetime is fed into the distribution network.

Does it make sense to use a diesel engine if you could run the same car with electricity because of the conversion losses?
Answer CFN: A combustion engine and electric car are unconnected. Synthetic fuel is to be used wherever no electric vehicles are used. E.g. For example if someone keeps their car for 20 years without changing it, or in fleets of freight lorries, which are not electric.

Synthetic fuels will be produced in areas where wind and sun can produce large amounts of electricity. The fuels will only spread if other important conditions are met, including the transfer of electricity from these areas to Switzerland.
Answer CFN: This is a statement from the federal authorities. Power stations are quite different. The expansion of renewable energy is progressing much faster than the federal authorities have predicted (see also: http://mobile2.tagesanzeiger.ch/articles/57d095c6ab5c37257e000001).