The iconic two-seat Porsche 911 Carrera reaches 60 mph in just 3.4 seconds and tops out at 182 mph. That's 0 to 96 km/h in 3.4 seconds. Ford's brawny F-450 pickup tows cargo weighing as much as 20 tons — 18 metric tonnes. The two vehicles couldn't be more different, and yet both may end up keeping their internal combustion engines as the industry pivots to electrification — if refiners can perfect a new carbon neutral fuel.
Porsche, Stellantis, Ferrari, BMW and other automakers are taking a hard look at e-fuel, a replacement for gasoline and diesel. E-fuel combines carbon dioxide taken from the atmosphere — or captured at the source, such as at a refinery — and hydrogen obtained from water through electrolysis.
The lure of e-fuel is that, with no changes to the engine, fuel injectors, other components or emissions systems, it enables an internal combustion vehicle to run nearly as cleanly as an EV.
"We will take the approach that it's e-fuels for engines, not engines for e-fuels, meaning that we are not going to change the hardware to accommodate them," said Micky Bly, Stellantis' head of global propulsion systems, at a panel discussion in April at the SAE International conference. Stellantis tested and is validating e-fuel in 28 gasoline and diesel engine families dating back nearly a decade.
While automakers say e-fuel works in today's engines, refiners have to figure out how to manufacture it at a cost close to gasoline. E-fuel could cost more than $11 (all figures USD) per gallon if it were available now, according to a recent study by the International Council on Clean Transportation. Shell, Exxon, Aramco and several smaller refiners are developing e-fuels.