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Sustainability Newsletter – April 2023

Polestar’s ‘moonshot’ for a zero emissions car and a look into synthetic fuels as a possible lifeline for internal combustion classics

Erin Baker

Words by: Erin Baker

Published on 5 April 2023 | 0 min read

The last few weeks have been some of the most important in over a century of car manufacturing for those of us who want to buy more eco-friendly cars, and those of us who care about the effect of the car industry on the environment.
First up was more discussion about the Polestar 0 initiative to produce a car by 2030 that is entirely free of carbon at every stage in its journey. So that’s everything from mining to freighting the finished project. Hans Pehrson, the project boss, said at a talk at Battersea Power Station that Polestar does not know if it’s possible right now, but they believe it is. And that’s a mantra for us all - we can’t just stick to easy projects that we know will succeed, we have to reach beyond our current knowledge and shoot for the moon.
Also this month the EU exempted e-fuels, otherwise known as synthetic fuels, from the ban on the sale of new internal combustion engine (ICE) cars after 2035. This is good news for the likes of Porsche and Ferrari, who have been lobbying their domestic governments for an exemption on the basis the weight of batteries spells curtains for high-performance brands who rely on slashing kilos to ensure strong acceleration.
They come in the same carbon-hydrogen make-up as petrol and diesel but, unlike the fossil fuels, use water, air and green energy in their creation rather than drilling for oil. They capture carbon from the air then release it when the e-fuel is burned, thus maintaining a carbon-neutral loop. However, they still spew nitrous oxide and particulates into the air. They might therefore be a useful bridge to full electric for sports car makers and classic-car owners scratching their heads about the transition to batteries, but they are not the panacea or the long-term saviour of the engine.
They are also too expensive to manufacture at mass volume, Indeed, the Institute of Advanced Automotive Propulsion Systems puts the cost at about £2 per litre before tax, compared with the cost of petrol before tax which currently stands at 62p per litre. The cost may come down, but we are light years away from manufacturing e-fuels at any realistic scale for the volume of cars out there. To put it into context Porsche’s South American e-fuels plant is currently producing 130,000 litres a year, while motorists around the world consume millions of litres of petrol and diesel every day.
In more positive news, Bentley is to be applauded for employing Stefanie Lackner as its first sustainability PR as part of a big commitment to diversity and inclusion, led by Global Communications Director Wayne Bruce. At Auto Trader, we recognise the growing importance of good sustainability content, initiatives and communications between brands and motorists, and strongly support the telling of such stories, so we can all make more informed choices when it comes to our next car.