Sign up for our newsletter!

Subscribe form (en)

No spam. Simply good reading. Get your free subscription to Smoltek Newsletter infrequently delivered straight to your inbox.

Your data will be handled in compliance with our privacy policy.

A bright and airy photorealistic image of a single sports car on a road next to the sea where a single cargo ship passes by while a single airplane flies over the sea. The road winds through a lush green landscape with wind turbines and solar panels inland.

E‑fuel made of hydrogen

E-fuel is an umbrella term for fossil-free alternatives to gasoline, diesel, and other fossil fuels. These fuels are produced by converting fossil-free hydrogen and capturing carbon dioxide. They can be used in existing engines without increasing the amount of carbon dioxide (CO₂) in the atmosphere. Is this the silver bullet that allows us to drive cars and other vehicles with a clear conscience?

It’s evid­ent to every­one that we can’t keep pump­ing oil and gas to fuel our vehicles for much longer; every liter increases the amount of car­bon diox­ide in the atmo­sphere and warms the Earth. But that doesn’t mean we must scrap or rebuild all vehicles. With hydro­gen pro­duced by elec­tro­lyz­ers powered with fossil-free elec­tri­city and cap­tured car­bon diox­ide, it is pos­sible to cre­ate car­bon-neut­ral equi­val­ents to today’s fuel. These are called elec­tro­fuels, or e‑fuels, and you can learn more about them in this post.


Vir­tu­ally all motor vehicles – cars, trains, boats, planes, and rock­ets – are powered by mix­tures of hydro­car­bons. These chem­ic­al com­pounds are chains and rings of dif­fer­ent num­bers of car­bon atoms from which hydro­gen atoms dangle like charms.

The hydro­car­bons we use to power vehicles come from fossils, mainly algae and plank­ton, which have been trans­formed over hun­dreds of thou­sands of years into gases and the vis­cous yel­low-black liquid we call pet­ro­leum, crude oil, or simply oil. These nat­ur­al resources are refined, cracked, and blen­ded into liquid nat­ur­al gas (LNG), liquid pet­ro­leum gas (LPG), meth­an­ol, jet fuel, gas­ol­ine, ker­osene, dies­el, or oth­er pet­ro­leum products we use to fuel our vehicles.


As you know, we are extract­ing more gas and oil than nature can restore. This is not sus­tain­able, which the 1973 oil crisis made people pain­fully aware of. But this is a minor con­cern com­pared to the cli­mate crisis we are head­ing straight into.

Burn­ing fossil fuels releases a lot of car­bon diox­ide (CO2) into the atmo­sphere. This gas traps heat from the sun, like a seal, caus­ing the Earth’s tem­per­at­ure to rise sim­il­ar to how it does in a green­house. This has been known since 1896.

Yes, that’s right. Human­ity has known for over 120 years that our appet­ite for fossil fuels will cre­ate the green­house effect. Yet we went for fossil fuel vehicles instead of con­tinu­ing the early devel­op­ment of altern­at­ives such as elec­tric cars and syn­thet­ic fuels.

Renaissance of good old ideas

Only under the increas­ingly immin­ent threat of melt­ing ice, over­flow­ing seas, water short­ages, and bar­ren farm­land have we begun to look at altern­at­ives. Many ideas from the late 19th and early 20th cen­tur­ies are exper­i­en­cing a renais­sance. Most appar­ent is the resur­rec­tion of the bat­tery elec­tric vehicle (BEV).

But that’s not the only option. Oth­er old ideas that have been revived are using hydro­gen as fuel, either dir­ectly or via con­ver­sion to elec­tri­city. But per­haps the most prom­ising short-term solu­tion is syn­thet­ic fuel made from green hydro­gen. So, let’s take a closer look at it.

Electrofuel (e‑fuel)

Elec­tro­fuel, or short­er e‑fuel, is an umbrella term for e‑LNG, e‑LPG, e‑methanol, e‑jet fuel, e‑gasoline, e‑kerosene, e‑diesel and oth­er syn­thet­ic fuels that can replace their non-pre­fixed coun­ter­parts without any modi­fic­a­tion to the engines that use them.

E‑fuels are pro­duced from car­bon diox­ide (CO2), cap­tured from the atmo­sphere, and hydro­gen, pro­duced by water elec­tro­lys­is using fossil-free elec­tri­city (green hydro­gen or pink hydro­gen).

The first syn­thet­ic fuel was pro­duced in 1920s Ger­many by Franz Fisc­her and Hans Tropsch. Their meth­od has since been refined and fur­ther developed. In the early 2000s, syn­thet­ic fuel got a renais­sance when the idea of e‑fuel began to take shape. Drivers today are car man­u­fac­tur­ers like Porsche and Mazda, oil com­pan­ies like Exxon Mobile, Circle K, Eni, and Repsol, and indus­tri­al groups like Siemens, Bosch, Mahle, and ZF.

Schematic illustration showing the steps of e-fuel production.

Recycling of CO2

E‑fuels con­tain essen­tial hydro­car­bons found in their con­ven­tion­al coun­ter­parts, enabling them to replace these fossil fuels seamlessly.

How­ever, this raises a ques­tion: if both e‑fuel and its fossil fuel coun­ter­part emit the same amount of car­bon diox­ide when burned, what is the benefit?

Sure, e‑fuel releases as much car­bon diox­ide into the atmo­sphere when com­bus­ted as its fossil-based coun­ter­parts. How­ever, this amount is the same as either cap­tured before it got into the atmo­sphere or taken from the atmo­sphere dur­ing the pro­duc­tion. Thus, the net con­tri­bu­tion is zero. One could say that e‑fuels recycle car­bon dioxide.

Carbon neutral

So, can we say that syn­thet­ic fuel is car­bon neutral?

To make such a bold claim, the pro­cess and the raw mater­i­al must be car­bon neut­ral. This means that the pro­duc­tion plant must be powered by fossil-free energy. It also rules out black, brown, and gray hydro­gen as a feed­stock; such hydro­gen is pro­duced from coal and nat­ur­al gas, which pro­duces huge car­bon diox­ide emissions.

To be truly cli­mate-neut­ral, green or pink hydro­gen must be used. Both are pro­duced by the elec­tro­lys­is of water. Green hydro­gen uses renew­able elec­tri­city from the sun, wind, or water, while pink hydro­gen uses elec­tri­city from nuc­le­ar power plants.

The pre­fix ‘elec­tro’ or just ‘e’ refers to hydro­gen pro­duced by water elec­tro­lys­is using fossil-free elec­tri­city (green hydro­gen or pink hydro­gen). The com­plete pro­duc­tion pro­cess must run on fossil-free energy sources to earn the prefix.

Concept image showing a rocking board balanced on a globe. On the left side of the board is a green leaf. On the right side of the board is a cloud of CO2.

Additional benefits

E‑fuel has three sig­ni­fic­ant bene­fits in addi­tion to being climate-neutral:

  1. Exist­ing logist­ics net­works can be used. No new infra­struc­ture is required.
  2. Exist­ing tanks in vehicles can be used. No addi­tion­al con­tain­er for gas is required.
  3. Exist­ing motors can be used. No hardened motor or con­ver­sion of hydro­gen to elec­tri­city is required.

These advant­ages have giv­en e‑fuel a boost. Around the world, small and large e‑fuel pro­jects are underway.

World’s first commercial plants

Regard­ing e‑fuel pro­duc­tion, the Texas-based com­pany HIF Glob­al has come the furthest.

On 20 Decem­ber 2022, they inaug­ur­ated HIF Haru Oni, the first oper­at­ing e‑fuel facil­ity in the world. The facil­ity, loc­ated in Chile, is com­plete with wind tur­bines to gen­er­ate elec­tri­city, elec­tro­lyz­ers to con­vert the elec­tri­city into hydro­gen, and a dir­ect air cap­ture (DAC) unit to extract car­bon diox­ide from the atmo­sphere. The plant pro­duces e‑LPG, e‑methanol, and e‑gasoline. When fully oper­a­tion­al, the plant will pro­duce 130,000 liters of e‑fuel annually.

Impress­ive. But HIF Haru Oni is noth­ing com­pared to the company’s next plant. In Texas, they are build­ing the HIF Matagorda eFuels Facil­ity, which, when com­pleted in 2027, will pro­duce 750 mil­lion liters of e‑fuel each year. The elec­tro­lyz­ers will have a total expec­ted capa­city of about 1.8 gigawatts and pro­duce about 300,000 tonnes of green hydro­gen annually.

And it doesn’t stop there. HIF plans to build 12 plants of the same mega-size dis­trib­uted across Chile, the US, and Australia.

One of the largest investors in the com­pany is the Ger­man car com­pany Porsche. They have inves­ted over 100 mil­lion USD in e‑fuel. Porsche plans to run its entire Super­cup racing series and all the cars at its Porsche Exper­i­ence Centres on the fuel.

Aerial view of the HIF Haru Oni Demonstration Plant
HIF Haru Oni Demon­stra­tion Plant. Photo: HIF Glob­al.

Europe’s largest e‑methanol project

E‑fuel pro­duc­tion facil­it­ies are also being built in Europe. Flag­shi­pONE, out­side Örnskölds­vik in north­ern Sweden, will pro­duce 55,000 tons of e‑methanol when it is oper­a­tion­al in 2025. This makes it the largest of its kind in Europe.

The four elec­tro­lyz­ers used by Flag­shi­pONE will have a total capa­city of about 70 mega­watts and pro­duce about 12 tons of green hydro­gen per year.

The car­bon diox­ide will be sourced from the adja­cent muni­cip­al heat and power plant, which burns bio­mass. The plant will also sup­ply steam and water to the pro­cess. The excess heat will then be fed into the municipality’s loc­al dis­trict heat­ing network.

Flag­shi­pONE will sup­ply an increas­ing num­ber of ships that run on methanol.

Concept image showing the FlagshipONE e-fuel plant that Liquid Wind is building in Örnsköldsvik, Sweden.
Concept image show­ing the Flag­shi­pONE e‑fuel plant that Liquid Wind is build­ing in Örnskölds­vik, Sweden. Illus­tra­tion: Liquid Wind.

Future prospects

Naysay­ers and detract­ors of e‑fuel claim it is a dead end; e‑fuel is costly and a waste of energy.

They may be right regard­ing pas­sen­ger cars and many oth­er types of land trans­port­a­tion. Most of these vehicles are likely to be bat­tery-powered. That tech­no­logy has come a long way and is much cheap­er per kilo­met­er driv­en than e‑fuel.

But oth­er­wise, they are wrong. Fuel pro­duced syn­thet­ic­ally from green hydro­gen and cap­tured car­bon diox­ide will be one of sev­er­al suc­cess­ful solu­tions to power vehicles. No single solu­tion works for every­one and everything, so a vari­ety of solu­tions are needed.

Ship­ping is a good example. Most experts agree that e‑fuel is the only viable car­bon-neut­ral fuel for large ships like con­tain­er ves­sels. These ships use highly pol­lut­ing fossil fuels, respons­ible for 3% of the world’s CO2 emis­sions. We need e‑fuel to address this. Bat­ter­ies for such ships would be too huge and heavy.

The same goes for air­planes, which also can­not have large and heavy bat­ter­ies on board.

In addi­tion to these mega mar­kets, there will also be niche mar­kets. One is vehicles that can be used where char­ging from a reli­able, clean elec­tri­city grid is impossible.

Anoth­er is sports cars, racing cars, and vin­tage cars, where the sound of an engine rev­ving, the weight, or the pre­ser­va­tion of cul­tur­al her­it­age is more important.

In short, the future of e‑fuels is bright and has already begun.

Sign up for our newsletter!

Subscribe form (en)

No spam. Simply good reading. Get your free subscription to Smoltek Newsletter infrequently delivered straight to your inbox.

Your data will be handled in compliance with our privacy policy.

Latest posts