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Are Electric Cars More Inefficient Than Internal Combustion Engines After All?


In the new edition of his book "The Electric Car Swindle", Kai Ruhsert discusses an explosive idea that has obviously not yet occurred to anyone.

The core message is: If sun, wind, and water cover 100% of our electricity demand in Europe, we will produce gigantic amounts of surplus electricity in summer, which must be stored for winter. Pumped storage power plants will not be sufficient for this, because of the insufficient energy density in them. The only alternative is to store it by converting it into chemical energy carriers, which have an enormously much higher energy density. These are then burned in winter to make electricity again. Electric cars whose batteries are charged in winter do not draw electricity directly from the sun, wind, and water, but from the combustion of chemical energy sources, or in other words: from the combustion of synfuels. This eliminates their efficiency advantage 100%, and electric cars are not one bit more efficient than internal combustion vehicles fueled with synfuel.


Politically intended misdirection on the economic viability of synfuels.

The long-term scarce green electricity will be reserved for necessary applications. The energy for additional luxury consumers such as e-cars will mainly come from the reconversion of synfuels. This will eliminate the efficiency advantage of electromobility.

The amount of green electricity available in Europe will be far from sufficient to meet immediate demand and, in addition, to produce enough chemical energy carriers. This is also confirmed by those studies that, with very optimistic assumptions, declare climate neutrality possible towards the middle of the century:

"We will be able to meet one-third to two-thirds of our energy needs only through imports - according to the "Big 5" scenarios with 100% renewables."

The electricity needed to close the energy gap will only be able to be generated from renewable sources in very distant countries. But how can this energy get from there to Europe? Neither electric power nor the electrolysis product hydrogen can be transported economically over long distances. This leaves only the option of converting the hydrogen into more transportable energy carriers in the producing countries.

This is associated with major disadvantages. The efficiency of hydrogen electrolysis is 70 to 80 %.*1 After further processing into synthetic fuels, about half of the energy is already lost*2. On the other hand, there is a major advantage: The volumetric energy density of synfuels is much higher. One liter of gasoline contains 3.7 times as much energy as one liter of liquid hydrogen.*3 Correspondingly, fewer ships, pipelines, ports, storage, and processing capacity are needed - which, moreover, already exist in the consumer countries: Synfuels can largely be transported, processed, and consumed using existing infrastructure.

Hydrogen produced by electrolysis in distant countries will therefore be converted into methane, liquid hydrocarbons, or ammonia before intercontinental transport. Hydrogen, on the other hand, will not be imported into Europe to avoid transport costs, if possible, but will be produced locally. If the electricity from our own RE capacity is not sufficient, synfuels will have to be reconverted - as well as to bridge dark periods.

Efficiency and yield

It is often argued against synfuels that the conversion losses are much too high. This tempts some representatives of the scientific community to make comments like these:

"That's why, depending on estimates, only 10 percent or a little more arrives at the wheel when driving with e-fuels. Professor Fichtner calculates that 27 kWh of electricity is needed to produce one liter of e-diesel from CO2 and hydrogen. With that, even large e-SUVs can travel more than 100 kilometers. Economical e-cars go 10 times further with the amount of energy contained in the e-diesel. "*4

Fichtner's figures are roughly accurate, and his argument seems convincing at first glance. The reader gets the impression that it is about comparing two possible uses for the green electricity generated in this country. With 70 to 80 % efficiency, the electric car seems to come off unbeatably well. In contrast, use as e-fuel involves a long chain of conversions: The electricity is first converted into hydrogen and then into e-fuel, with great losses. This is then used to power an internal combustion engine, which wastes well over 60 % of the fuel as heat, depending on the operating state. Fichtner wants the reader to believe that e-fuels are a waste of energy.

But if you look a little closer and question the origin of the charging current, doubts arise. In fact, no green surplus electricity will be available for electromobility for decades to come. Electricity demand is running ahead of production due to the many electrification projects. It is true that as RE expansion increases, it will become more common, briefly and temporarily, for more green power to be produced than is demanded by end users at that time. However, this energy will also need to be used to produce the scarce hydrogen, to the extent possible.

Additional electrical energy to supply new electricity-consuming product groups (such as e-cars) and to bridge dark periods will therefore be supplied by thermal power plants, not unlike today. These will be fed with imported synfuels.

The electricity for charging e-cars will therefore come predominantly from the reconversion of synfuels.

When considering the system as a whole, the conversion losses of synfuels production will enter equally into the energy efficiencies of the e-car and e-fuel combustor. And since the poor efficiency of the internal-combustion engine is matched by an equally poor efficiency of the chain of a thermal power plant, power transmission, and charging management, no efficiency advantages can be attributed to the e-car over the internal combustion engine powered by e-fuels, even in the long term.

Meaningful statements on the efficiency of e-fuels also require taking into account the location-dependence of the yields from photovoltaic and wind turbine systems. The Fraunhofer IEE PtX Atlas, for example, provides information on the suitability of locations. The differences are considerable:*5

Table 6: Yield of PV systems in 2019 depending on location

Identical PV plants supply more than twice as much electricity in North Africa as in Germany, which compensates for a large part of the conversion losses.

Correct well-to-wheel considerations therefore largely invalidate the efficiency reservations against PtL, as a comparison of the PV capacities to be installed shows at a glance:

"Running a passenger car on green PtL requires a PV capacity of 6 kW in North Africa, arithmetically, while a passenger car with a battery requires almost as much, 5.7 kW, in Germany." *6

In the end, when considering the system as a whole, it all comes down to the total cost. Thomas Korn, the founder of KEYOU, summed it up succinctly:

"You have to look at energy efficiency in a differentiated way. The sun radiates usable energy that exceeds current global energy consumption by a factor of five thousand. If only one percent of the world's desert areas were used to operate solar thermal systems, for example, the entire current energy demand could be generated. Energy is the only raw material that we get 24/7 continuously supplied from outside our planet - and that for us unimaginable, almost infinite time. At the right latitudes, renewable energy is already showing lower energy generation costs than conventional coal-fired power plants, or using natural gas or nuclear power. "* 7

The cost issue is considered settled by many experts:

"If the costs of electromobility are used to subsidize synthetic fuels from renewable production in sunny countries, nearly 600 million tons of CO2 can be saved in Germany by 2030, which corresponds to a significant contribution to CO2 reduction. From the early 1930s, synthetic fuels could reach cost parity, which would allow the entire German transport sector to switch to synthetic fuels." *8

Thus, there is no question about the importance of synfuels for the energy transition going forward:

Far more green power will be needed than can be produced in this country, and energy will only be economically importable in large quantities in the form of synfuels

As long as there are no sufficiently large electricity storage facilities, the re-conversion of synfuels into electricity in thermal power plants will ensure security of supply (nuclear power plants can also do this, but they are politically blocked in the DACH countries).

Existing vehicles can only be de-fossilized with synfuels.

The energy transition will therefore only succeed if Europe builds synfuel production capacities in faraway countries. Politicians have so far done their best to prevent this by refusing to classify vehicles powered by synfuels as climate-neutral. Without this market segment, an important incentive for large-scale investment is missing.

The first companies are overriding this resistance and are already taking action:

"Porsche is building a pilot plant for e-fuels in Chile. The e-fuels are to be used as early as 2022. ... The plant's initially small volume of 130,000 liters by the end of 2022 is to be ramped up within the following two years to the point where 55 million liters of synthetic fuel will be produced by then. By 2026, the partners even want to produce more than ten times that amount." *9

In April 2022, the second edition of my book "The Electric Car Swindle" will be published. This is an excerpt from the new chapter "Outlook into the Future".

Kai Ruhsert, March 20, 2022













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