VW, Porsche, and Mazda cling to internal combustion, citing benefits of biofuels

Fears of the end of internal combustion vehicles are a real thing for some automakers. For the past week or two, Volkswagen, Porsche and Mazda have advocated the long-term future of internal combustion vehicles by pointing out the potential of synthetic and biofuels like ethanol and microalgae.

One might expect EV stragglers like Mazda to argue that low-carbon alternative fuels will allow the world to continue burning liquid fuel in vehicles – which will lead to the age of battery-powered electric cars. But Volkswagen?

Yes, Volkswagen. Matthias Rabe, technical head of VW, told the British Autocar that internal combustion engines “will have a longer future than some people predict”.

Rabe cited the current restriction on electrical transport in aviation as a reason to pursue a “broad field” of fuels, including compressed natural gas and ethanol, for at least the next decade. Raven said:

We take our CO2 targets very seriously and want to be a role model for CO2, but that does not mean that we will exclude the internal combustion engine.

Last month, the VW Group’s Porsche brand advanced the history of long-life combustion. At a press conference in March, Porsche boss Oliver Blume said from afar:

We’ll go ahead with gasoline engines in the 911 and improve them step by step. We continue to invest in combustion engines. It’s the core of Porsche – the 911 in particular. We have underlined investment in future technology, but we also have future investments in internal combustion.

We have done a very thorough analysis of what would be the best way to reduce CO2 in these engines, and we are studying synthetic fuels.

Blume admitted that sustainable synthetic fuels, which appear to be blended with ethanol, are still in the works. He said:

We are already doing tests on historic cars like the 993 with very good results. The costs are currently too high and we do not have the ability to produce the fuels in a very sustainable way. With the help of partners, we would like to produce them with wind or sun. It would be very attractive to cars that are already on the market.

Blume suggested that the all-electric Taycan appeal to younger customers who are new to Porsche. But that his traditional customers are probably less interested in sustainability and innovation.

What other automakers believe internal combustion is far from dead? On the one hand Mazda.

The Japanese automaker, known for its rotary-engine sports cars, says biofuels could make combustion-powered vehicles carbon neutral. But like Porsche with synthetic fuels, Mazda believes the scrap fuel of choice, apparently microalgae biofuel, needs more work to bring down costs. Mazda is working with Hiroshima University and the Tokyo Institute of Technology on this project.

Here is Mazda’s position:

Mazda expects internal combustion engines, combined with some form of electrification, to make up around 95 percent of the vehicles it produces in 2030, and that liquid fuel will dominate the automotive industry by at least 2040. Mazda believes renewable liquid fuel is essential for drastic CO2 reductions.

Still this year, the company will introduce a fully electric Mazda MX-30 equipped with a 35.5 kWh battery. This is despite statements by company executives that long-distance electric vehicles are more polluting than diesel vehicles.

Electrek’s take

There is a strange, magical attraction to alternative liquid fuels among those who want to maintain the status quo for internal combustion. It’s also a boondoggle that won’t go away.

The U.S. biofuel industry this week asked the Trump administration for funds from the Department of Agriculture’s commodity lending firm to weather a slump in demand triggered by the coronavirus outbreak. The biofuel groups that signed the letter indicated that the US ethanol industry accounts for about 40% of US corn demand.

It is a sad situation for American farmers. However, the combined auto and energy sectors should prepare for the dwindling role of combustion sooner rather than later.

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