Japanese carmakers eye next-generation fuel to achieve decarbonization goal

Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. are promoting the development of a next-generation fuel for automobiles, dubbed efuel.

The fuel is being eyed as an energy source that could help to decarbonize the auto industry as carbon dioxide captured from factory emissions and other sources is used in the production process. Hydrogen is also used in the production of efuel, which can be mixed with gasoline or diesel fuel to power cars, including gasoline and hybrid vehicles.

Even though such vehicles emit carbon dioxide, the gas is used in the production of efuel, which means the auto industry can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by producing cars powered by efuel, which can also be used for used cars.

“If we combine the new fuel with high-efficiency engines and motor, we will see a whole new world,” said Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda, who is also president of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association.

A shift in opinions regarding gasoline cars can be seen around the world. Even hybrid vehicles are in the crosshairs with the U.S. state of California planning to ban them. If the use of efuels becomes widespread in the future, it could start raising questions about existing regulations.

Compared to biofuels made from corn and algae, efuel can be produced in large quantities in a shorter time. It can also be used to power ships and airplanes, both of which are considered to be difficult to electrify.

All Nippon Airways Co., Toshiba Corp., Idemitsu Kosan Co. are among the companies interested in the next-generation energy source.

However, efuel is estimated to be more than 10 times as expensive as gasoline because of the high costs involved in hydrogen production and transportation, and carbon dioxide capture. Another factor pushing up costs is the use of the rare metal cobalt in the production process.

The government has set a goal of lowering the price of efuel to below that of gasoline by 2050, but the hurdles to commercialization are high.

“Whether efuel prices can be reduced to current fuel price levels is a big issue,” Honda Motor President Toshihiro Mibe said.

Overseas companies are taking the lead in the development of efuels. Germany’s Volkswagen Group has announced plans to produce one using renewable energy.

Japanese companies will be eying the moves of overseas firms as they look to accelerate technological developments in the field.