Combustion engines still have a longer future in the car industry ‘than most people think’ thanks to the development of environmentally friendly fuels, said Volkswagen technical chief Matthias Rabe.

This will come from the widespread adoption of synthetic fuels made from biomass or other materials, Autocar quoted Rabe as saying. This development will come alongside the German automaker’s investment in electric vehicle technology, one led by its ID. range of electric vehicles, and will go towards achieving its target of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Current unleaded petrols feature a limited amount of ethanol produced from crops, though research is ongoing for e-fuels which are synthetically produced from natural materials, and therefore produce no CO2 or other harmful emissions, said the report.

Volkswagen group brand Bentley is evaluating fuel cell technology alongside synthetic fuel development.

E-fuels have long attracted the attention of automakers such as Volkswagen and Bentley, said Autocar, however the alternative fuel is still a long way from being production ready, it noted. Having said that, although more pressing CO2 emissions regulations from authorities such as the European Union to turn their attention to EVs, the limitations of electric technology in other areas of transport due to the weight and size of current batteries will help encourage the development of e-fuels, Rabe suggested.

“We will come to e-fuels. If you look at the aviation industry, e-fuels are in high demand because (aircraft) won’t go electric, otherwise (Atlantic crossings by air) won’t be possible,” he said. “We take our CO2 targets very seriously and want to be a role model on CO2, but that doesn’t mean we will exclude the combustion engine,” he added.

Volkswagen is committed to ‘a broad field’ of powertrain options for the next decade at least, said Rabe, with compressed natural gas powertrain options to be available in certain markets.