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E-Fuels Could Help Green Every Gas Car

June 22, 2022

CO2-Neutral Fuels Produced In Chile

This April, Porsche announced an investment of $75 million in HIF Global LLC, which is involved in the development of e-fuel production facilities around the world.  

Among other projects, the Santiago de Chile-based company is building the Haru Oni e-fuel pilot plant in Punta Arenas, Chile. The plant, which was Initiated by Porsche, and implemented with partners including Siemens Energy and ExxonMobil, is focused on the production of e-fuels from hydrogen and CO using wind energy, and is expected to come online in mid-2022.

Porsche – which has also made heavy investments in the development of battery-electric vehicles like the Taycan and the upcoming electric Macan SUV – sees e-fuels as an important part of its sustainability mix. The use of e-fuels could mean that Porsche as a whole can be net CO2-neutral as early as 2030.

What is E-Fuel?

E-fuels are synthetic fuels produced with renewable energy. They allow combustion engines to be operated in an almost CO2-neutral manner. In the case of the Haru Oni project, great climactic conditions in the Magallanes province in Chile allow the production of the virtually carbon-neutral fuel using low-cost wind power. In the first step, electrolysers split water into oxygen and green hydrogen using wind power. CO2 is then filtered from the air and combined with the green hydrogen to produce synthetic methanol, which in turn is converted into e-fuel.

E-fuels are produced from CO2 and hydrogen using renewable energy. In terms of their basic properties, they are no different from kerosene, diesel or petrol processed from crude oil. However, they can ideally be a climate-neutral fuel.

Synthetic fuels offer attractive benefits across transportation sectors, from the automotive industry to the aviation and shipping sectors, as they allow combustion engines to run in a CO2-neutral manner. Potentially, this means that every gasoline engine on the road, with the use of e-fuel, could potentially have significantly reduced emissions. While a gasoline engine running on e-fuel is not completely emissions free, the collective benefit to the environment of a huge number of gasoline engines running on CO2-neutral fuel could  be more significant than the replacement of those same vehicles with battery-electric vehicles – which could take years if not decades.

E-methanol, an intermediate product generated in the production of e-fuel, is also an important raw material for other applications, such as in the chemical industry, where it can replace raw materials of fossil origin.

How E-Fuel Fits in With Battery Electric

Synthetic fuels are considered an important part of the mix of making car traffic more climate-friendly. While interest in, and production of, electric vehicles has ramped up significantly in the last couple of years, “with electricity alone, you can't move forward fast enough,” says Michael Steiner, who is in charge of R&D at Porsche. There are literally billions of gasoline powered vehicles on the road, and enabling them to run in a CO2-neutral manner could make a huge difference to the environment.

E-fuels are particularly important because the combustion engine will continue to dominate the automotive world for many years to come. Even as production shifts more and more towards electric, the wholesale replacement of those billions of vehicles on the road will take decades. E-fuels allow the operation of existing vehicles around the world in a sustainable manner.

Porsche’s tests with renewable fuels have been going very successfully. E-fuels make it possible to reduce fossil CO2 emissions in combustion engines by up to 90 percent.

While the company plans for half of all its vehicles sold to be electric by 2025, the existing fleet is large. "Our cars are driven for a very, very long time," says Steiner. “And, while our hybrid vehicles are powered electrically for short distances, they rely on their combustion engines over longer distances.”

Porsche won’t be taking combustion engines out of its product range completely in the near future. It thinks electric vehicles, hybrids, and combustion engines will exist alongside each other for many years.

Steiner admits that it is far more efficient to charge an electric car with regenerative energy directly on the spot than to use it to produce a synthetic fuel, making an electric vehicle the better and more sustainable choice if you are buying a new car. But given the number of internal combustion vehicles currently on the road – now and for decades to come – e-fuels may be a great interim step to cleaning up the entire global fleet.