Porsche announced on Tuesday that a pilot plant in Chile, which the automaker has co-financed, has come online and is producing a near-fully carbon-neutral synthetic fuel. For this reason, Porsche Research and Development Manager Michael Steiner filled a 911 with the first gallons.
Although electric cars are becoming increasingly popular, their internal combustion engine counterparts will be around for years to come, particularly in developing countries that lack electrical infrastructure. One solution for dealing with the CO2 emissions from internal combustion engines are CO2-neutral synthetic fuels, or eFuels – a name that is gaining popularity.
While CO2 is emitted when the fuel is burned, CO2 is absorbed from the air when the fuel is produced. Electrical energy generated by a wind turbine is used to form hydrogen through the electrolysis of water, essentially the opposite of what happens in a hydrogen fuel cell. The hydrogen is then combined with CO2 extracted from the air in a synthesis process that produces gasoline and LPG.
The pilot plant in Punta Arenas, Chile, a location that is exposed to strong winds around 270 days a year and is also close to important shipping routes, is operated by the local company HIF Global, in which Porsche is an investor. The plant is expected to produce around 34,000 gallons of fuel per year initially and around 145 million gallons by around 2025. Porsche is also considering setting up similar plants in other regions, including Australia and the United States
Haru Oni synthetic fuel pilot plant in Punta Arenas, Chile
The automaker previously estimated an 85 percent reduction in CO2 emissions for synthetic fuels made with renewable energy, with lower well-to-wheel emissions than electric vehicles when emissions associated with manufacturing are accounted for.
However, some environmental groups disagree with these claims. European environmental group Transport & Environment has called synthetic fuels “fantasy”. But while electrification could be the way forward for new road cars, synthetic fuel could find uses in other modes of transportation like air travel — and to keep classic cars on the road.
We will also see its use in motorsport. In partnership with series sponsor ExxonMobil, Porsche is already testing synthetic fuel in its Supercup racing series. Formula 1 is also working with Saudi Arabian oil giant Aramco to produce synthetic fuel for use in Formula 1 and eventually supply it to service stations around the world.
“The potential of eFuels is huge. There are currently more than 1.3 billion vehicles with internal combustion engines worldwide. Many of these will be on the road for decades to come, and eFuels offer existing car owners a near-carbon neutral alternative,” Steiner said in a statement.