Monday, March 27, 2023

Synthetic fuels: lifesavers for the combustion engine?

Synthetic fuels are emerging as an alternative for the automobile industry. One question is costs.

Invented more than a century ago, synthetic fuels have been revived in the ecological heat transition to decarbonize parts that are difficult to electrify such as transport or maritime aviation.

Recently, however, this technology has also entered the automotive debate in the hands of Germany, which is proposing synthetic fuels as a viable option for combustion engines in cars.

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Berlin blocked Europe’s star regulation to stop the sale of cars that emit CO2 from 2035, without going into the type of motorization. Germany is asking for a more explicit projection for synthetic fuels or “e-fuels” and not just for electric motors.

Why synthetic fuels?

An artificial product similar to fossils, but, in principle, neutral in CO2 emissions because they only release carbon dioxide to produce them first. They emit nitrogen oxides or particles.

The methods were patented in 1913 by the German Nobel in Chemistry Friedrich Bergius, whose production began in 1919 with bituminous coal.

moderate success

They had some importance for Germany in World War II, but “they did not meet the expected fortune”. Around 1939, Adolf Hitler produced “only 18% of the synthetic oil he needed for the war”, says historian Alvarus Lozano in his book “Nazi Germany”.

“It made it possible to offer an alternative to oil, the resources of which Germany barely had its own reserves (similarly to what happened with coal). In this way, the Nazi war machine could operate for six years, avoiding the limits imposed by geography.

In the following decades they continued to be researched and developed by various countries, without their production ever being removed. They returned to prominence in the transition to a CO2-free economy.

How are they made?

As raw material we need water and coal. Through electrolysis and using large amounts of electricity, water (H2O) is broken down into “green” hydrogen and oxygen. Meanwhile, coal can be obtained by capturing CO2 already emitted or by recovering it from that coal.

An oxygen atom must be removed from that molecule to form carbon monoxide (CO). Later, this is combined with hydrogen and a molecular structure similar to crude oil, which is then refined to obtain fuel suitable for combustion in the engine.

The cost

A priori yes, but it is completely unknown because now there are only 18 factories in the world, including experimental ones, according to the Alliance for Efuels.

It is difficult to put a price on them. According to some studies, they cost a million more than gasoline, others indicate that they could drop to 4 or even 2.3 coins per liter in 2030.

“They are not produced at scale. Prototypes can be found but today you cannot buy gasoline and synthetic diesel”, explains Yoann Gimbert, analyst at the Transport and Environment think tank.

In addition, many types of synthetic fuels differ in the way they are manufactured and used. Everything depends on what you want to produce: e-oil, e-diesel, e-gas or e-kerosene.

A fuel for cars

Could they be used in a current combustion engine? However, they would be so expensive that they could not compete with the electric motor. As he was pregnant, he was not pure of life.

However, the automobile manufacturer Porsche, a subsidiary of the German group Volkswagen, plans to install a pilot synthetic fuel in Chile. The idea is for later production in Australia and the United States.

Play in your favor;

  • They have more energy density than electric motors
  • They do not require rare earths
  • They would allow the maintenance of the automobile infrastructure of the gas stations in use
  • However, their production is expensive and complicated, they consume a lot of electricity and require a lot of energy in the process.

    “Building long-term strategies based on the internal combustion engine will cost us much more than money; it will cost us the time we urgently need to develop electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure if we are to have anything to contain the climate crisis,” says the NGO Council for Clean Transportation International.

    Nation World News Desk
    Nation World News Desk
    Nation World News is the fastest emerging news website covering all the latest news, world’s top stories, science news entertainment sports cricket’s latest discoveries, new technology gadgets, politics news, and more.
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