We’ve talked a lot about electric vehicles here at Nexus, and with lots of manufacturers now making electric versions of their most popular vehicles, and charging infrastructure slowly falling into place, it certainly seems like electric is the future for the automotive industry. However, there are still other options, including synthetic fuels, also known as eFuels or biofuels, that are in development.
But how realistic is it that synthetic fuels are a viable alternative to electric vehicles?
What is Synthetic Fuel?
Just like a vegan version of chicken or beef, synthetic fuel is an eco-friendly version of petrol or diesel.
Synthetic fuels are produced through carbon-neutral processes that can potentially offset the carbon dioxide generated when the fuels are burnt. One of the most common ways to make synthetic fuels currently is to synthesise carbon dioxide or monoxide from the environment with hydrogen from water.
Other ways include burning logs and plants, turning them into a gas and blending that with hydrogen.
It means that those heralding the death of the internal combustion engine might have been a bit too keen in their exclamations.
Can we use Synthetic Fuel now?
There are no cars on the market that will run on synthetic fuels, as it’s not quite commercially viable just yet. However, the plan is to develop synthetic fuels to the point that they will work in any current petrol or diesel car.
Who’s making Synthetic Fuels?
Porsche is investing heavily into synthetic fuels. They’re building a factory that will produce these types of fuels, which indicated that they feel that they will have a role to play in the near future.
The plant will produce 130,000 litres of synthetic fuel by 2022, which will ramp up over the years to 550 million litres by 2026. While this is a drop in the ocean compared to the fact that the UK alone uses 46.5 billion litres of petrol and diesel every year.
Will it replace Electric?
Synthetic fuels aren’t likely to replace electric cars, however they will be a great eco-friendly alternative for those who can’t afford to replace their vehicle with an electric version as new petrol and diesel cars cease production. It would mean that existing petrol stations wouldn’t need any overhaul, just tweaked to hold synthetic fuels.
Bigger vehicles, such as construction vehicles, ships, heavy goods vehicles and jets will struggle to find an electric alternative, as batteries simply do not hold enough power. Synthetic fuels would work really well in this context, and has already been researched.
Overall, synthetic fuels are not quite an alternative, but ideal for the transition from petrol and diesel to electric, and perfect for those vehicles that can’t be replaced with electric versions. Walliser, boss at Porsche, says: “It’s a long road with huge investment, but we are sure that this is an important part of our global effort to reduce the CO2 impact of the transportation sector.”