Synthetic gasoline takes its first steps in Chile with Porsche and Siemens Energy

Synthetic gasoline takes its first steps in Chile with Porsche and Siemens Energy

Posted Dec 23 2022 at 17:20

The first liters of synthetic gasoline were produced on Tuesday in Chile. “This is a historic event,” welcomed the Chilean Minister of Economy, Nicolas Grau, during the inauguration of the factory, the construction of which began in September 2021. “This industry will, from the wind, water, carbon capture, produce a completely carbon neutral fuel. We are very proud of Chile’s leadership in this area,” he added.

Producing a synthetic fuel is not a new idea. Historians estimate that this type of fuel satisfied one-third of Nazi Germany’s needs during World War II. But unlike the manufacturing processes of the time (mainly based on the use of coal or natural gas), this “e-fuel” produced in Chile is obtained by mixing green hydrogen and carbon dioxide (CO2 ).

Marketing expected in March 2023

The first component is obtained from water, through a process of electrolysis (separation of hydrogen and oxygen). In the Punta Arenas plant, the electricity used for this process is produced by wind turbines, thanks to the strong winds that constantly blow in Chilean Patagonia. CO2 is captured from the environment by filtering.

The combination of the two, through a synthetic process, generates an “e-methanol” that can be used in any vehicle. According to HIF, the company that owns the plant, the commercialization of this fuel should begin in March 2023. Within 10 years, the Chilean company aims to have six plants to supply 5 million cars.

An innovation driven by Porsche and Siemens Energy

If this project was able to see the light of day, it is thanks to the association, among others, of Siemens Energy and the car manufacturer Porsche. Company executives were also present at the start-up ceremony, when the first liters of this fuel were poured into the tank of a Porsche 911 Carrera, “particularly suited to the use of e-fuels” according to the automobile company.

“Porsche was founded with a pioneering spirit. […] We thrive on innovation. We also see ourselves as pioneers in renewable fuels, and we want to drive the development forward,” said Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board for Research and Development.

For the car manufacturer, whose reputation is partly based on historic models (70% of Porsches sold are still in circulation), “e-fuel” is a leading solution to justify a neutral carbon footprint from 2030. To hope to achieve this, Porsche and Siemens plan to produce 130,000 liters of synthetic gasoline by the end of 2022 and 550 million liters in 2026.

An alternative to 100% electric?

Are these synthetic fuels able to extend the life of internal combustion engines? At the end of October, the European Union voted an agreement on the end of thermal cars by 2035, on the recommendations of the European Commission in its “Fit for 55” plan. But this measure is far from unanimous.

In an interview with “Les Echos”, the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, declared that he feared the potential perverse effects that the end of internal combustion engine technologies could cause. In particular, he fears negative repercussions on employment, prices and dependence on certain raw materials (nickel, lithium, cobalt and graphite). A “neutral” carbon fuel, since it is produced from renewable energy, therefore seems to be a miracle cure.

Excessive costs and fine particles

But several problems arise, starting with the price. Frans Timmermans, Vice-President of the Commission in charge of the Green Pact, considers the cost of these synthetic fuels “exorbitant”, which makes them, according to him, an “unrealistic” option.

The Dutch politician is not the only one to be pessimistic about “e-fuels”. For several NGOs, including Transport and Environment (T&E), synthetic fuels emit as much nitrogen oxide (NOx) as fossil fuels. The IFP Energies study, quoted by T & E, also shows that cars running on “e-fuel” emit more carbon monoxide and ammonia than others.

Finally, “2 billion particles will still be emitted for each kilometer travelled”. Engineers still have 4 years to innovate and prove to the European Union that synthetic fuel can be a reliable alternative to electric, before the review clause adopted for 2026.

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