Porsche, which inherited Audi’s studies in e-fuel, said synthetic gasoline is just as effective in reducing CO2 emissions as electric vehicles. Which only happens with some good will …
This is not the first time that one of the VW Group’s brands is dedicated to the development of e-fuel, that is, synthetic gasoline, with information documenting Audi’s investments in this area prior to 2013. The four-ring brand has abandoned the process, betting on electric mobility, with Porsche taking the lead in the production of synthetic fuels from renewable sources within the group. Curiosity stems from the fact that one of its vice-presidents, Frank Walliser, stated in an interview that combustion engines with e-fuel emit as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as an electric vehicle, considering the whole process (from well to wheel) ), including battery production.
The conversation with the Porsche board was published in the British publication Evo, where Walliser argued that “a combustion engine consuming synthetic gasoline will be as clean as an electric alternative”. The statement came during the presentation of the new 911 GT3, during which the Porsche technician revealed that “the first tests with e-fuel should start in 2022”. It also advanced with a potential reduction in CO2 emissions for synthetic gasoline of 85%, a gain similar to that which would be emitted by a tram in a complete cycle. A rather curious statement.
Gasoline is mainly made up of hydrocarbons, essentially carbon and hydrogen atoms. The principle of synthetic fuels is to be able to associate, in the laboratory, the atoms of carbon and hydrogen in the same proportion as they appear in the gasoline and diesel extracted during the refining of crude oil. There are several ways to obtain the hydrogen and carbon atoms in the necessary quantity, one more environmentally friendly and the other the traditional one, from methane or natural gas. In contrast, the “greenest” technology is the one that removes carbon that exists in the air, in the form of CO2, capturing it, and then generates hydrogen by electrolysis of water, with energy provided by renewable sources, wind or photovoltaic, because that way you can get e-fuel with great carbon gain.
This seems to be the system that Porsche is using, minimizing the environmental impact, as it was already used by Audi. It so happens that if the production of synthetic gasoline continues to evolve, neither will batteries, and Porsche knows that since VW is involved in the production of accumulators for the automotive industry. This means that you cannot ignore that the chemistry that supports cells is increasingly effective, the materials used keep evolving – eliminating the most problematic ones, such as cobalt – and there is a greater effort in obtaining the materials needed to manufacture new batteries through the recycling of old ones, available in increasing numbers. Especially since this is the most economical way to obtain the necessary materials.
In these conditions, with the optimization of the production of synthetic gasoline and batteries, it is not credible that combustion engines burning e-fuel are as efficient, in terms of CO2 emissions, like electric vehicles. All the more so since the burning of synthetic gasoline will result in the release of the captured carbon into the atmosphere, which makes this type of fuel a carbon-neutral solution, not reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is exactly the reason that leads the majority of countries adopting electric vehicles, despite the great costs they entail.
At the same time, there is a question of costs and energy needs. In terms of price, Norwegian Sunfire, for example, produces e-fuel with clean energy and expects to reach a production price per liter of € 2. But more serious seems to be the issue associated with the immense amount of energy that is needed to remove carbon from the atmosphere and perform the electrolysis of water, in large volumes. To give you an idea, the Royal Society published in 2019 the report Sustainable synthetic carbon-based fuels for transport, which estimates that manufacturing synthetic fuel only for airplanes would imply an energy consumption between 1400 and 2100 TWh of electricity per year. As a comparison, total electricity production in the European Union was only 3000 TWh in 2016.