New Delhi: Porsche through Mobil 1 Supercup race cars in 2022 was the pioneer for using synthetic fuels. Several other global vehicle manufacturers like Audi, Mercedes, Ferrari, Renault, and MC Laren have started investing their available resources to manufacture and scale up synthetic fuel.
The increasing carbon footprint has urged the world to switch over to alternative options like electric vehicles, hydrogen fuels, biofuels and also synthetic or e-fuels. Synthetic fuels are carbon neutral thus a greener step contributing to saving the environment.
Q. How Synthetic fuel is produced?
A. Synthetic fuel is produced by mixing hydrogen molecules with carbon dioxide molecules, which are extracted from the air (atmosphere). That has the capability of turning into a fuel for the vehicles.
The CO2 extracted from the air has to be heated at 1,800 degrees which further breaks down what we call carbon monoxide (CO). This Carbon monoxide is mixed with hydrogen to form methanol, the hydrogen is extracted from salt water. The methanol is treated in further steps thus the end product gives us the synthetic or e-fuel.
The fuel thus obtained is nearly carbon neutral as it is obtained from hydrogen and carbon dioxide, also leaving negligible harmful by-products.
Q. How Synthetic fuels are an alternative for ICE in distribution and storage terms?
A. Synthetic fuel has similar physical properties to crude oil counterparts. The storage, distribution and delivery method is similar to the conventional ones. The storage of synthetic is possible in the existing tankers, fuel stations, and fuel tanks in a vehicle. Thus, making a smoother transition than electric vehicles or hydrogen-fuel powered cars or any other alternative fuel.
Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways of India at 63rd annual convention of SIAM urged the automobile manufacturers to switch to alternate fuels from conventional ones where synthetic fuel can act as a bridge to make the transition smoother.
Q. What is the cost of synthetic fuel or e-fuel?
A. The companies are tight lipped about the expense for producing e-fuel, however they have admitted it is expensive in the pilot phase. However, Porsche estimates that when its production will grow at a larger scale by 2026, the price of fuel will reduce. Porsche expects its price to be lower than USD 2 per litre, about INR 166, before taxes.
The cost of e-fuels are expected to be above fossil fuels, however, Porsche is confident that many commuters will be ready to pay higher prices as it is environmentally friendly.
Q. How synthetic fuel is a better option than other eco- friendly fuels?
A. E-fuel or synthetic fuel has lower carbon emissions. Hydrogen fuel, on which we have published an article earlier, requires a completely different type of engine to generate power from it. Thus, it cannot be used on the ICE system. This makes it cost intensive for developing countries like India.
Q. When will synthetic fuel come to India?
A. The process has already begun. Synthetic fuel is being tested on high commercial engines since 2022. It can be a good option for India as it requires a great amount of carbon and hydrogen which can be found from coal, natural gas, food and non-food crop and other components that are easily available in India.
Owing to cheap labour and low-cost raw material supplies, countries like India and China are expected to boost synthetic fuel production.
Below is a chart on the synthetic fuel market by 2030 as per raw material.
(SOURCE- Allied Market Research)
Q. What is the scope of synthetic fuel in the present scenario?
A. The transition to electrification of vehicles has been going at a great pace. However, the adoption may be challenging in developing countries like India. Synthetic fuel is a cleaner and better option as it does not demand much engine modification.
Below is a graph on the synthetic fuel market share (regionally) in 2021.
(SOURCE- PRECEDENCE RESEARCH)
Q. What is the global market size of synthetic fuel?
A. As per Precedence Research, the global synthetic fuel market size was at USD 3.45 billion in 2021 and it is expected to cross around USD 21.7 billion by 2030. It is anticipated that it is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 22.67 between 2022 and 2030.
Below is a graph by Precedence Research for better understanding.
(SOURCE- PRECEDENCE RESEARCH)
Q. Which car makers have invested in synthetic fuel?
A. The first name for investment in the synthetic fuel is Porche, the German sports car manufacturer. It has invested more than USD 100 million in a project that will manufacture synthetic fuels in Chile. It is expected to produce 550 million litres of synthetic fuel by 2026.
BMW invested USD 12.5 million in a synthetic fuel startup known as Prometheus Fuels in 2020. Audi has also shown interest in synthetic fuel as it was “convinced of its potential”. However it has said that EVs (cars) demonstrate its true faith where synthetic fuel is a bridging technology.
Toyota also announced that a GR86 is running on synthetic fuel. McLaren also has shown interest in synthetic fuel.
Hyundai has also kept its path open for synthetic fuel, where it is stepping towards green mobility through electric cars and hydrogen fuel cell technology cars. This will allow Hyundai to sell its combustion engine cars in Europe after 2035, as the European Union (EU) is putting a ban on combustion-powered vehicles by 2035.
Q. What is the European ban on ICE from 2035?
A. The EU is obligated to cut its emissions to net zero by 2050. Thus, a law was proposed to ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars by 2035. The deadline was required as the average lifespan of vehicles is about 15 years, thus to achieve its net zero goal the EU states have to be free from gasoline and diesel cars by 2035.
However, in March 2023, Germany just before its final vote, stepped back from the decision of banning all internal combustion engines. Germany argued that the engines that are powered by ‘green’ fuels should be permitted.
Later Italy, Poland, and the Czech Republic agreed to Germany in demanding an exception in the rules. “An agreement with Germany on the future use of e-fuels in cars” was declared by EU’s Climate Chief F.Timmermans.
Germany said now it has the assurance it wanted for the usage of e-fuels in the cars.
“Vehicles with combustion engines can still be newly registered after 2035 if they use only CO2-neutral fuels,” Volker Wissing, German transport minister, said on Twitter.
Q. Why synthetic fuel is not industrialized yet?
A. According to some critics synthetic fuel produces four times less energy than batteries. It demands more electricity than EVs and burdens the global energy grid more.
Synthetic fuel, to replace petrol/diesel, requires a good manufacturing process which is more complex, costly, and energy intensive. This can act as a barrier.
It shares the same chemical properties as that of the conventional fuels that will release similar toxic gasses when burned. Gasses like carbon dioxide, Sulphur oxide, and nitrogen will be still released in the atmosphere.
BEVs can eliminate emissions in the atmosphere while synthetic fuels still release toxic and harmful gasses.
Q. What is the energy density of synthetic fuel?
Synthetic fuel shows good energy density, according to Future Bidge. Biodiesel and ethanol average 26-38 MJ/kg on biofuel, which is not too far away from the present fossil fuels that are 44-55 MJ/Kg. Synthetic fuel holds around 32MJ.