Some say that fuel tanks are out, battery packs are in, and hybrids are just a stepping stone. But there’s a growing train of thought that says that synthetic fuels are also an essential part of our carbon-neutral future.

Hydrogen has long been touted as the ultimate clean energy source. After all, it’s the most common element in the universe and the basis for almost all of our chemical fuels. In contrast to conventional fuels, synthetic fuels – or eFuels – don’t release additional CO2 when burned, instead using CO2 captured from the atmosphere to generate them. When you also consider that they are suitable for road vehicles, planes and ships, and can be admixed with fossil-derived fuels, their appeal becomes obvious.

Understanding the potential of this new source, Siemens Energy is developing Power-to-X methods for converting electrical energy into liquid or gaseous chemical energy. Using electrolysis and “further synthesis processes”, water is split into its component parts, allowing the hydrogen to be easily stored then used or processed.

To further the eFuel cause, Siemens Energy has joined Bosch, ExxonMobil, Iveco, Mahle, and Mazda in the eFuel Alliance, which describes itself as “an interest group committed to promoting the political and social acceptance of eFuels”. Bosch provides a compelling statistic: By using greenhouse gas as a raw material in the production of synthetic fuels, 2.8 gigatons of CO2 could be saved by 2050.

“Climate change is the most significant challenge of our time,” says Ansgar Christ, a synthetic fuels expert at Bosch. “One important technical solution is eFuels, produced from regenerative energy. These fuels not only give new vehicles a net zero carbon footprint, but also existing vehicles – around 1.4 billion worldwide.”

The synthetic revolution

In February last year, Mazda became the first vehicle manufacturer to join the eFuel Alliance. “We must reduce emissions and, to do this, we must not ignore any of the available routes at our disposal,” says Wojciech Halarewicz, Vice-President of Communications and Public Affairs at Mazda Motor Europe. “With the necessary investment, CO2-neutral eFuels and hydrogen will make a credible and real contribution to emissions reduction – not only for newly registered cars but for the current fleet.

“As the EU will review its regulation on CO2 standards for cars and vans later this year, this is the chance to ensure the new legislation enables both electric vehicles and vehicles running on CO2-neutral fuels to contribute to car manufacturers’ emissions reduction efforts.”

This is an edited extract from IMI’s new MotorPro magazine, received free as part of IMI membership.

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