Tech Talk: Why Synthetic Fuels Now Make More Sense Than Ever – Functionality
Porsche recently caused a stir when it announced plans to start manufacturing near-CO2-neutral synthetic fuel by 2022. Somehow, the magic of this evocative brand captures the imagination and focuses attention. , but the chemistry of synthetic fuel has been understood for almost as long as cars have existed. So what is it, what’s new and how is it made?
To be clear, the synthetic fuel is not ethanol, the type of alcohol in alcoholic beverages, made by fermentation, which is also used as a 5% blend in gasoline and later this year at 10%. to further reduce CO2 emissions. As a product of fermentation, ethanol is produced organically. Engines must be made compatible with the corrosive effects of ethanol, while synthetic fuel is not a problem.
The synthetic fuel that Porsche talks about is made using “gas to liquids” technology, in which CO2 (as a carbon source) reacts with hydrogen to produce another type of alcohol, methanol. The methanol is then processed through another couple of steps and what comes out the other end is a synthetic hydrocarbon, which can be synthetic gasoline or diesel.
The “what’s new” aspect has more to do with the circumstances we find ourselves in and how sustainable technologies are starting to align as a good fit with the production of synthetic fuel. The first is the massive global shift towards sustainable electricity generation through wind, solar and other methods. Produce hydrogen by electrolysis of water using sustainable electricity and it is as close to CO2 neutrality as possible.
The introduction of hydrogen as an energy carrier is accelerating at a breakneck rate and, aside from its use to heat homes and other buildings, it is one of the best ways to store colossal amounts. surplus sustainable energy. The idea is that when excess energy is produced, for example, from wind farms at night, don’t waste it: make hydrogen with it.
As the use and storage of sustainable hydrogen expands, it will also become practical for use in gas-liquid synthetic fuel processes. The CO2 it is combined with will be extracted from the atmosphere, and since carbon capture and storage (pumping CO2 from depth) is part of the action plan to reduce atmospheric CO2, it is also suitable for manufacturing synthetic fuel.
The CO2 emissions from synthetic fuel will be equivalent to the CO2 extracted to manufacture it, so no harm. It behaves much like existing fossil fuels, except that in addition to being CO2 neutral, it is cleaner compared to other emissions. It can be compatible with older engines, as well as new ones, without the need to modify them; and it is also compatible with the existing liquid fuel infrastructure (tankers, pumps, forecourt, etc.).
Yes, the processes are expensive, but you expect the price to drop if you do enough. It also reinforces the age-old idea that the most efficient way to clean an existing fleet of vehicles is to change the fuel.
The writing is on the wall
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