There are about 1.4 billion vehicles throughout the world, mostly powered by internal combustion engines (ICE).While the electric vehicle (EV) uptake is rising, synthetic fuel technology is being used and therefore considered as an efficient and eco-friendly alternative.
Designed for use with ICE vehicles, these carbon-neutral fuels are a direct replacement for fossil-derived fuels. No engine modifications are needed, and fuels can be stored, transported and sold using the existing infrastructure. This means ICE vehicles can continue to run, with a significantly reduced footprint or environmental impact.
Replacing petrol or diesel entirely with synthetic fuels is still going to be a tall order, but not out of the question. A potential barrier will be the price point. Some estimates put the price of synthetic fuels at about four times the cost of petrol or diesel. Synthetic fuel-powered vehicles could have a place alongside EV’s and other alternative fuels.
As more and more vehicle manufacturers explore renewable energy, we will keep seeing new models that don't rely on fossil fuels. The transition could take years and it may take a long time for many to adjust. Further study and development are needed to ensure that alternative energy sources are safe, reliable, and environmentally friendly.
There’s plenty of excitement surrounding synthetic fuels, with some analysts hailing them as the saviour for the internal combustion engine.
Porsche is the leading proponent currently, announcing plans to invest US$100 million into synthetic fuel technology. This will secure Porsche a 12.5% stake in a Chilean-owned company, Highly Innovative Fuels (HIF) Global. The money will be used to drive research and development of synthetic fuels designed to power internal combustion engines, with a near-zero carbon footprint.
The investment is part of a pledge to ensure Porsche can continue to manufacture their ICE vehicles, while meeting carbon-neutral targets.
Porsche executives assure motorists that while the synthetic fuels will act as drop-in replacements for petrol, there will be no cost premium relating to pricing.
Porsche is also saying that with synthetic fuels you can expect exceptionally high performance, without a high carbon footprint.
Much of the world doesn’t yet have the ability to support an easy access grid for EV charging, in fact this is still true in many developed countries, especially if you’re looking at remote areas.
Of course heavy vehicles like commercial vehicles, heavy trucking and the aviation industry are not expected to transfer to electric power.
There is a great deal of technology behind synthetic fuels. The technology relies on a process called electrolysis, which splits water into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen is then blended with CO2 to create synthetic methanol, which can be refined into standard petrol or diesel. Ideally, the electrolysis process should be powered by renewable electricity. Manufacturing synthetic fuels also uses CO2 captured from the atmosphere, which adds to the eco-friendly credentials.