Seven reasons synthetic fuels could change the industry?

H2 Hydrogen

Renewable synthetic fuels, sometimes called e-fuels, could be a critical tool in the fight against climate change, particularly when it comes to helping mass transportation systems reduce CO2 emissions.

Widespread adoption of synthetic fuels is a long way off yet, but here are seven reasons why these fuels could prove incredibly important in the years ahead.

1. Quick to produce

It’s already possible to manufacture synthetic fuels. First off, electricity generated from renewable sources is used to extract hydrogen from water. Then carbon is added. Combining CO2 and H2 produces a form of synthetic petrol, diesel, gas or kerosene.

As Icelandic firm Carbon Recycling International has shown with Vulcanol, the production process for this is viable – but the overall capacity is lacking. It will need to be expanded rapidly to meet demand.

2. A carbon-neutral option

Renewable synthetic fuels are made with energy obtained from renewable sources such as the sun or wind. In the best-case scenario, manufacturers will capture the CO2 needed to produce these fuels from the surrounding air, turning a greenhouse gas into a resource and creating a virtuous cycle. Vehicles on the road, when powered by synthetic fuel, are ultimately carbon-neutral.

3. Ready to roll out

Unlike hydrogen fuel cells, for example, some renewable synthetic fuels can be used with today’s existing infrastructure and engines. These are known as “drop-in” synthetic fuels because they can be deployed without first modifying refuelling infrastructure and vehicle powertrains. They can also be added to conventional fuel to help reduce CO2 emissions from vehicles already on the road today. This way, these fuels could contribute to the cause of cutting emissions even before they are ramped up for larger-scale production.

4. Falling costs

At the moment, producing synthetic fuels is a costly process. However, these fuels will become considerably more affordable when production capacities are expanded and as the cost of generating electricity from renewable sources comes down. Costs are already falling, but parity with current fuels is difficult to achieve. Crucially, the cost disadvantage compared with fossil fuels could be significantly reduced if value could be ascribed to the environmental benefits of renewable synthetic fuels.

5. A key piece of the puzzle

Even once all cars and trucks are powered by batteries or fuel cells, it’s likely that aeroplanes, ships and parts of the heavy-goods sector will still rely on conventional fuels.

Combustion engines powered by carbon-neutral synthetic fuels are therefore a crucial path to explore to offset this.

6. Endless supplies

Fuel in the tank or food on your plate? It’s not a question that comes up with synthetic fuels. Biofuels, on the other hand, which are produced from waste organic matter, suffer from the fact that supply is inherently limited.

Thankfully, with synthetic fuels, the renewable energy required can be produced in unlimited quantities.

7. Easy to store

The process of producing synthetic fuels yields either a gas or liquid. That flexibility makes these fuels a good medium for storing large amounts of renewable energy and transporting it across the globe in a cost effective way.

They can also serve as a buffer against fluctuating solar or wind energy supplies or as a means of circumventing local restrictions on the construction of renewable energy infrastructure.

This is an edited extract from IMI's new MotorPro magazine, received free as part of IMI membership. Time to find out more about becoming a member of the most influential community in UK automotive…?