Porsche is set to be the main customer for a new pilot project that aims to start producing synthetic internal combustion fuels known as eFuels, in a bid to show the as-yet unexplored green credentials of man-made unleaded.
A new facility in Chile called Haru Oni will crank out 130,000 test litres in 2022, rising to 55 million litres in 2024 and 550 million litres by 2026 – provided the development and take-up matches Porsche’s expectations. The Stuttgart-based purveyor of all things fast, four-wheeled and expensive will be the lead customer for the South American plant’s output, though it’s not clear yet how it intends to get the fuel from Chile to Europe.
The eFuel will be produced entirely with wind power, says Porsche. The facility benefits from almost constant strong winds and an €8m grant from the German government, which seems to be hoping to receive an inside track on the eFuel tech to help Germany become a world leader in it before demand really takes off.
Green hydrogen is first generated with the wind power so abundant at the site. Then it’s combined with CO2 filtered direct from the atmosphere to create a synthetic – and renewable – methanol that can then be converted into gasoline (petrol) by a process owned and licenced by oil giant ExxonMobil. Burning the synthetic fuels still produces CO2, but much less of it, plus vastly fewer particulates.
Synthetic fuels have become an increasingly important part of zero-carbon strategies in Europe. With internal combustion bans starting in Europe as soon as 2030, the industry doesn’t have long to come up with a solution that allows older cars; specifically those cars of people who can’t afford the frighteningly high price of electric vehicles, to continue to run without the environmental penalty.
Porsche is throwing around €20m at the project to begin with and will first use its eFuel in its motorsport applications, in its cars at Porsche Experience Centres like the one at the UK’s Silverstone circuit, and then possibly in series production cars within a few years. If production can meet demand, synthetic fuels can use the current distribution and refuelling network - a distinct and significant advantage.