How carbon neutral fuels can help reduce emissions in the automotive sector

Carbon neutral fuels, also known as e-fuels, are synthetic fuels that are produced from renewable sources of energy, such as wind, solar, or hydro. These fuels can be used as a direct replacement for conventional fossil fuels, such as petrol or diesel, in internal combustion engines. Carbon neutral fuels have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the automotive sector, as well as to improve air quality and energy security. Several automotive companies, such as Porsche, Kawasaki, and Toyota, are investing in the development and testing of carbon neutral fuels, as part of their efforts to achieve sustainability and innovation.

Carbon neutral fuels are fuels that have a net zero carbon footprint, meaning that they do not add any new carbon dioxide (CO2) to the atmosphere. This is because the CO2 that is emitted when the fuel is burned is equal to the CO2 that is captured from the air or other sources when the fuel is made. Carbon neutral fuels are also known as e-fuels, because they are made using electricity from renewable sources.

The process of making carbon neutral fuels involves three main steps:

  • Capturing CO2 from the air or other sources, such as industrial plants or biogas.
  • Producing hydrogen (H2) from water (H2O) using electrolysis, which is the splitting of water molecules using electricity.
  • Combining CO2 and H2 to make synthetic hydrocarbons, such as methanol, ethanol, or gasoline, using chemical reactions.

The resulting synthetic fuels can be used in existing internal combustion engines, without any modifications or adjustments. The synthetic fuels can also be blended with conventional fuels, to reduce their carbon intensity and improve their performance.

Why are carbon neutral fuels important for the automotive sector?

Carbon neutral fuels are important for the automotive sector, because they can help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and the environmental impact of transportation. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the transport sector accounted for 24% of the global CO2 emissions in 2019, and is expected to grow by 16% by 2030. The majority of these emissions come from road vehicles, such as cars, trucks, and buses, which rely on fossil fuels.

While electric vehicles (EVs) are seen as a promising solution to decarbonise the transport sector, they face some challenges, such as the availability and affordability of charging infrastructure, the supply and demand of batteries, and the variability and reliability of renewable energy sources. Moreover, EVs are not suitable for all types of vehicles and applications, such as heavy-duty trucks, long-distance travel, or motorsports.

Carbon neutral fuels can complement EVs, by providing a low-carbon alternative for the existing and future fleet of internal combustion engines. Carbon neutral fuels can also leverage the existing fuel distribution and storage infrastructure, and offer a high energy density and a long range. Carbon neutral fuels can also improve the air quality and the health of the people, by reducing the emissions of harmful pollutants, such as nitrogen oxides (NOx), particulate matter (PM), and carbon monoxide (CO).

How are automotive companies investing in carbon neutral fuels?

Several automotive companies are investing in the development and testing of carbon neutral fuels, as part of their efforts to achieve sustainability and innovation. Some of the examples are:

  • Porsche: The German sports car maker has partnered with Siemens Energy, Highly Innovative Fuels, and other companies, to build a pilot plant in Chile, which will produce carbon neutral fuels using wind power. The plant, called Haru Oni, will have a capacity of 130,000 litres of fuel per year by 2022, and 55 million litres by 2024. Porsche plans to use the fuel in its motorsport activities, as well as in its customer vehicles.
  • Kawasaki: The Japanese motorcycle manufacturer has collaborated with Toyota and other companies, to develop and test a carbon neutral fuel made from CO2 captured from the air. The fuel, called Kawasaki Green Gas, will be used in a hydrogen-powered motorcycle, which will compete in the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race in 2024. Kawasaki aims to demonstrate the feasibility and performance of the fuel, as well as to promote the awareness and acceptance of carbon neutral fuels among the public.
  • Toyota: The Japanese car giant has been experimenting with various types of carbon neutral fuels, such as hydrogen, biofuels, and synthetic fuels, in its engines and vehicles. Toyota has also been supporting the research and innovation in the field of carbon neutral fuels, by collaborating with universities, research institutes, and start-ups. Toyota hopes to contribute to the development of a carbon-neutral society, as well as to enhance the fun and joy of driving.

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