Porsche has invested $100 million to advance the production of eFuel, potentially keeping our petrol and diesel internal combustion engines alive for longer amidst the great push to electrify everything. Keep reading to learn why they’ve done it, how Tasmania is involved in this, and what it could mean for the future.
Why Porsche has thrown $100 million at eFuel
Porsche vehicles are known for their longevity, with 70% of all Porsche cars ever made still on the road today. And while there is no argument this is a good thing, it poses a problem when Porsche has committed to being carbon neutral by 2030. Besides, not everyone is keen on electrification as the only solution to getting to wear a green crown.
Karl Dums, Senior Project Lead for eFuels at Porsche, says the company will only meet this ambitious decarbonisation goal if we factor in the current existing vehicles and operate them as close to net carbon neutral as possible. One possible way of doing this is by using eFuels.
Michael Stiener, Porsche’s R&D head said, “The problem is not the internal combustion engine itself, it’s the fuel you burn. We have a lot of work in order to come down on CO2 emissions, definitely, and we are totally committed to this. But the problem is not the engine itself. We would like to show that eFuels are a feasible technology.”
Before we discuss where the $100 million was spent, what Tasmania has to do with all this, and what it means for the future, let’s quickly look at what eFuel is.
What is eFuel?
EFuel is a synthetic fuel made in a lab with the help of renewable energy. According to those firmly on team eFuel, it’s carbon-neutral and therefore superior to the fossil fuel we are currently using in our internal combustion engines.
How is eFuel made?
How eFuel is made is actually quite fascinating. In the first part of the process, CO2 (carbon dioxide) is captured from the atmosphere or from an industrial or biogenic source. Next, renewable electricity is used to produce green hydrogen through a process called electrolysis, which separates the hydrogen from the oxygen in the water. Step three involves combining the green hydrogen with the CO2 in a reactor to produce eFuel through a process called synthesis. Further processing allows for the production of other carbon-neutral eFuels, such as aviation fuel and LPG.
The result? A fuel so authentic your engine can’t tell the difference.
In case you’re wondering, eFuel gives off CO2 when it combusts, just like your existing fuel. However, it’s thought to be a better solution because of the renewable energy used to power this whole dance and because, theoretically, the CO2 has just gone on a round trip (remember, CO2 was pulled from the atmosphere to start with), making it a carbon recycling system.
The $100 million investment and what this has to do with Tasmania
The investment began in Chile
Porsche committed $100 million to this cause, with a whopping $75 million going to HIF Global, a company that specialises in eFuel. Subsequently, Porsche now owns a 12.5% stake in HIF. This cash helped build an eFuel production facility in Chile, with plans to produce 55 million litres annually by 2025.
The factory in Chile, called Haru Oni, can be found around 270 kilometres down the road from the incredibly beautiful Torres del Paine National Park. Why put an ugly factory so close to such a pristine environment? Because this location is one of the windiest on earth and that wind is needed to power the process more greenly.
It was reported that by the end of 2022, the plant had produced 130,000 litres of eFuel, with the first commercial shipment (24,600 litres made from renewable hydrogen and biogenic CO2) being sent to Porsche in the UK in the last half of 2023.
Tasmania will be home to Australia’s first commercial eFuel facility
HIF announced in mid-2022 that they had their sights set on Australia, and in particular, Tasmania, for a potential eFuel production facility site. The project will be the first commercial-scale eFuels facility in the Land Down Under, and will be located on the Forico estate at Surrey Hills, a sustainably certified plantation 30 kilometres south of Burnie in the state’s northwest. It is currently on track to enter production in 2028 and is expected to provide nearly 200 full-time permanent jobs during its 40-year operating life.
The facility promises to use renewables to create green hydrogen, and projected production is over 75 million litres of carbon-neutral fuel, capturing 300,000 tonnes of CO2 per annum.
What does this mean for the future?
Well, if eFuel takes off, drivers wouldn’t need to trade in their petrol and diesel cars for electric vehicles. Governments wouldn’t need to spend thousands expanding EV charging infrastructure as the only thing that requires changing with eFuel, is the liquid in the fuel tanks at the petrol station. Storage containers, payment methods, and petrol station pumps all remain the same with eFuel.
Is eFuel really a viable alternative or is it just greenwashing?
Julia Poliscanova, senior director for vehicles and e-mobility at Transport & Environment (T&E) doesn’t see eFuel as a viable alternative. “No amount of spin can overcome the science of burning hydrocarbons. As long as fuel is combusted in engines, toxic air will persist in our cities,” she said.
Further to that, independent tests commissioned by T&E indicate that eFuel releases the same level of nitrogen-oxide and even more carbon monoxide and ammonia than regular dinosaur fuel.
It’s unclear whether eFuel will be a viable alternative in the future, with many questions left unanswered. Such as: Why remove CO2 from one area only to release it through a tailpipe into another already polluted area? How much will eFuel cost? Both HIF and Porsche have remained tight-lipped on the answer to the latter.
Regardless of the above, it seems that Porsche is simply trying to prove there’s more to CO2 reduction than electrifying everything in sight. Maybe eFuels won’t be the only solution, but part of a number of solutions. Maybe this will be a stepping stone that paves the way to a new and even better solution. Who knows. But we have to start somewhere, right?