Porsche has found partners to help it “drive forward the development of synthetic fuels [e-fuels]” and intends to build a pilot factory to prove its viability.
The German manufacturer has teamed up with energy firms Siemens Energy, AME and Enel and the Chilean petroleum company ENAP to begin developing the world’s first integrated, commercial, industrial-scale plant for making the fuels.
Based in Chile’s Magallanes Province, the pilot project is called Haru Oni and will use southern Chile’s “excellent” wind conditions to produce synthetic fuel with the aid of wind power.
Siemens Energy, which will receive a grant of €8 million (about £7.25m) from Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy for the scheme, is a co-developer of the plant, while Porsche will be the fuel’s primary user.
Set to be completed by 2022, the plant will produce around 130,000 litres of synthetic fuels during the pilot phase. Porsche will then begin two further phases, resulting in the creation of around 55 million litres of e-fuels a year by 2024, and approximately 550 million litres two years later.
Porsche CEO Oliver Blume said: “E-fuels for cars are a worthwhile complement to [electrification] – if they’re produced in parts of the world where a surplus of sustainable energy is available.
“Their advantages lie in their ease of application: e-fuels can be used in combustion engines and plug-in hybrids, and can make use of the existing network of filling stations.”
Although Porsche is investing in electrification, as evidenced by the introduction of the Taycan EV earlier this year, it believes the technology is not reducing its carbon footprint quickly enough. Porsche’s R&D boss, Michael Steiner, said: “Electric mobility is an exciting and convincing technology but, taken on its own, it is taking us towards our sustainability targets at a slower pace than we would like. That’s why we are also committing to e-fuels – and not ignoring possible applications in motorsports, either.”
Another reason Porsche is investing in synthetic fuels, he said, is because they are a “fundamental component” of improving the sustainability of existing fleets. A further advantage is that, unlike electrification, they do not require significant mechanical changes to existing cars.
E-fuels have long been of interest to the car industry. They function similarly to kerosene, diesel or petrol processed from crude oil but are produced from CO2 and hydrogen using renewable energy.
Porsche’s VW Group sibling brands, Volkswagen and Bentley, are researching the technology, as is McLaren. However, not all firms are as enthusiastic. Mercedes has recently snubbed e-fuels, questioning their viability.
Although Porsche aims for half of its vehicles sold to be electric by 2025, the marque is committed to pure-combustion engines in the medium term. Steiner stressed that Porsche’s existing fleet is large, and although its hybrid vehicles are powered electrically for short drives, they frequently undertake longer trips, which require combustion engines.
Porsche’s focus on synthetic fuels reflects wider trends. Earlier this year, the government announced that it plans to introduce lower-carbon E10 petrol, which is made with 10% ethanol, as standard at UK filling stations in 2021.