The future of the automobile, it's pretty clear by now, is electric. But even if the boldest corporate and governmental plans for EV mandates come to pass and half the planet no longer allows the sale of new internal combustion-powered vehicles, that still leaves hundreds of millions of existing ICE rides on the road.
So how, then, do we minimize the damage these old cars do — and help make sure any new ICE-powered cars don't ravage the environment as much as their predecessors? Well, Porsche has a clever idea that could help keep gas-powered cars and trucks around well into a more environmentally friendly era: give them less-destructive fuel to burn.
To do that, Porsche is joining forces with German conglomerate Siemens and several international energy fims to create a new plant in Chile that will crank out climate-neutral eFuel — synthetic gasoline with a net-zero carbon footprint — starting in 2022. While the initial rollout will be fairly modest — Porsche plans to make around 34,000 gallons of it in 2022 — the goal is to scale up quickly; 2023 should see the plant whip up more than 14 million gallons of the stuff, and 2024 should see it producing around 140 million gallons, if all goes according to plan.
How does this apparent miracle of science work? Well, it's a fairly simple process, assuming you have a ton of clean energy lying around. (Hence the decision to base the facility in Chile, where there's wind power aplenty.)
Step 1: Use that redolent cleanly-generated electricity to power electrolysers, which split water into its constituent Hs and Os: hydrogen and oxygen.
Step 2: Scoop up the carbon dioxide from the air and combine it with the hydrogen to create methanol.
Step 3: Using technology licensed from ExxonMobil, convert the methanol into gasoline.
While the synthetic gasoline still emits CO2 when burned in an engine, that's ultimately balanced out by the fact that the creation of said gasoline already extracted, in theory, an equal amount of carbon dioxide, which means the total net impact to Earth's atmosphere should be a wash. (The process also adds oxygen to the atmosphere, but given how much more O2 there is up there than CO2 — there's roughly 500 times as much oxygen as CO2 in the average sample of our blanket of gases — it seems likely to cause a negligible impact.)
Don't expect to see an eFuel pump showing up at your local Porsche dealership anytime soon, though. Initially, Porsche's share of the new synthetic gas generated at the Chilean plant will be used in a place that electrification still has yet to find purchase: the company's motorsports efforts. It'll also be used in the test vehicles found at Porsche's Experience Centers around the globe. The carmaker does say that it'll be used "later, in series production sports cars" as well, however, suggesting that 911 owners of the late 2020s might also score a hookup for the carbon-neutral sweet stuff.
And this isn't meant to suggest Porsche is giving up on the likes of the Taycan. As the rumors of the future electric Macan and EV Boxster/Cayman suggest, Zuffenhausen remains committed to electric vehicles going forward. "Electromobility is a top priority at Porsche. eFuels for cars are a worthwhile complement to that – if they’re produced in parts of the world where a surplus of sustainable energy is available," Porsche CEO Oliver Blume said in a statement. "They are an additional element on the road to decarbonisation...by using them, we can make a further contribution toward protecting the climate."