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Are rumours of the demise of the internal combustion engine premature?

Richard Newcombe's picture
Project Manager Inch Tech Service

I am a QHSE / Project management professional, working in the Oil & Gas industry who has a passion for new technology and within my industry this means alternative energy technologies. I have...

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  • Mar 2, 2021
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Synthetic fuels are compatible with existing internal combustion engines and could be produced via carbon-neutral processes to offset the carbon dioxide generated when the synthetic fuels are burnt. 

Porsche is teaming up with Siemens, Enel, AME, and ENAP to develop and build a pilot factory. The plant will initially produce 130,000 litres of synthetic fuel; however, this figure will grow over time and upon acceptance as a viable alternative. 

Synthetic fuels are also being talked about as an alternative for aircraft, ships, heavy goods and construction vehicles, where batteries, which lack the energy density of conventional fuel, are not currently viable. Porsche’s synthetic fuels will initially only be used in motorsports, at Porsche Experience Centres and in a limited number of their own production cars.

How are synthetic fuels created? While conventional fuels are derived from oil, synthetic fuels will get their hydrogen from water and carbon from the air, these combine to mimic the structure of petrol, diesel and other oil-derived fuels. 

The energy used to create synthetic fuels can be renewable, and while burning them generates carbon dioxide (CO2), capturing carbon from the atmosphere during the synthesis process can offset this. Synthetic fuels could also be a convenient method for storing energy generated by renewable sources at periods of low demand. 

How do synthetics measure up to electric / battery powered alternatives? Both really rely on the upstream processes to achieve their “green credentials” provided sufficient carbon is captured from the atmosphere to off-set the (lower) emissions from using the synthetic fuels, then the advantage they have over battery alternatives is that there is no need for, non-renewable, rare/exotic minerals (with their inherent disposal issues) AND existing vehicles will not require to be replaced and scrapped.

As much as I love technology, there is no way that the sound of an electric car could ever evoke the emotions felt hearing a throaty V8 roar past you; so I will be hoping that Porsche are successful in their endeavour to bring Synthetic fuels onto a forecourt near me soon.

Discussions
Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 2, 2021

As much as I love technology, there is no way that the sound of an electric car could ever evoke the emotions felt hearing a throaty V8 roar past you; so I will be hoping that Porsche are successful in their endeavour to bring Synthetic fuels onto a forecourt near me soon.

I've heard this emotional pre-nostalgia already with respect to transportation electrification-- reminds me of the desire for some to use 'old-school' lighting because they light the yellower light, the hum of the bulbs, etc., despite the energy costs. Synthetic fuels to allow for that function without the climate hit, though, are an interesting twist to that story!

Richard Newcombe's picture
Richard Newcombe on Mar 2, 2021

When I put my "HSE" hat on, the V8 roar is also relevant as it announces a potential hazard in your vicinity in a way, that at present, fully electric vehicles do not.

Matt Karber's picture
Matt Karber on Mar 3, 2021

I like the V8 rumble myself, but a fuel cell-powered speed record car like the Ford Fusion Hydrogen 999 is really cool, too. It did hit 207 mph, after all. A V8 can operate perfectly well (and very cleanly) on hydrogen, and actually will increase its horsepower, too, if you know how to do it.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Mar 3, 2021

The internal combustion engine has been around for 100 years. It is still only 20 to 30% efficient. No matter what fuel it runs on it gets very hot and can burn you. The 2,000 parts all wear and create friction. It needs a complicated and inefficient transmission. It requires oil changes. It also required a muffler because it creates so much noise. It is over due that we ban and replace this example of poor engineering.

  An AC  electric motor is 80 to 110% efficient. It only has 2 moving parts and creates little heat or friction. It will last for millions of miles. It needs no transmission no exhaust . It can reduce brake dust and wear while making energy slowing down and stopping. It's a world of difference. 

Richard Newcombe's picture
Richard Newcombe on Mar 4, 2021

JIm,

efficiencies will and are improving. The current generation of Formula 1 engines have achieved efficiencies of 50%, whilst this technology has not reached the commercial market yet, it will.

But given the choice of a Tesla or a classic Ferrari, which would you choose to drive? Synthetic fuels gives us "old" petrol heads a future (although we may have to change the name slightly).

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Mar 4, 2021

When you look to the future of using these synthetic fuels to retain the experience of the traditional engines, are you seeing these as specialty vehicles driven in specific conditions (on a race track, for example) or would they be just as ubiquitous as the fossil-fueled parallels now? I'm wondering whether there would need to be a wide network of fill-up stations for these fuels and if that would be an impediment, or if it wouldn't be necessary because they're not being driven on long trips but on special designated uses for the experience of it all

Richard Newcombe's picture
Richard Newcombe on Mar 5, 2021

Matt, I see it on 2 levels, as you say in specialty vehicles (race tracks being an excellent example) and secondly as an interim measure. Not everybody will be able to afford to / or perhaps want to, ditch their existing vehicles. Synthetic fuels offers a 'greenish' option for them. 

Also as I indicated in my original posting, battery systems, at the moment, do not have the energy density needed for heavy goods vehicles, Aircraft and construction vehicles need.

I also have reservations with current battery technology, whilst green (well, as green as the source of electricity) it is not 'renewable' as current commercial battery technologies relies heavily on rare / exotic minerals and presents significant disposal challenges.

Richard Newcombe's picture
Thank Richard for the Post!
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