Last year Audi announced radical plans to start energy production
using sustainable wind farms located in the North Sea. By feeding this power back into the grid, Audi could boast that the electrical energy used by its future range of e-tron electric cars is completely clean.
However, Audi’s new wind farms won’t just be used to generate purely electrical energy. They will also help develop hydrogen and a synthetic gas (chemically similar to natural gas), which will also be used for powering cars.
Better still, the new synthetic gas, labeled “e-gas” by Audi, requires CO2 during its forming process, which means when it’s finally burned in a vehicle designed to run on natural gas, the process is CO2 neutral.
Today, Audi celebrated the topping-out (installation of a structure’s highest point) of a new plant that will create hydrogen and e-gas using electricity generated by its wind farms. Located in Werlte, Germany, the new plant makes Audi the first automaker to build a plant purely for the production of sustainable fuels.
The way it works is that electrical energy generated by the wind firms (a maximum of six megawatts) is transported by capable to the plant. Here Audi uses electrolysis to initially split water into oxygen and hydrogen, with the hydrogen essentially acting as storage of the original electrical energy.
Since the world doesn’t have an extensive hydrogen fuel network just yet, and most cars can’t run on the stuff, Audi converts the hydrogen to e-gas in a process called methanation. As such, it can be distributed to fueling stations via the existing natural gas network.
According to Audi, the plant will annually produce about 1,102 tons of e-gas and will chemically bind some 3,086 tons of CO2. This would be enough to transport 1,500 cars the size of an Audi A3 over 9,000 miles--each and every year.
Audi plans to launch an A3 capable of running on natural gas next year on the European market, and an A4 version will follow in 2014.
The plant is on track to be operational from early next year. Below is a chart showing the process flow.