The need to reduce carbon emissions has generated more interest in battery-electric technology but this is only one solution, and it too has drawbacks when one considers the CO2 generated in the production of batteries. And then there's the issue of what happens to batteries after they pass their use-by date.
Another solution that more automakers are slowly starting to investigate are carbon-neutral synthetic fuels. One of them is McLaren, whose COO Jens Ludmann told Autocar in an interview published Thursday that the automaker is looking into developing a prototype that can run on synthetic fuel.
“The technology around synthetic fuels is still being developed, but if you consider that it can be produced using solar energy, easily transported and then pumped (into cars) as we know today, there are potential benefits in terms of emissions and practicality that I’m keen to explore,” he said.
Ludmann said it was too early to determine when synthetic fuels would be ready for primetime, but Porsche CEO Oliver Blume said in an interview last September that it would be an option in about ten years.
In the future, it might mean we could see synthetic fuels used in applications where battery-electric power isn't suited, such as in high-performance cars like those offered by McLaren, and in long-haul trucks. And current internal-combustion engines can easily be converted to run on synthetic fuel, so older cars won't need to be scrapped.
The most common type of synthetic fuel is oxymethylene ether (OME), which can be generated for gasoline and diesel cars. OME can be produced using CO2 from the air, in a process that combines the CO2 with hydrogen generated from renewable energy sources like wind or solar farms. The resulting fuel can then be distributed using existing infrastructure, and after being used in an engine results in much fewer particulates than conventional fuels. The challenge here is generating the hydrogen in a manner that makes OME commercially viable.