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Bosch: Renewable synthetic fuels for less CO₂

Opting for fuels that help curb climate change

The Paris Agreement calls for global warming to be limited to 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, preferably even 1.5°C. The fossil CO₂ emitted by road vehicles will have to be reduced to nearly zero over the next three decades for that to happen. The big question is how. Electromobility is just now picking up momentum. Electric cars are only as emissions-free as the production of electricity that charges their batteries. Besides, around half the vehicles that will be on the road in 2030 have already been sold, most with gasoline or diesel engines. Legacy vehicles will also have to play their part in cutting CO₂ emissions. One path to achieving this is with renewable synthetic fuels.

Seven reasons why renewable synthetic fuels will be part of tomorrow’s mobility mix:

1) Time

Renewable synthetic fuels have long since left the basic research phase. Technically speaking, it is already possible to manufacture synthetic fuels. First, they apply electricity generated from renewable sources to obtain hydrogen from water. Then they add carbon. Finally, they combine CO₂ and H₂ to make synthetic gasoline, diesel, gas, or kerosene. The production process is viable, but capacity is lacking. It has to be expanded rapidly to meet demand. Incentives could come from fuel quotas, offsetting CO₂ savings against fleet consumption, and long-term planning certainty.

2) Climate neutrality

As their name suggests, renewable synthetic fuels are made exclusively with energy obtained from renewable sources such as the sun or wind. In the best-case scenario, manufacturers capture the CO₂ needed to produce this fuel from the surrounding air, turning a greenhouse gas into a resource. This creates a virtuous cycle where the CO₂ emitted by burning renewable synthetic fuels is reused to produce new fuels. Vehicles on the road, when powered by synthetic fuel, are ultimately climate-neutral.

3) Infrastructure and powertrain technology

The Fischer-Tropsch process produces renewable synthetic fuels that can be used with today’s infrastructure and engines. Experts call them “drop-in” synthetic fuels because they can be deployed without first modifying infrastructure and vehicles, and they have an immediate impact and deliver faster results. They may also be added to conventional fuel to help reduce CO₂ emissions from vehicles already on the road today. This way, these fuels could contribute to the cause even before they are ramped up for larger-scale production. The chemical structures and basic properties of gasoline remain intact, so even vintage cars can run on synthetic gas.

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