Twelve tonnes of CO2-neutral fuel have been produced as a climate-friendly alternative to petroleum and electric cars
Chemieanlagenbau Chemnitz (CAC) has developed a process for producing green, that is, synthetic, fuel from carbon dioxide, electricity and water alone – entirely without fossil fuels. At the demonstration plant at Freiberg University of Mining and Technology – the most important process stage, the conversion of methanol into fuel – twelve tonnes of green fuel have already been produced and made available to car manufacturers for testing.
Joachim Engelmann, CEO and CAC shareholder, is convinced that "synthetic fuels are the future of mobility". "We are assuming that in the future, cars will increasingly use synthetic fuel or diesel." By 2030, according to the EU's Renewable Energies Directive RED II, the renewable share of fuels should be 14 percent – that is double the amount it is today. “The great advantage of synthetically produced fuel – besides the main goal of reducing CO2 emissions – is that car manufacturers can use it to further develop their internal combustion engines, that clean fuel can be compatible for the existing fleet of cars and that it is also widely available through the existing network of fuel stations", according to Engelmann.
Indeed, all major car manufacturers are researching alternatives such as electric drives or fuel cells, but the bottom line is that their global warming potential is currently higher. The advantage of the CAC process is that fuel can be produced almost CO2-neutrally, since only CO2, water and electricity – ideally from renewable sources – will be required for production.
"There are many who are interested in our process", says Joachim Engelmann, "but so far no industrial-scale plant has been built. Our most important goal is to build such a plant, because the technology is market-ready", according to Engelmann, who is already engaged in promising negotiations with a refinery abroad: "Germany is not taking the issue seriously enough: The new climate protection agreement does indeed refer to the aviation industry or trucks, but passenger cars have been omitted for synthetic fuels. Politicians are fixated on the electric car in a manner that is difficult to achieve. If Germany does not recognise synthetic fuels as a strategic goal, as plant manufacturers we have to orient ourselves towards other countries in which these technologies have a future."
The research and development work is to be promoted by the federal government and the Free State of Saxony as part of the "C3-Mobility" research project. Nevertheless, more than 50 percent of the funds invested in the project are CAC's own funds.
In general, the topic is known under the name Power-to-X – thus meaning something like "making X from electric power". At the same time, the X can be many things: In addition to fuel, it is also possible to produce diesel, kerosene, methanol, ammonia, gas or liquid gas from CO2 and water. All that you need are electricity and various catalysts.
The CO2 needed for the production of hydrocarbons comes from the air or ideally even from industrial exhaust gases. In these the CO2 content is up to 500 times that in "normal" air. If the carbon dioxide were to be collected directly from an industrial plant, almost no exhaust gases will be produced there. This socalled carbon capture becomes a win-win situation both for industry as well as for synthetic fuel production, which needs precisely this CO2. The necessary hydrogen is obtained from normal water using the process of electrolysis. To do this you require electricity – and if it also comes from sustainable energy sources, CO2 emissions will be reduced. As a model project, CAC, together with Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Europe GmbH (MHPSE), has developed and simulated a complete process chain including hydroelectric power generation. The goal of the project is to produce a synthetic high-octane fuel that is almost completely CO2 neutral.
"Using carbon dioxide as the basis for producing synthetic fuel is a unique selling point of the CAC technology", according to Joachim Engelmann. "There are indeed global competitors who are likewise researching synthetic fuels or have also built plants, but they cannot process the CO2 directly." The idea of using excess CO2 for fuel production turns an unwanted byproduct into a valuable commodity. Industrial companies with high CO2 emissions would not even have to release their carbon dioxide into the environment, but instead could immediately introduce it as a raw material into the cycle for fuel production. The CO2 savings could be reckoned up by using emission certificates. "However, the legal basics are not yet being regulated in our favour", says Joachim Engelmann and he hopes that legislation will soon recognise the advantages of the new process and classify the synthetic fuel produced in the CAC demonstration plant as a clean fuel.