Green fuels replaces fossil energies

A lot of hope is pinned on synthetic fuels made using green hydrogen. These e-fuels are expected to replace fossil energy sources in industry, transport and other areas.

The use of renewable electricity is due to become increasingly important. However, there will be some areas in which electricity cannot be used directly, even in 20 or 30 years’ time. Examples here include air travel, overseas shipping and the chemical industry. In these situations, synthetic fuels, known as e-fuels (short for electrofuels) can offer a solution.

A power-to-liquid (PtL) process using an electrolyser makes it possible to initially convert CO2, water and electricity from renewable energy sources into green syngas. In the following synthesis, the gas is processed further into a synthetic crude oil. This “renewable crude oil” is refined into different synthetic fuels in refineries. These fuels can then replace fossil petrol, diesel and kerosene.

Opportunity for refineries

According to a position paper from FuelsEurope, the European association of refineries, European petroleum refineries want to invest up to 650 billion euros in converting their production to e-fuels and progressive biofuels. John Cooper, Director General of FuelsEurope: “Complementary to electrification and hydrogen technologies, low-carbon liquid fuels will be essential throughout the energy transition that will take place between now and 2050 and beyond, ensuring security of supply, providing consumer choice and also enhancing Europe’s industrial leadership.” Furthermore, low-carbon liquid fuels could also provide strategic security of supply. As the association of refineries also emphasises. Generally, the energy supplies in European fuel stores are sufficient to last 90 days. Therefore, a large quantity of excess regeneratively generated electricity could be stored in this way.

Many different projects are being planned

Different refineries, like Total Energies and Sunfire are currently working on projects that aim into the production of e-fuels. The company develops and produces high-temperature electrolysers and fuel cells. A Sunfire electrolyser will be put to use at Total Raffinerie Mitteldeutschland to produce synthetic methanol from highly concentrated CO2. For each tonne of synthetic methanol produced, 1.4 tonnes of CO2 are processed. The Leuna site is therefore going to be a significant example of carbon capture and utilisation.

In Chile, a consortium of different companies – Porsche, AME and ENAP – is carrying out a pilot project. This should bring about the world’s first integrated and commercial large-scale facility for the production of synthetic, carbon-neutral e-fuels. In two steps, the capacity should then be increased to around 55 million litres per year by 2024. And around 550 million litres per year by 2026. Oliver Blume, CEO of Porsche, says: “Electromobility is Porsche’s highest priority. E-fuels for cars are a sensible addition – if they can be produced in parts of the world where there is an excess of sustainable energy.”

Shell is also committed to the PtL sector, and plans to produce sustainable aeroplane fuels in part of its Rhineland refinery in the future. Construction of the PtL facility could begin in 2023, and it could enter into service at the end of 2025. Its initial capacity would total around 100,000 tonnes per year. Dr Fabian Ziegler, Managing Director of the Shell Companies in Germany, explains: “In future, we will only be able to maintain our means of transport if they become more sustainable, and the traffic users on the roads, on the water and in the sky are able to reduce their emissions significantly. To make this possible, the location’s product portfolio will change significantly, and indeed, has to.”

Environmental improvements in air travel

The air travel sector in particular is banking on e-fuels. As battery-powered drives are simply too heavy for aeroplanes, and hydropower technology is still in the early stages. Germany has adopted its own PtL roadmap for this sector. Which aims to create a basis on which to produce at least 200,000 tonnes of sustainable kerosene for the German air travel industry annually by 2030.

Wolfgang Langhoff, Chair of the Association of the German Petroleum Industry (MWV – Mineralölwirtschaftsverband) and Chair of the Board of BP Europa SE, says: “We are convinced that the PtL roadmap represents a credible plan of how we can reach the goal of decarbonising the air travel industry, efficiently and working together with politics and the economy. Producing 200,000 tonnes of PtL kerosene each year is a realistic first step, without being too small by any means. It would make it possible to decarbonise around a third of Germany’s domestic flights by 2030.”

Energy sources with potential

According to estimates from the Fraunhofer Institute for Energy Economics and Energy System Technology (IEE), it is realistically possible to produce up to 57,000 terawatt-hours of PtL worldwide. By way of comparison: a minimum of 6,700 terawatt-hours of PtL will be required for global air travel in 2050, along with 4,500 terawatt-hours for global shipping. (Source: Fraunhofer IEE)

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