Electric propulsion is on every automaker's mind, but brands like Porsche and Mazda are also investigating carbon-neutral gasoline as a clean alternative to going full-electric.
E-fuels are not new but the financial backing behind the technology is starting to take off, with companies like HIF Global building two new e-fuel facilities.
Texas will soon be the global headquarters of e-fuel production, according to HIF Global, as the company starts construction on its newest plant.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has issued an Air Quality Permit authorizing Highly Innovative Fuels Global to build an eFuels facility in Matagorda County, Texas. At its peak, HIF Global expects to produce around 200 million gallons of e-fuel per year, allowing for the decarbonization of over 400,000 vehicles. To achieve these goals, the company says it will need 2 million tons of recycled carbon dioxide as well as approximately 300,000 tons of green hydrogen separated from water using renewable electricity. Once constructed, the Texas facility will allegedly be the largest e-fuel plant and producer in the world.
For context, e-fuels are synthetic gasoline or diesel built up from a combination of renewably produced hydrogen from water via hydrolysis and captured carbon dioxide, as Autoweek contributor Jim Motavalli explains. And our cars are technically able to run on e-fuels as they sit, given that the fuel is designed to replicate gasoline in an environmentally friendly manner. E-fuels aren't exactly new, as demonstrated by Porsche's excitement around them, but the process to create them isn't as easy as installing a home EV charger.
Both sides of the automotive science spectrum share concerns about the long-term ability to produce and use e-fuels. The Clean Transportation Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists has previously said the likelihood of tailpipe emissions from even the cleanest e-fuel is high. After all, a combustion engine is still burning e-fuels.
Chief Scientist Mobility at Shell, Wolfgang Warnecke, believes e-fuels are worth investing in but only for outlier cases where electric propulsion simply won't work. Warnecke's primary concerns around e-fuels, which he shared at a European e-fuels summit late last year, were its decades-long scalability timeline, high electricity and water need for production, and low energy efficiency compared to electric propulsion.
However, these sorts of worries are exactly what HIF Global is trying to address with its new Texas plant. After a successful launch of its Haru Oni Demonstration Plant in southern Chile, where a Porsche 911 ran on the first liters delivered from the plant, the construction of its Texas plant represents pushback against skepticism from scientists and adversarial fuel makers alike. With its permits in place, HIF says it will start construction on this facility early in 2024, with a claimed e-fuel production date of 2027.
Supporters of this project range from brands like Porsche, which is researching e-fuel usage in relation to European Union EV mandates, to local and state governments, as Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Economic and Trade Group nominated HIF for the 2023 Community Investment Award from Trade & Industry Development magazine.
Texas has consistently been the largest annual exporter of goods in the US, largely because of its crude oil reserves, and the addition of new but still fuel-focused technology must be exciting news for Texas politicians and the state's business prospects. The US as a whole, however, is largely focused on electric vehicles, while alternative propulsion methods like hydrogen and e-fuels appear to be a lower priority.
The company has released few details about the proposed $6 billion plant, though it has previously employed Siemens Energy to design and assist in technology integration at the plant in Chile. While the environmental authorization from the EPA has been approved, Renato Pereira, CEO of HIF USA, said the company is still waiting for the plant's engineering documents and financing to finalize.
Combined with construction beginning on its Australian plant as well, it seems HIF Global is in for a busy few years, and it will be worth watching how different countries integrate e-fuels into their de-carbonization plans.
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