German company ‘Sunfire’ has produced a revolutionary method in developing liquid combustion fuel, e-diesel. German car manufacturing giant Audi, has taken a key interest into the development and scaling up of the process, partnering with Sunfire on the ambitious project. The synthetic fuels first batches were created in April. Sunfire has likened to think that their pioneering process shall effectively be closing the carbon cycle on CO2 emissions.
In April Johanna Wanka, Federal Minister of Education and Research of Germany rejoiced alongside Sunfire and their technological breakthrough by filling her Audi A8 with a few litres of the synthetic fuel. The Ministry had supported the development of the manufacturing plant in Dresden. The new fuel is a synthetic diesel-distillate based on “Blue Crude” (hydrocarbons).The momentum behind Sunfire’s growing interest from investors is that the company is offering a commercially viable yet tech savvy path towards a circular economy in which high-quality fuels (-CH2-) compatible with existing fuel systems are produced from carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O). The synthetic fuels are produced by inverting the combustion process: Oxygen is removed from the CO2 and H2O created by combustion, which are in turn synthesised into fuels. This requires renewable electrical energy.
Audi, project partner of Sunfire, exposed the synthetic diesel to laboratory tests, resulting with the fuel gaining approval. The analysis collated showed that its properties are superior to fossil fuel. Sunfire’s synthetic diesel does not contain any sulphur or aromatic hydrocarbon thus is particularly eco-friendly. Sunfire Chief Technical Officer Christian von Olshausen says:
“The engine runs quieter and fewer pollutants are being created” tweet
The cetane number is very high (roughly 70) and ensures a cleaner and better combustion as a blending component for conventional diesel fuel.
Challenges of scaling up production
Sunfire are certainly not short of financial backers; supported by several corporate venture capital companies and funds, including Bilfinger Venture Capital, Total Ventures, KfW and Electranova Capital. Their current production figures of their pilot plant in Dresden factory which is partnered by Audi are producing a minor 42.2 gallons of blue crude a day; barely a whisker of the required amount to substitute the amount of diesel consumed daily by Germany, but there is hope for the nascent company. Berninghausen and Dieninger are hoping that a new round of funding for projects by the German government — worth several billion dollars in total, could help escalate their blue crude production within 2-3 years to 475 gallons per hour via the construction of a bigger plant.
The visual infographic below summarises in detail the process Sunfire have developed.
Will it challenge current fuel providers?
Sunfire estimates its e-diesel could sell for as cheap €1-€1.5 (73p-110p) per litre – This is a vague estimation however this is still slightly cheaper than the average UK diesel price of 114.62 pence per litre according to the AA in August 2015. However, fuel prices are often heavily dictated by government policy. The actual price of the fuel can be as low as 30% of what we pay at the pump – the rest of the cost is made up of fuel duty, VAT, and the retailer’s profit margin. “So we assume certain taxes might not be applied to these renewable fuels we produce,” says Mr Kronenberg, perhaps more in hope than expectation. In the US and the UK there are government initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the use of cleaner transport fuels. But it’s the cost of electricity that could make or break e-diesel’s commercial viability, because the process requires a lot of energy.
Is this really the answer to the future?
Tesla has been in the spotlight for the past few years and has certainly caused wave after wave of investor excitement, popularly morphing performance and style in their quest to sell their green electric cars. Nevertheless despite a soaring stock price and rapid expansion plan, this could pose to be their greatest threat. With trends shifting seeing more cars being produced with diesel engines in order to benefit from fuel economy, as well as take advantage of diesel fuel prices below petrol fuel prices, the solution of clean carbon produced blue crude, certainly has grasped investor attentions.
Seeing Sunfire’s blue crude grace and fuel our ever hungry transport demands is certainly a substantial long way off, however despite the company still in its nascence at 5 years old, this once considered fantasy is certainly turning heads.