After years of promise and millions of dollars in investments, Porsche today pumped the first gallons of fully synthetic fuel into a car. That car? A 911, of course.
Porsche talked about Electronic fuel from 2020, when it invested 20 million euros in a project with Siemens Energy to create a pilot plant in Punta Arenas, Chile. The house that Ferdinand later built supported that with a 75 million USD investment earlier this year, took a 12.5% stake in HIF Global, the holding company for these e-fuel production efforts.
E-fuel is seen as a carbon-neutral alternative, allowing older vehicles to continue operating in the face of growing restrictions on carbon output from passenger vehicles. However, it’s all just theory at this point. While a ban on the sale of internal combustion vehicles is already on the books in many places, starting in 2035 in California and the EU, globally, no waivers have been granted for E-Fuel. The EU plans to draft a proposal on “CO2-neutral fuels” and whether they could be exempt, but that could only apply to commercial vehicles.
Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board of Porsche, expects such an exemption to include the use of E-Fuel in his company’s cars: “This is still a work in progress, but at least tentatively. Our hope is that we can also use such E-Fuel in passenger cars, especially Porsche cars. This is the expectation, but this has not been finalized today.”
For now, Porsche’s eFuels will be used exclusively on off-road, powering the company’s global Porsche SuperCup range. With strong rumors that Porsche will be entering Formula 1 soon, and with that line going to switch to carbon-neutral fuel by 2026, it’s not hard to see the potential there.
Why Chile? Electronic fuel relies heavily on the splitting of water into its constituent elements: hydrogen and oxygen. To work efficiently, this electrolysis requires a lot of cheap electricity, which is supplied in Chile by constant, high winds. Punta Arenas is said to be the windiest region in South America, the force being converted into electricity by Siemens Gamesa wind turbines.
Hydrogen from that process is then mixed with CO2 extracted from the air to create a form of methanol. This raw material can then be further refined for a wide range of products, including the e-fuel that Porsche will use to power its race cars today and which will hopefully help other vehicles in the future. Its historic convenience continues to move well into the future.
Porsche’s original plan was to produce 130,000 liters of fuel by the end of 2022. Given the date and fuel tank size of that 911 (up to 67 liters), it seems that goal will come later. Porsche’s next target is 55 million liters per year over the next three years. With that volume, Porsche’s Michael Steiner says production costs will drop to about $2 per liter.
Right now, the average fuel price in Germany is around $1.75 a liter, but that’s at the pump. Shipping, taxes and other fees mean that e-fuels will continue to be significantly more expensive than traditional fuels for some time to come, but their carbon-neutral nature could still make them attractive option for commercial applications in particular.
“There are a number of initiatives around the world,” Steiner told me. “Some regions seek tax benefits, some seek mixed quotas for different sectors. Therefore, it remains open to which market could be most favorable for E-Fuel.”
One thing is clear: despite the success of e-fuel and the fact that the exemption for a carbon-neutral internal combustion system, Porsche remains steadfast in its goal of being 80% of electric vehicle sales by 2030.
“We have a clear strategy,” Steiner said. “The main focus is on e-mobility, but beyond that, we take care of our ICE cars.” Porsche is of course a brand with a long history. Today’s refueled 911 is just one of more than a million things Porsche has produced since 1963. Keeping them running is clearly a powerful motivator.