Audi produces synthetic petrol from plant matter

  • Audi's new e-fuel.
  • Plant for producing Audi e-fuel.
Date:27 May 2015 Tags:, ,

E-petrol made from plant matter has been synthesised by Audi researchers in collaboration with partners Global Bioenergies – but they’re not stopping there: the next step is to produce fuel using only water, hydrogen, CO2, and solar-derived power.

According to our US colleagues over at popularmechanics.com, it’s a line of experimentation that Audi has been particularly focused on, having recently figured out how to synthesize diesel fuel from water and CO2 and operating a production facility that makes synthetic methane out of water, hydrogen, and CO2 to fuel the CNG-powered A3 Sportback g-tron.

Production of the initial small batch of e-petrol used no petroleum whatsoever. According to Audi, it is equivalent to 100 octane fuel but, because it contains no sulphur or benzene, it burns very cleanly. It is thus a high-grade fuel that enables engines to use high compression ratios for enhanced efficiency. The company says it will test the new fuel in the lab and in test engines. 

Reiner Mangold, Head of Sustainable Product Development at AUDI AG, emphasised that Audi has taken a broad-based approach to the development of CO2-neutral, non-fossil fuels. “Global Bioenergies has demonstrated the viability of the Audi “e-benzin” production process. That is a big step in our Audi e-fuels strategy.” Audi is already producing larger quantities of “e-gas” (synthetic methane) on an industrial scale for its customers. Other research projects with various partners are dedicated to Audi “e-ethanol”, Audi “e-diesel” and Audi “e-benzin”.

Global Bioenergies operates a pilot plant for the production of isobutene, the starting material for Audi “e-benzin”, in the French town of Pomacle, near Reims. Isobutene is produced there from renewable raw materials rather than the usual petroleum. Another project partner is the Fraunhofer Centre for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes (CPB) in Leuna, Saxony-Anhalt. Researchers there use hydrogen to transform the gaseous isobutene into liquid iso-octane. Global Bioenergies is building a demonstration plant at the Fraunhofer Centre that will begin producing larger quantities in 2016.

The next step in the synthetic petrol project, says Audi, is to figure out how to eliminate the biomass requirement entirely, the goal being to produce e-benzin from water, hydrogen, CO2, and solar-derived power. And perhaps how to make it in sufficient quantities to make it financially feasible…