Political beliefs aside, we are pretty sick of our mindless politicians mandating stupid green policies without any thought of their economic impact and how to successfully implement them. Take for instance California’s declaration that all new cars shall be electric by 2035. It is one thing to mandate this but how can this be done? California’s grid and power generation infrastructure are already strained to the limit. In typical political knee-jerk action, implemented by those who are unqualified to make this sort of mandate, we do not see any plans to develop an electric car charging infrastructure nor any plans to fortify the grid for this demand that will probably quadruple the need for electric power. Also, it takes energy to make electric power, usually causing the creation of more greenhouse gases, making the use of electricity is, for the most part, not carbon neutral. The amount of sustainable power via solar, wind, and hydroelectric generation is too limited and not reliable enough to meet the huge increase in demand that switching to an all-electric transportation fleet will create. Also, there is a lot of current investment in the fuel infrastructure not to mention millions of internal combustion engine vehicles that cannot go away for a generation or more.
Even if you want to punch Greta Thornburg in the face and are not signed up to the belief that human activities are causing global warming, you got to admit that it is probably not a good idea to greatly change the balance of our air. The big question is how do we convert over to a more carbon-neutral way of powering our cars and heating our homes that is not disruptive to our economy and way of life?
The interim answer to the problem might just be a new technology that is being worked on now called E-Fuel. E-Fuel is a too good to be a true-sounding answer to the problem that takes hydrogen from water and CO2 from the atmosphere to create a wide range of hydrocarbon products from natural gas, gasoline, diesel fuel, and even plastics. With the E-Fuel process, not only are we getting fuel but also removing carbon from the atmosphere and not creating any more carbon when using it. Some people have difficulty wrapping their heads around making gasoline out of air and water but let me explain, gas is a hydrocarbon, made up of chains of hydrogen and carbon atoms. The process is getting the hydrogen and carbon out of the air and water and putting it back together in the form of stuff we can use.
To make E-Fuel you need to use a 4-step process that hinges on getting green electricity, this will come from solar, wind, or hydroelectric power.
The first step is to use your green electric power to use electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen can be used for many commercial purposes and the hydrogen now called green hydrogen and atmospheric CO2 are fed into a catalytic reactor whose output is hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and water. The water can be reused in the process and the hydrogen and carbon monoxide are fed into another catalytic reactor that forms those two constituents to make what is called blue crude as well as methane gas.
The methane gas can be used in homes as a replacement for natural gas and Audi even has research going to run cars on methane. The final step is also known as Fischer–Tropsch process which was first developed in 1925 by German chemists Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch. This process is well understood by us and is already scalable for production-level outputs. In fact, during WW2 it helped fuel the Nazi regime after their supply of petroleum fuel was cut off.
Now if this sounds too good to be true, it kinda is, it’s like putting the manure back in the horse so to speak. Its success as a green process requires a huge amount of clean electric energy that in itself requires its own infrastructure. It is much more efficient to use that green-generated electricity to directly charge electric cars as you can see in the graphic above. It is also more efficient to use green hydrogen in hydrogen-powered cars, hence Toyota and Mazda’s ongoing research on that. The only advantage of E-fuel is it can give us a carbon-neutral way for us to enjoy our cars, giving us more flexibility in the transition to a more sustainable way of personal transportation. This is actually a big deal!