Internal combustion engines have been propelling our world for many years. They are utilized in cars, planes, trucks, and other vehicles. However, due to technological advancements and the growing concern of air pollution, the search for alternative fuel sources has become imperative. Synthetic fuels are among these alternatives. This article aims to explore their functioning and the reasons behind their potential to rescue internal combustion engines.

What are synthetic fuels?

Synthetic fuels, also known as e-fuels, are a category of fuel derived from both renewable resources, such as water, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide, as well as non-renewable minerals like crude oil. Unlike conventional fuels such as petrol and diesel, synthetic fuels are produced through a chemical process involving reactions like gasification, fermentation, and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis.

How do synthetic fuels work?

E-fuels are composed of hydrocarbon particles arranged in various configurations. Typically, they are produced in a liquid form and can be utilized in internal combustion engines. Consequently, there is no requirement to replace the existing vehicles on our roads or implement costly modifications.

Can synthetic fuels save internal combustion engines?

The primary reasons for using synthetic fuels are rooted in their eco-friendliness compared to fuels produced through conventional methods, leading to reduced pollution emissions. Synthetic fuels are derived from elements that naturally replenish in the environment, such as carbon dioxide or hydrogen, thereby decreasing reliance on non-renewable resources. Fossil fuels are finite and will eventually be depleted, or their production using current technologies will become economically unviable.

Another crucial advantage of synthetic fuels is their higher production efficiency. They possess superior combustion properties, resulting in enhanced engine performance. Furthermore, they exhibit greater thermal and chemical stability compared to conventional fuels, thereby lowering the risk of engine damage and reducing the time required for repairs.

Threats to the development of e-fuels

The possibility of an e-fuel revolution is a subject of debate among many experts. The main hurdle lies in the substantial energy requirements of the production process. The cost of driving a hundred kilometers in a vehicle fueled by e-fuels could be up to 10 times greater than the cost of energy generated from renewable sources. Currently, the production cost of one liter of synthetic fuel using existing technologies is approximately 7 dollars.

Methods for producing synthetic fuels

Synthetic fuels can be produced through various methods, with three being the most popular: gasification, fermentation, and Fischer-Tropsch synthesis. Gasification entails converting coal or biomass into a synthetic gas that contains hydrogen and oxygen. This gas is subsequently utilized to produce e-fuels like methanol and olefins. On the other hand, fermentation involves utilizing microbes to convert biomass, such as maize or sugar cane, into ethanol. Fischer-Tropsch synthesis, in contrast, is a process that utilizes catalysts to convert synthetic gas into liquid fuels like oils and waxes.

Each of these methods has its own advantages and disadvantages, and their selection depends on factors such as resource availability, production costs, and fuel quality requirements.

Bartłomiej Haba