[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]ith all the limelight on electric vehicles (EVs) these days, it is too easy to forget that the vast majority of cars still run on old-fashioned fossil fuels. And it’s a situation that will remain for at least another one or two decades, while adoption of EVs plods along.
So, when German carmaker Audi announced that it has produced, with its French biotech partner Global Bioenergies, a non-fossil-based fuel “e-gasoline” that can drive a regular petrol-powered car, it has rightfully revved things up.
While renewable fuels made using living organisms called biofuels are nothing new, what’s spectacular about Audi’s achievement is that its propellant is created virtually out of thin air.
More specifically, the ingredients are water (any kind would do, including seawater), carbon dioxide, sunlight and specialised single-cell micro-organisms. Under the right conditions, these industrious creatures are tricked into using photosynthesis to continuously produce fuel, instead of new cells.
Plant matter such as sugar or starch crops that “traditional” biofuels require is conspicuously absent. That means that the production of e-gasoline does not compete with that of food crops, a major criticism of first-generation biofuels. Second-generation biofuels mitigate this by taking advantage of plant matter that we can’t eat, such as wood chips or sawdust, but factories processing such volumes of raw materials demand large swathes of real estate.
Yields per acre for such synthetic fuels – Audi’s also working simultaneously on e-gas, e-ethanol and e-diesel – are expected to be 20 times greater, compared to conventional biofuels made from, for example, corn.
Audi estimates that over its life cycle, a car running on e-fuel will exhibit a carbon footprint that is as good as that of an EV charged with renewable energy such as wind or solar. It’s astounding news, especially so for petrolheads, who may wish to pick up those petrolguzzling supercars eco-conscious drivers are shunning, stat.