tech torque FRASER STRONACH

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AMIDST WHAT seems like the panic to switch from the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine to the elec­tric mo­tor for our trans­port needs, Ger­man com­pany Bosch says there is an­other way.

It’s called syn­thetic fuel. Put sim­ply it has man­u­fac­tured a fuel than can re­place cur­rent fos­sil fuels (petrol, diesel, etc.) and has the po­ten­tial, ac­cord­ing to Bosch, to make the in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gine car­bon neu­tral.

What’s more, it means cur­rent en­gine tech­nol­ogy can be used and, more im­por­tantly, the ex­ist­ing re­fu­elling sta­tion net­work can be used with ab­so­lutely no changes. The prob­lem with elec­tric cars is that they will need a whole new sup­port infrastructure to be vi­able: charg­ing sta­tions (as per cur­rent fuel sta­tions), kerb-side charg­ers (ar­ranged like park­ing me­ters) and/or do­mes­tic home-based charg­ing sys­tems.

Just in case you don’t know, Bosch is a huge au­to­mo­tive com­po­nent sup­plier pro­duc­ing chas­sis con­trol sys­tems, fu­elde­liv­ery sys­tems, ve­hi­cle elec­tron­ics, and even hum­ble au­to­mo­tive com­po­nents like wind­screen-wiper blades. Bosch also makes other things such as do­mes­tic ap­pli­ances and power tools, and glob­ally em­ploys more peo­ple than Toy­ota.

Syn­thetic fuels use car­bon diox­ide as the raw ma­te­rial in their man­u­fac­tur­ing process, which also re­lies on elec­tric­ity, ide­ally pro­duced via re­new­able sources. In the first stage of syn­thetic fuel pro­duc­tion, hy­dro­gen is pro­duced from wa­ter, and car­bon is then added to pro­duce a liq­uid fuel. The car­bon can be re­cy­cled from in­dus­trial pro­cesses or even cap­tured from the air us­ing fil­ters.

Tech­ni­cally speak­ing it’s al­ready pos­si­ble to pro­duce syn­thetic fuel, and pi­lot projects to pro­duce syn­thetic are un­der­way in Ger­many and Nor­way. Cur­rently, pro­duc­ing syn­thetic fuel is an ex­pen­sive and com­plex process, but favourable elec­tric­ity prices and in­creased pro­duc­tion will help to re­duce the costs in the fu­ture.

Bosch is not sug­gest­ing that syn­thetic fuels will mean the world won’t have to turn to elec­tric cars to re­duce air pol­lu­tion, but that syn­thetic fuel could be a sup­ple­ment to elec­tric cars and a means of keep­ing ex­ist­ing cars on the road. Given that syn­thetic fuel has all the prop­er­ties of petrol or diesel (or LPG, for that mat­ter), cur­rent-tech­nol­ogy cars will run on it with­out the need for mod­i­fi­ca­tions. Syn­thetic fuels can be made to burn prac­ti­cally soot-free so en­gines will rely less on the ex­haust-gas clean­ing treat­ments widely used to­day.

Bosch says that the cost of own­er­ship (up to a life­time mileage of 160,000km) of a hy­brid run­ning on syn­thetic fuel could also be less than that of a full elec­tric ve­hi­cle.

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