As the push for decarbonization in the transportation sector gathers momentum, electrofuels — also known as eFuels, which are produced by using electricity to combine the hydrogen molecules from water with the carbon from carbon dioxide (CO2) — are beginning to attract attention as an alternative fuel with three important selling points in today’s environment. First, eFuels are available now and can be made with current technology, although there is a lot of room for future improvements and growth. Second, because they are considered drop-in replacements, they are essentially indistinguishable from the fossil-based conventional fuels in use today, which means they can be used without any changes to the existing energy infrastructure. Third, they can capitalize on a rapidly growing set of hydrogen and CO2 suppliers eager to secure a diversified set of offtakers. In today’s RBN blog, we look at HIF Global’s approach to eFuels production, its demonstration plant in Chile and its big plans for Texas and beyond.
As we noted in Part 1 of this series, there are a number of alternative fuels and government policies that support them. That includes ethanol, a biofuel found in virtually all of the gasoline purchased in the U.S.; biodiesel, another biofuel that is produced from a variety of feedstocks, including corn oil, soybean oil, animal fats, and used cooking oil; renewable diesel (RD), a biomass-based fuel that can be used in diesel engines or as home heating oil; and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which is also made from renewable feedstocks and is a substitute for jet fuel (see our Come Clean series to learn more). RD and SAF are especially important because, like eFuels, they are considered drop-in replacements for conventional diesel and jet fuel, respectively. We should note that although eFuels have the same CO2 emissions as conventional fuels when used, the carbon savings come from how they are produced and their reliance on large volumes of CO2 captured either from the atmosphere via direct air capture (DAC) or directly from industrial sources, resulting in fuels with about a 95% reduction in lifecycle CO2 emissions. The process essentially recycles CO2 that is already in the atmosphere to create new fuels.
In our previous blog, we outlined the eFuels production process being developed by California-based Infinium, which begins by running water through an electrolyzer that is powered by renewable energy to produce green hydrogen. The next step is to combine that hydrogen with CO2 captured from nearby sources, such as natural gas processing, steel production, or other industrial activities. The process results in three end products — what Infinium calls eDiesel, eSAF, and eNaphtha — with the product mix varying based on project and offtake demand. (Naphtha is a product of processed crude oil and is a critical component in the manufacture of many plastics and chemicals — see Through the Looking Glass for more.)
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