Automakers don’t just make cars anymore; they’re deeply involved in everything from computer operating systems to fuel infrastructure. Recently, German automaker Audi has been talking up its carbon neutral “e-fuel” experiment. While I bear Audi no ill-will, this concept seems, well, kind of worthless. Read on to find out why.
The e-gas experiment can be broken down thusly. Audi takes raw carbon, purchased from biomass incinerator plants, and converting it into different fuels; hydrogen, e-gas, e-ethanol, and e-diesel. Yet Audi seems to all but dismiss the e-hydrogen, which uses solar and wind powered electrolysis to produce hydrogen that can be used in fuel cell cars. Audi executives cite the lack of infrastructure as a major hurdle to hydrogen adoption. Fair enough.
In order to make the Audi e-gas, the hydrogen goes through “methanization,” turning it into a form of natural gas that can use the existing CNG infrastructure. They basically take a clean-burning fuel, and make it…not. Ughrable. Granted, natural gas MAY benefit global emissions output, especially if we can do away with the destructive practice of fracking. But I’m just not buying this as a feasible future fuel.
Audi says that since the carbon would have entered the atmosphere anyways, their fuel is carbon neutral as they’ve essentially given second life to eventual emissions. Since e-gas, e-ethanol, and e-diesel use incinerated biomass, it also means that food prices won’t be affected. Audi has also developed a dual-fuel car called the Audi A3 TCNG that can use both the e-gas and regular gasoline that goes on sale next year in Germany.
Unfortunately, Audi misses the point of seeking alternative fuels. The world is not in a good place as far as emissions of all kinds go, and transportation is a major contributor. Merely delaying the absorption of emissions from entering the atmosphere isn’t good enough, especially when you consider that producing e-gas en masse would mean sourcing power from non-green energy sources, i.e. more emissions. Also, by turning that carbon into e-gas, you’ve accelerated the natural process through which biomass decays and returns to the atmosphere as carbon emissions.
Audi is building a full-scale e-gas plant in Germany that will turn 2,800 tons of CO2 into 1,000 tons of methane. Meanwhile, a New Jersey-based operation will make e-ethanol and e-diesel using waste water, bacteria, CO2 and sunlight to create e-ethanol and e-diesel variants that Audi claims will be economically viable by 2020..
Color me unconvinced. Maybe I am missing something here, but the problem right now is too much atmospheric emissions from automobiles. Merely sustaining the status quo won’t do. Let’s get off of the carbon standard as much as possible by focusing on vehicles that go further using less energy. We can have our fun without needing to guzzle gas like it is going out of style. Do ya feel me?