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Robert Bosch GmbH, colloquially known as Bosch, is one of the bigger engineering and electronics companies in the world. Especially as a supplier of automotive components, it is a large player, making it both ubiquitous, and vital to the automotive industry in the company’s native Germany. It has now moved from producing (electric) motors, to the fuel that is needed to power those motors. Bosch has presented a synthetic fuel which the company claims will turn CO2 into a raw material, allowing for the combustion engine to become a carbon-neutral powertrain. Colour us intrigued.

In their press release, Bosch explains that it proposes to produce a fuel whose manufacturing process captures CO2. It claims that the process will produce gasoline, diesel, kerosine as well as substitute natural gas. In this way, synthetic fuels, supplementing electrification, could save up to 2.8 gigatons of CO2. To put that huge figure in perspective: that’s three times Germany’s carbon-dioxide emissions in 2016.

Bosch CEO Denner claims that synthetic fuels are a necessity in reducing traffic emissions and achieving the targets of the Paris Climate Conference:

Achieving our future climate targets calls for other intelligent solutions apart from electromobility.

Aircraft, ships and trucks would, for the foreseeable future, still run mainly on fuel, and the batteries in electric vehicles cause their own suit of problems. Bosch believes that carbon-neutral combustion engines are therefore a promising path to explore – and that includes its use in passenger cars.

Synthetic fuels can be designed to limit the production of soot, reducing the cost of exhaust-gas treatment, all while using existing infrastructure. Full-electric cars are still prohibitively expensive, and Bosch has calculated that cost of ownership of a hybrid car using synthetic fuels, could well be less than that of a long-range electric car. Because of synthetic fuels’ compatibility with existing infrastructure and current engines, achieving market penetration would be a fairly straightforward deal. It would also require little to no change on existing cars – chemically and in its fundamental properties, synthetic fuel is the same as fossil fuels.

Pilot programmes are already underway in Germany and Norway, with the object to produced commercialised synthetic diesel, gasoline and gas. By using electricity from renewable sources, these fuels are both carbon-neutral and versatile. Nevertheless, current production processes are expensive. Higher production and use is needed for prices to drop. The German Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy is supporting the initiative, as part of its support for ‘Alternative energies in transportation‘. Studies suggest that over time, the cost of the fuel could be reduced to between €1.00 and €1.40 per litre.

Synthetic fuels are made by producing hydrogen from water. Carbon is added to produce a liquid fuel. The carbon is either recycled from industrial processes, or might be captured from the air using filters. Combining CO2 and H2 then results in the synthetic fuel, which can be refined into gasoline, diesel, gas, or even kerosene. Unlike biofuels, synthetic fuels do not compete with food stocks, and when using renewable sources of energy, aren’t restricted by limitations expected on the amount of land available to it.