Synthetic, low-carbon liquid fuels have been around for a few years now, but while companies like Audi, BMW, and McLaren have championed synthetic fuel as a way to keep their internal combustion investments relevant to tomorrow’s consumers, Porsche is taking a different approach. Porsche is hoping synthetic fuels will help to keep classic Porsches running — and running carbon neutral! — well into the future.
There’s quite a bit to unpack here — from why and how Porsche would want to get involved in synthetic fuels to why that would make old P-cars carbon neutral, so I’m going to take things a bit slow here. If you’re already familiar with synthetic fuels, then feel free to skip ahead a few paragraphs.
The most well-known synthetic fuel is probably Bosch Syngas, which captures atmospheric CO₂ as part of its manufacturing process. “In this way, this greenhouse gas becomes a raw material, from which gasoline, diesel, and substitute natural gas can be produced with the help of electricity from renewable sources,” reads the copy from the Bosch website, adding to a quote from the company’s CEO that reads, “Synthetic fuels can make gasoline- and diesel-powered cars carbon-neutral.”
Bosch Video | Carbon Neutral Fuel
This is where Porsche comes into play. Unlike most other car companies, Porsche takes an active role in keeping old Porsches on the road. The company keeps making parts for them, for example, which is rarer than you might think in the auto industry. It also sponsors Porsche-specific car clubs and meet-ups, where professional drivers, coaches, and Porsche experts take time to teach Porsche owners how to get the most enjoyment out of their cars, whether that means walking them through a restoration project or helping them shave that last tenth of a second from their lap times. Porsche cares about Porsche people, kinda — enough, at least, to get them to come back and buy NEW Porsche cars, anyway.
Synthetic gasoline, then, which behaves similarly enough to “conventional” gasoline to be used in an older car without needing a lot of modifications (or any, really) to the fuel system or carb/EFI would go a long way towards keeping those cars running while minimizing the chance that they become “white elephants” in the coming battery-electric automotive landscape of the future.
All of which begs the question astutely asked by Hagerty’s Ronan Glon. “If it’s so straightforward,” he writes, “why doesn’t your local Chevron station offer Porsche-branded pseudo-gasoline yet?”
The answer is simple: price.
“The only problem we still have (with the fuel) is price, which is still higher than 10 dollars per liter,” explains Porsche CEO, Oliver Blume, who assumes we’ll know that means something like $40/gallon of carbon-free gas. “We’re … looking for partners. They’ll take care of the technology, and at the end they’ll produce the fuel. Our task (as automakers) will be to find the right specifications so that these fuels will be able to run in our combustion engines.”
If everything goes according to plan, Porsche’s synthetic fuel could be ready for market by 2030. “I think we need some years to drop the price, and a very realistic prognosis is that our synthetic fuel could be available to the public in about 10 years,” says Blume. “There is still a long way to go, but you have to start to do this. To reinvent yourself, to invest, and to improve the technology. I think there will be a big potential.”
Unless there are some major subsidies and some kind of massive public will to keep their internal combustion cars long after the electrics have proven themselves the objectively superior choice (which, by my math, was about 6 or 7 years ago), I don’t really see it, but what do I know? You guys know stuff, so scroll on down to the comments section at the bottom of the page and let us know if this synthetic fuels thing is something that you think has some legs, or if it’s just another niche R&D expenditure from legacy brands trying to keep up with California and China.