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Audi Creating Carbon Neutral Fuels

While green, battery/electric vehicles (BEVs) are making all the headlines these days, regular old internal combustion technology is also making great strides towards reducing air pollution and CO2 emissions. Engines that produce minimal CO2 are good for the environment and Audi is one of the leaders when it comes to new internal combustion technologies. Audi is convinced that the future holds a mixture of propulsion methods, both electric and internal combustion. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards and zero-emission mandates such as the ones that have been enacted by California are driving the demand for clean internal combustion engines.

While Audi is pursuing all electric engines such as the R8 E-Tron they also believe that the combustion engine will play a key element in their overall line-up. One strategy is upping the fuel efficiency of their gas and diesel engines. Using advanced technologies such as electric forced induction as well as stop and start technology which actually shuts the engine off when the vehicle is coasting Audi hopes to up the fuel efficiency of their traditional vehicles. Audi is also working on a dual-fuel A3 model that will run on gasoline as well as compressed natural gas. Using this technology Audi hopes to squeeze a range of 750 miles out of the A3.

Audi is also working on ways to reduce the carbon emissions from the fuels themselves. They believe an internal combustion engine will be considered CO2 neutral if the greenhouse gases that are used in creating the fuel are balanced against the CO2 emitted when the vehicles is in operation. Audi argues that a BEV car is only CO2 free if the electricity to charge the battery comes from hydro, solar, wind or nuclear power. If the electricity is produced at a coal or gas-fired plant then the vehicle actually contributes to CO2 emissions. In order to make combustion engines carbon neutral, Audi is working on natural gas, ethanol and diesel that uses CO2 during production.

One of the most promising fuels is called e-gas by Audi. It is a form of compressed natural gas that is produced through methanization and electrolysis. Audi is working with SolarFuel to use wind power combined with electrolysis to produce hydrogen from water. This hydrogen could be used in fuel cell cars. However, the infrastructure to actually deliver hydrogen to cars is still being built and has not yet reached a critical mass. This has led Audi to add a second process to methanize the hydrogen by using CO2 and water to create a synthetic fuel. This fuel can be delivered via natural gas lines and fuel stations.  The CO2 used in the creation of this fuel would come from organic waste that would normally be allowed to enter the atmosphere. The plant is expected to produce 1000 tons of methane per year using up 2800 tons of CO2 which translates into 1500 Audi A3’s running 15,000 km per year as carbon neutral.

Audi is also working on creating carbon neutral versions of ethanol and diesel. These can be delivered through current gas pumps making them easier to distribute. They are working with Joule a company based in Bedford, Mass, and are planning to build a plant using bacteria to produce fuels that can be used in conventional internal combustion engines. Called e-diesel and e-ethanol by Audi, these fuels are created using waste water, bacteria, CO2 and photosynthesis which means this type of fuel is not food based eliminating one of the biggest arguments against ethanol.

Audi is working to create new fuels that will make the cars that use them carbon neutral.