Porsche’s synthetic gasoline plant comes online today in Chile

Zoom in / HIF Synthetic Fuels plant near Punta Arenas, Chile.


This week, a Chilean startup called Highly Innovative Fuels officially opened its first synthetic gasoline production facility. HIF was created to power the new plant, which is the result of a collaboration between automaker Porsche, Siemens Energy, ExxonMobil, Enel Green Power, Chilean state energy company ENAP, and Empressas Gasco. Initially, the site will produce about 34,000 gallons (130,000 L) per year, increasing to 14.5 million gallons (55 million liters) per year by 2024, with plans to increase that tenfold to 145 million gallons (550 million liters) per year by 2026. Using the first petrol produced by the plant to ceremonially fill a Porsche 911, a task undertaken by Chile’s Energy Minister, Diego Pardo.

“Yesterday, together with all HIF employees and our partners, we celebrated this historic moment,” said Barbara Frenkel, member of the Porsche Purchasing Management Board. “It was a very special evening, because we are facing something that is of course very important to us for our sustainability strategy, but also as we see great potential in e-fuels to decarbonize the Earth’s climate. The synthetic fuels that we produce here, are derived from wind, water and carbon dioxide2 It’s a really compelling idea.”

The site, located in Punta Arenas in southern Chile, will use wind to power the operation — the region sees high winds roughly 270 days a year, and wind turbines can be expected to produce up to four times as much energy as one in Europe, according to Frenkel.

Barbara Frenkel, Executive Board Member for Purchasing and Michael Steiner, Executive Board Member for Research and Development, at the grand opening of the E-Fuel Pilot Plant in Chile.
Zoom in / Barbara Frenkel, Executive Board Member for Purchasing and Michael Steiner, Executive Board Member for Research and Development, at the grand opening of the E-Fuel Pilot Plant in Chile.


As you might expect, the project has been in the works for quite some time now. “In 2017, two Porsche engineers on one side and AME – this was HIF’s predecessor company – approached the idea. [of] Build an e-fuel pilot plant down here [the] Michael Steiner, a member of the management board of Porsche Research and Development, explained that the southern part of Chile, in Magellanes, is where the wind load is higher.

“With that in mind, we set out to find partners willing to join this attractive idea, and we started with Exxon Mobil, who had developed a process – methanol to gas – and also with Siemens, which is famous for its electrolyzers. So getting electric power into hydrogen and with these two partners We have begun planning for the pilot station that we will open today.”

As Steiner explained, the e-fuel plant will use wind energy to decompose water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then combined with carbon captured from air or industrial sources to create methanol, which in turn can be converted into longer lasting hydrocarbons for use as fuel. The synthetic e-fuel is a direct access point to the petrol pump, and initially Porsche will take over all site production and use it to power the single-model Porsche Supercup series as well as use it to fuel vehicles at Porsche Experience Centres. around the world. (These are sites where one can go and test different Porsches.)

HIF has long-term plans to build 12 synthetic fuel plants around the world, including sites in the US and Australia, with the goal of each site capturing 2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.2 every year. “Without a doubt, there are a lot of areas around the world where you have the potential for high-efficiency windmills or photovoltaic or even hydropower for green energy,” Steiner said.

“What might be a little trickier is, can you get green carbon dioxide2 by the same amount? So starting from that, you can always get green carbon dioxide2 from biomass or other processes, or point sources, but in the long run we also have to find better ways to capture CO2 directly2 from the surrounding air. So this is still a technology that needs more research and development.”

Work is underway on the Haru Oni ​​site in early 2022.
Zoom in / Work is underway on the Haru Oni ​​site in early 2022.


Synthetic e-fuels won’t be entirely cheap—at current prices, Steiner believes, it comes out to about $8 a gallon ($2/L), though that obviously doesn’t include any taxes or duties, which make up most of the fuel price in most countries. regions around the world. But it’s an important project, given that more than 1.3 billion combustion engine vehicles are on the roads globally today, and with the world’s best will, not all of them will be replaced by electric vehicles anytime soon.

We may see some fuels end up in Formula 1. The sport has a goal of being net zero carbon by 2030 and, in 2026, switching to carbon-neutral fuels. Although Porsche’s plans to enter Formula 1 in 2026 as an engine manufacturer appear in doubt, sister company Audi will do so that year, with the team likely sourcing its sustainable fuel from HIF.

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