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E-fuels, i.e. synthetic fuels produced from water and carbon dioxide using electricity, are a concrete option when it comes to the climate-neutral future of our mobility. In particular, advocates of the classic internal combustion engine see e-fuels as the solution for preserving this proven and often cherished technology. However, the climate protection effect of these synthetic fuels depends heavily on the electricity mix used for their production. If the electricity used to produce the e-fuels is fed entirely from renewable or other CO2-neutral sources and the CO2 required for production is taken from the atmosphere or from sustainably produced biomass, combustion engines can actually be operated in a climate-neutral manner with the help of e-fuels. In this context, according to the companies involved, the recent start of production of the pilot plant "Haru Oni" will mark a milestone for the decarbonisation of the transport sector.

Starting signal still in the old year

On 20 December 2022, not far from the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas, the world's first fully integrated plant for the production of certified e-gasoline (in accordance with the requirements for sustainable fuels as stipulated by the EU) went into operation. The project, called "Haru Oni", produces first e-methanol and finally electricity-based, CO2-neutral petrol from wind power, water and CO2. The pilot plant was designed by a consortium consisting of Siemens Energy, HIF Global, Porsche and other partners. The Erlangen-based offshoot of Siemens AG is also responsible for system integration along the entire value chain.

"The Haru Oni project aims to demonstrate that e-fuels can be brought to market in large quantities and at competitive prices. It lays the foundation for bringing green energy to areas that are still heavily dependent on fossil fuels. This is key to achieving the climate goals of the transport sector. The knowledge gained in this project will also help to develop climate-friendly solutions for many other applications," says Anne-Laure de Chammard, the responsible member of the Siemens Energy Managing Board.

Fine-tuning and extensions

The challenge in the project currently lies in the fact that the process steps for the production of synthetic fuels, which have so far only been tested individually, must for the first time be linked and coordinated in a production chain in such a way that production can run as efficiently and trouble-free as possible. This process is the prerequisite for ramping up e-fuel production on an industrial scale. Thus, the production of 130,000 litres of the synthetic fuel is planned for the current year. At the end of the pilot phase, the project is then to be expanded so that by the middle of the decade, production capacity is expected to reach 55 million litres per year. Another two years later, it should already be 550 million litres per year.

A stiff breeze

But why is all this happening in the remoteness of Patagonia? Because the conditions seem almost perfect. The project taps the enormous potential of renewable energies in the structurally weak region for the hydrogen economy and thus for the energy transition worldwide. Up to 6,000 full-load hours - about three times as many as in Europe - can be used in the windy region to generate green electricity, which is then converted into liquid, transportable energy carriers using the power-to-X process. The pioneering work being done in "Haru Oni" is also intended to serve as a model for comparable regions worldwide. The German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Protection is supporting the project: in 2020, "Haru Oni" was the first hydrogen project to receive funding under the National Hydrogen Strategy.