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15 Jun 20

Why BMW believes CO2 neutral petrol is part of the solution

It is possible to extract CO2 from the air and turn it into petrol. This is proven by Prometheus Fuels, a Californian start-up that wants to commercialize the 'green' fuel later this year - with the help of BMW i Ventures, the German manufacturer's venture capital fund, which injects 12.5 million dollars into the company.

The principle is to 'capture' CO2 from the ambient air and convert it into petrol using renewable electricity and hydrogen. The net CO2 balance is zero: what you extract from the air is released again during combustion. Synthetic petrol could compete on price with regular petrol.

"The ability to create gasoline from air, cost competitively with fossil fuels, is a game changer,” said Greg Smithies, Partner, BMW i Ventures. “The average car stays on the road for over eight years; meaning that even if the whole world switched to buying 100% electric cars tomorrow, it would still take almost a decade for today’s internal combustion engines to be off the road. Clearly we aren’t switching to 100% electric vehicles tomorrow, so that’s not fast enough. By creating carbon-neutral gasoline from CO2 captured from the air, Prometheus Fuels allows the climate impact of today’s internal combustion engines to be massively reduced immediately.”

Replacing all fuels made from oil and gas with zero-net-carbon fuels can reduce approximately 25% of global carbon emissions, making this one of the largest levers that modern society has in the fight against climate change, says BMW.

Yet, criticists say that combusting fuel – whether it is fossil or synthetic – still creates harmful gases, such as CO (carbon monoxide), unburned hydrocarbons, PM (particulate matter) and nitrogen oxides. Introducing CO2 neutral fuels might even postpone the transition to electric mobility if consumers believe they are already doing their part to combat climate change by choosing green rather than fossil fuel.

BMW’s argument that the transition to e-mobility will take a long time seems to hold more water in the context of aviation. Today, aircraft have no alternative for fossil jet fuel and commercial electric aviation is still decades away. By switching to carbon-neutral fuels, the aviation industry could make a significant difference immediately. The question remains how much synthetic jet fuel can be made to feed the tens of thousands of thirsty jet engines across the globe.

Photo credit: BMW, 2020

Authored by: Dieter Quartier