The automaker has committed tens of millions to the project, with its partner Siemens Energy.
Some of the best cars ever built are in peril. Internal combustion is a magical thing, converting flammable liquid into motive power and pleasant noises, but it is somewhat at odds with the woke, environmentally conscious times we live in. That fact poses a threat to the gas-burning classic cars we all know and love; sooner or later, it seems, governments around the world will say "no more gasoline," and the world's Porsche 911s and Jaguar E-Types will either need to be converted to pure-electric propulsion, or be retired.
But Porsche, which already has some ambitious electrification plans in the works, isn't turning its back on the classic internal combustion cars of its past. The company has just announced a plan to work with Siemens Energy to create the world's first industrial-scale synthetic fuel factory.
How is synthetic fuel any different than gasoline? It's carbon-neutral, meaning the carbon emitted from burning it is only equal to the carbon sequestered in producing it. The synthetic "e-fuel" Porsche and Siemens plan to produce will be made by using wind energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis - the reverse process of a hydrogen fuel cell car like the Toyota Mirai - and combining that hydrogen with carbon-dioxide filtered out of the atmosphere to create synthetic methanol. The methanol will then be converted into synthetic gasoline through a process pioneered by - and licensed from - Exxon.
Porsche and Siemens have chosen southern Chile as the location for their first e-fuel production plant, owing to the country's strong wind energy industry. The plan calls for 130,000 liters of fuel - more than 34,000 gallons - to be produced in a pilot phase by 2022, with 55 million liters - roughly 14.5 million gallons - to be produced by 2024, and ten times that to be produced by 2026.
The US alone goes through nearly 10 million barrels of gasoline every day, meaning those figures would barely make a dent, globally. Think of it more like a proof of concept; if it can be made to work in one facility, other facilities could be built to contribute to the world's synthetic gasoline supply.
Porsche still remains committed to expanding its electrified vehicle range well beyond the pure-electric Porsche Taycan with vehicles like a forthcoming Macan EV but the company sees carbon-neutral synthetic fuel as a necessary complement to those efforts. Porsche R&D boss, Michael Steiner, suggests that a major driver behind the project is that the company will be somewhat reliant on imported energy for the foreseeable future, at least in Europe.
"If we have to import energy, we could choose whether we import fossil energy or renewable energy," he said on Wednesday during a virtual roundtable. Synthetic fuel "is not a direct competition to e-mobility, it is in addition to e-mobility - something that we see as an important second track."
Initially, Porsche will be the primary customer for the synthetic fuel, using it in "beacon projects" - factory race cars, at Porsche Experience Centers, and in its own vehicle trials as the EU continues to push to make the automotive industry carbon-neutral in the coming years. Porsche has set aside some €20 million - about $24 million US - for the project.
All of this suggests that you're not going to see Porsche's synthetic fuel at your local gas station any time soon. But maybe one day.