Environment

Audi claims first synthetic gasoline made from plants

The first batch of Audi's "e-benzin"
The first batch of Audi's "e-benzin"
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The first batch of Audi's "e-benzin"
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The first batch of Audi's "e-benzin"
Audi's "e-benzin" should be produced in a production plant like this beginning in 2016
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Audi's "e-benzin" should be produced in a production plant like this beginning in 2016

Just weeks after producing its first batch of synthetic diesel fuel made from carbon dioxide and water, Audi has laid claim to another synthetic, clean-burning and petroleum-free fuel called "e-benzin." The fuel was created by Audi's project partner Global Bioenergies, in France.

In late 2014, Global Bioenergies started up the fermentation unit for a pilot program to produce gaseous isobutane from renewable biomass sugars such as corn-derived glucose. Gaseous isobutane is a sort of raw material for the petrochemical industry that can then be refined into a variety of plastics, fuels and other applications.

The next step in the process was to run the material through a conditioning and purification process, allowing it to be collected and stored in liquid form under pressure. Some of it was then sent to Germany to be converted into isooctane fuel, creating a pure, 100 octane gasoline.

"To me this is a historic moment," says Global Bioenergies CEO Marc Delcourt. "It is the first time that we have produced real gasoline from plants."

Isooctane is currently used as an additive to improve fuel quality, but could also be used a stand-alone fuel. Audi calls the final, refined form of the fuel "e-benzin" and claims that it burns clean due to its lack of sulfur and benzene. Also, its high grade enables it to power engines using high compression ratios for more efficiency.

Audi will test the fuel composition and conduct engine tests to see how it performs before eventually trying it out in vehicle fleets. Delcourt says he could see it being used in consumer cars on a large scale "very soon."

"We thinking we're bringing green-ness to a field that desperately needs green-ness," says Rick Bockrath, vice president for chemical engineering at Global Bioenergies. "It's basically how we're moving away from an oil-based economy towards something that has a renewable, sustainable future to it."

Audi and Global Bioenergies hope to tweak the production process in the future so that biomass is no longer required and e-benzin can be created using only water, hydrogen, carbon dioxide and sunlight. We saw a similar project in Europe in 2014 that sought to make jet fuel.

Audi's "e-benzin" should be produced in a production plant like this beginning in 2016
Audi's "e-benzin" should be produced in a production plant like this beginning in 2016

As part of its next phase, the company is building a new demonstration plant in Germany, similar to the one pictured above. The facility will be 10 times larger than the one in France, and able able to produce 100 tons (90.7 tonnes) of isooctane and high purity isobutane per year as soon as 2016.

Take a quick tour of the pilot plant producing renewable isooctane in France in the promotional video below.

First batch of renewable gasoline for Audi

Sources: Audi, Global Bioenergies

8 comments
Bob Flint
You can create artificial gold, & diamonds also, but at what cost?
watersworm
@ Bob Flint : + 1 !!! Cost, cost, cost ??? And what is a true "non food" raw material , This said, why not, synthetic fuels seems to me a good thing for ... future !
Jeffrey Smith
now comes the genetically engineered bacteria bio-reactors to churn this stuff out
jerryd
Sorry but 80 yrs too late. It is rather easy to make syngas from biomass then FT it into high octane gasoline and more eff than fermenting. Not unlike their Sun fuel, just the syngas comes from biomass. Though lots to be said for using air CO2 to make syngas/gasoline/diesel. Or make into methanol, then gasoline by the Mobil process. These a $3-4/gal now and dropping.
Mark Salamon
Pure, clean-burning fuel that is not derived from "fossil" petroleum is a step in the right direction. However, synthesizing fuel from crops like corn that are a food staple is not a helpful solution. I'm glad to hear the Audi is researching alternative processes that will not require food crops as biomass.
froginapot
This is a good starting point if they later switch to simply heating non food source organics . Heating in a non oxygen atmosphere and harvesting the volatile gases. Otherwise this is like the other companies that have patted themselves on the back for this wasteful scam.
Skipwkk
Sounds cleaner but it still produces a lot CO2
RickVavla
Yes a new fuel. The OPEC nations will cry a tear of fear when this comes to market. No more wars over oil, Nice.