Here’s Why Porsche Is Testing a Lower-Carbon Fuel in Its Race Cars
APR 6, 2021
ExxonMobil and Porsche working on a designing fuels that will significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced versus conventional gasoline.
Hoping to find paths toward potential use in its street cars, Porsche is testing both a lower-carbon fuel as well as advanced biofuels in its Mobil 1 Supercup racing cars during the 2021 and 2022 seasons. The Supercup series runs as support racing at eight Formula 1 races this summer.
Porsche said the first iteration of Esso Renewable Racing Fuel is a blend of advanced biofuels, formulated from food waste products by ExxonMobil’s in-house team of scientists and engineers. Their analysis shows it’s possible to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions with a liquid fuel, Porsche said.
The second iteration of the racing fuel, which Porsche hopes to start running as early as 2022, will contain eFuel, synthetic fuels made from water and from CO2 that is already in the atmosphere. Porsche anticipates that the eFuel will achieve up to an 85-percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions when blended to market fuel standards for today’s passenger cars.
Michael Steiner, Porsche’s member of the Executive Board for Research and Development, said that while Porsche’s highest priority is the electrification of its vehicles, Porsche thinks that eFuels are a “good complement” to the company’s powertrain strategy.
“They allow our customers to drive cars with conventional combustion engines as well as plug-in hybrids with significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions,” he said. “The collaboration with ExxonMobil enables us to test the eFuels under demanding conditions on the race track. This is a further step towards making eFuels an affordable and lower greenhouse gas emission substitute to conventional fuels.”
“Porsche has been talking about eFuels publicly since last summer, when the executive head of research and development, Michael Steiner, announced the company was looking for partners to build a pilot plant and prove the process can be industrialized” Porsche’s corporate communications boss Marcus Kabel told Autoweek.
Porsche said the eFuel will be sourced from the Haru Oni pilot plant in Chile, one of the windiest regions in the world, Kabel told us, adding that when produced using renewable energy sources like wind power, synthetic fuel allows the nearly carbon-neutral operation of combustion engines. The plant generates hydrogen, which is combined with captured carbon dioxide drawn from the atmosphere, to produce methanol. The technology to convert the methanol to the lower-carbon gasoline is proprietary, and ExxonMobil provides a license and technical support. Porsche says the pilot phase will include around 130,000 liters (3,4342) gallons of eFuels produced for the 2022 Supercup season. Kabel told us the fuel can be used “in existing gasoline engines with no new equipment required, and can also be dispensed through existing gas station infrastructure.”
Andy Madden, ExxonMobil Fuels & Lubricants’ Strategy and Planning vice president, points out that his company has worked with Porsche for more than 25 years developing high-performance products for Porsche’s vehicles both on the racetrack and on the road. “Our continued collaboration on renewable and eFuels is a critical step in assessing the technical capability and commercial viability of fuels that can significantly reduce emissions,” he said.
One recent example is the two companies’ collaboration on Mobil EV range, a line of lubricants designed specifically for the EV market, which the two companies began testing last year in Porsche’s Formula E racer.
ExxonMobil points out that over the past 20 years it has invested more than $10 billion to research, develop, and deploy lower-emission energy solutions. The company claims its work has eliminated or avoided about 529,109,429 million tons of CO₂ emissions.
If eFuel works well in the race cars, what comes next?
“Motorsports is the initial testing ground, but the ambition is to power production street cars,” Kabel told Autoweek. “Even as the world transitions to electrically powered mobility, there will still be a large number of vehicles with combustion engines on the road for many years to come. In this transition period, green fuel offers the opportunity to make driving climate-neutral more quickly and easily. Specifically for Porsche owners, it offers a way to keep our classic cars on the road longer.”
Amen to that.
“Porsche is committed to three powertrains: purely electric, plug-in-hybrids, and highly efficient gasoline engines,” Kabel continued. “From Porsche’s point of view, eFuels open up an opportunity for our plug-in hybrid models as well as our icon, the 911—either with a combustion engine or as a very sporty hybrid. This means that we could continue to drive the 911 for many years to come, which will certainly make our customers and fans happy.
“It is important to state clearly that eFuels are not a replacement or rival to electrification at Porsche,” he told us, “eFuels are a worthwhile complement, a complementary strategy.”
“Electrification is getting most of the headlines, but there is still considerable R&D focus worldwide on new, cleaner-burning fuels for internal-combustion engines,” Lindsay Brooke, editor of SAE International’s Automotive Engineering publication, told Autoweek. “ICEs will continue to be with us for many years, increasingly in hybrids. Racing engines are ideal testbeds for new fuels and combustion systems, as Porsche and ExxonMobil are proving with this program.”
The eFuel is not cheap, with Kabel pointing that a gallon costs around $45. “But that is because it’s not produced in volume. We are investing around 20 million euros (around $23.6 million) in the pilot plant in Chile to produce at an industrial scale. The production will gradually increase from 130,000 liters in 2022 to 550 million liters in 2026. We believe one positive benefit is also that the price will fall as production is stepped up.”
Porsche has said before that it’s going to invest $17 billion in electromobility and digitalization by 2025. Kabel reiterated Porsche’s plan that says in 2030 it will offer more than 80 percent of its vehicles with electric engines and the company wants its products and operations carbon neutral in 2030, investing around 1 billion euros in sustainable mobility.