A company in Norway, Nordic Blue Crude, is proposing to build a manufacturing facility to produce synthetic diesel and gasoline. Audi has been experimenting with carbon neutral fuels for the past four years as it plans how to meet Europe’s more stringent emissions standards that will go into effect in less than 5 years.

Blue Crude cuts diesel emissions 85%

A pilot program in Dresden, Germany is already turning out a trickle of the synthetic long chain hydrocarbons that can be processed into gasoline and diesel fuel, just like crude oil. The problem, the Norwegian start-up says, is that the cost of electrical energy in Germany is high. Norway has an abundance of cheap electrical power available. It already exports excess energy to several of its European neighbors, including Germany.

The business case for the planned facility is simple. Upcoming European emissions regulations will impose a fine of up to $3,800 on any car that does not comply. Blue Crude’s CEO Gunnar Holen says, ” One solution to this is to buy Blue Crude and cut emissions by 85 percent. For a manufacturer like Audi, the cost would be half a billion Euros a year, which is significantly cheaper than a fine of 6.5 billion euros.”

“Electric cars are very exciting, but it takes time before the volumes are large. The whole world runs on fossil fuels. We can make the existing fleet cleaner. The cars today emit 130 grams of CO2 per kilometer. We can cut those emissions by 85% if they use our diesel  fuel,” says company director  Håvard Lillebo.

The Blue Crude process starts when water vapor is broken down into hydrogen and oxygen at around 800 degrees Celsius. The liquid layer of long chain hydrocarbons occurs when hydrogen reacts with carbon dioxide in synthesis reactors under pressure and high temperature. The glossy liquid is transparent and completely without sulfur or aromatic hydrocarbons. It also has a high cetane number of around 70.

“We have the exclusive right to use the technology in Norway and Sweden. We have an ongoing dialogue with Audi, which has signaled interest in buying the entire production over a 10 to 15 year period. We can also sell diesel, gasoline and waxes to different companies. The fuel can be pumped into existing tanks at gas stations, but will require a separate pump,” says Holen.

Many of our regular readers are already formulating questions and objections to the proposal. They will be similar to the ones about producing hydrogen from water. The process requires so much energy, wouldn’t it be better to use it to power electric cars, buses, trucks, and ships?

In a perfect world, the answer is yes. But in a time of transition from fossil fuels to electricity, it could be highly beneficial to slash carbon emissions from vehicles with internal combustion engines. One plus to this scheme is that the synthetic fuel can be used by existing vehicles with internal combustion engines without modifications. If Blue Crude were available today, drastically lower emissions could begin tomorrow.

Worldwide, the average car is on the road for 30 years or more. Even if an abundance of competent electric cars were available for sale today,  it would take that long to replace all the cars in the world with zero emissions alternatives. In the meantime, those older cars will continue burning fossil fuels and spewing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Blue Crude is not the ultimate answer. But it could be an important step in the right direction.

Hat tip to Lief Hansen for bringing this story to my attention.

Source and graphic credit: TU Norway