DaimlerChrysler, Renault, Royal Dutch Shell, Sasol Chevron and the Volkswagen group are launching an association—The Alliance for Synthetic Fuels in Europe (ASFE)—to promote synthetic fuels in Europe and to support research, demonstration projects, and public-private cooperation in the area.
ASFE is focusing on synthetic fuels made with the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process from natural gas (Gas-to-Liquids, GTL), coal (Coal-to-Liquids, CTL) or biomass (Biomass-to-Liquids, BTL). The Fischer-Tropsch process produces a range of near-zero sulfur and aromatics transport fuels and chemicals.
Of the three processes, GTL is the most commercially advanced, with a few major of plants being built or planned worldwide and the prospect of increasing product availability from 2006 onwards. BTL—“second-generation biofuels”—needs further R&D investment is of great interest to European policymakers.
While the fuels resulting from the Fischer-Tropsch process are cleaner-burning in operation, thereby resulting in reductions in tailpipe emissions (particulate matter, oxides of nitrogen, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons), the production process itself is energy-intensive and can throw off a large amount of carbon dioxide.
The use of CTL or GTL fuels results in greenhouse-gas emissions comparable to those produced by burning petroleum-based fuels, while the F-T fuels produced from biomass can contribute to vehicular greenhouse gas reductions of up to 90%—an important aspect of the fuel for European automakers, who must meet reduced CO2 emission standards.
F-T synthetic fuels can be used neat or in blends in existing diesel engines, distribution and refueling infrastructure.
Synthetic fuels can make a real contribution in many of Europe’s policy areas: combating climate change, reducing energy consumption, diversifying energy supplies, ensuring security of energy supply and improving air quality.—Thomas Weber, member of the Board of Management of DaimlerChrysler
Synthetic fuels made from natural gas and biomass can also reduce petroleum dependency. They provide a cost effective, realistic development path between today’s fuels and longer term renewable energy.—Rob Routs, Royal Dutch Shell plc executive director
The companies introduced ASFE with a half-day conference in Brussels attended by European Commissioners Günter Verheugen and Andris Piebalgs and Austrian Minister for Environment Josef Pröll.