Press release #Powertrain systems

Bosch: Renewable synthetic fuels for less CO₂

Opting for fuels that help curb climate change

Joern Ebberg

Joern Ebberg >


Stuttgart, Germany – The Paris Agreement calls for global warming to be limited to 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, preferably even 1.5°C. The fossil CO₂ emitted by road vehicles will have to be reduced to nearly zero over the next three decades for that to happen. The big question is how. Electromobility is just now picking up momentum. Electric cars are only as emissions-free as the production of electricity that charges their batteries. Besides, around half the vehicles that will be on the road in 2030 have already been sold, most with gasoline or diesel engines. Legacy vehicles will also have to play their part in cutting CO₂ emissions. One path to achieving this is with renewable synthetic fuels.

Seven reasons why renewable synthetic fuels will be part of tomorrow’s mobility mix:

1) Time
Renewable synthetic fuels have long since left the basic research phase. Technically speaking, it is already possible to manufacture synthetic fuels. First, they apply electricity generated from renewable sources to obtain hydrogen from water. Then they add carbon. Finally, they combine CO₂ and H₂ to make synthetic gasoline, diesel, gas, or kerosene. The production process is viable, but capacity is lacking. It has to be expanded rapidly to meet demand. Incentives could come from fuel quotas, offsetting CO₂ savings against fleet consumption, and long-term planning certainty.

2) Climate neutrality
As their name suggests, renewable synthetic fuels are made exclusively with energy obtained from renewable sources such as the sun or wind. In the best-case scenario, manufacturers capture the CO₂ needed to produce this fuel from the surrounding air, turning a greenhouse gas into a resource. This creates a virtuous cycle where the CO₂ emitted by burning renewable synthetic fuels is reused to produce new fuels. Vehicles on the road, when powered by synthetic fuel, are ultimately climate-neutral.

3) Infrastructure and powertrain technology
The Fischer-Tropsch process produces renewable synthetic fuels that can be used with today’s infrastructure and engines. Experts call them “drop-in” synthetic fuels because they can be deployed without first modifying infrastructure and vehicles, and they have an immediate impact and deliver faster results. They may also be added to conventional fuel to help reduce CO₂ emissions from vehicles already on the road today. This way, these fuels could contribute to the cause even before they are ramped up for larger-scale production. The chemical structures and basic properties of gasoline remain intact, so even vintage cars can run on synthetic gas.

4) Costs
Producing synthetic fuels is still a costly process. Renewable synthetic fuels will become considerably more affordable when production capacities are expanded and the cost of electricity generated from renewable sources comes down. Present studies suggest that a pure fuel cost of between 1.20 and 1.40 euros a liter can be achieved (excluding any excise duties) by 2030, and as little one euro by 2050. These fuels’ cost disadvantage compared with fossil fuels could be significantly reduced if value was ascribed to the environmental advantage of renewable synthetic fuels. The fact that they are compatible with today’s infrastructure and automotive technology gives them an advantage over other alternative powertrains.

5) Potential applications
Even at the point in the future when all cars and trucks are powered by batteries or fuel cells, airplanes, ships, and parts of the heavy-goods transport sector will continue to rely on conventional fuels. Combustion engines powered by carbon-neutral synthetic fuels are therefore a crucial path to explore.

6) Resources
Fuel in the tank or food on a plate – this question does not come up with synthetic electricity-based fuels. Innovative biofuels, which are for example produced from waste materials, are useful – however, the supply is limited. When renewable energy is used, synthetic fuels can be produced in unlimited quantities. Sufficient renewable energy can be generated worldwide to produce fuel that can then be stored and transported relatively easily.

7) Storage and transport
Synthetic fuels are produced with renewable energy. This process yields a gas or liquid. And that makes renewable synthetic fuels a good medium for storing large amounts of renewable energy and even transporting it across the globe cost-effectively. They can serve as a buffer for fluctuating solar or wind energy or to circumvent regional restrictions on the expansion of renewable energy production. This also affects efficiency ratings. A compact electric car charged in Germany with renewable electricity from Germany converts around 60 to 70 percent of that grid power into road performance. If the electricity comes from further afield and the energy has first to be stored in a chemical medium before being converted back into electricity, efficiency drops to 20–25 percent. This is the same efficiency as a vehicle run on renewable synthetic fuels.

Mobility Solutions is the largest Bosch Group business sector. It generated sales of 42.1 billion euros in 2020, and thus contributed 59 percent of total sales from operations. This makes the Bosch Group one of the leading automotive suppliers. The Mobility Solutions business sector pursues a vision of mobility that is safe, sustainable, and exciting, and combines the group’s expertise in the domains of personalization, automation, electrification, and connectivity. For its customers, the outcome is integrated mobility solutions. The business sector’s main areas of activity are injection technology and powertrain peripherals for internal-combustion engines, diverse solutions for powertrain electrification, vehicle safety systems, driver-assistance and automated functions, technology for user-friendly infotainment as well as vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication, repair-shop concepts, and technology and services for the automotive aftermarket. Bosch is synonymous with important automotive innovations, such as electronic engine management, the ESP anti-skid system, and common-rail diesel technology.

The Bosch Group is a leading global supplier of technology and services. It employs roughly 395,000 associates worldwide (as of December 31, 2020). The company generated sales of 71.5 billion euros in 2020. Its operations are divided into four business sectors: Mobility Solutions, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology. As a leading IoT provider, Bosch offers innovative solutions for smart homes, Industry 4.0, and connected mobility. Bosch is pursuing a vision of mobility that is sustainable, safe, and exciting. It uses its expertise in sensor technology, software, and services, as well as its own IoT cloud, to offer its customers connected, cross-domain solutions from a single source. The Bosch Group’s strategic objective is to facilitate connected living with products and solutions that either contain artificial intelligence (AI) or have been developed or manufactured with its help. Bosch improves quality of life worldwide with products and services that are innovative and spark enthusiasm. In short, Bosch creates technology that is “Invented for life.” The Bosch Group comprises Robert Bosch GmbH and its roughly 440 subsidiary and regional companies in some 60 countries. Including sales and service partners, Bosch’s global manufacturing, engineering, and sales network covers nearly every country in the world. With its more than 400 locations worldwide, the Bosch Group has been carbon neutral since the first quarter of 2020. The basis for the company’s future growth is its innovative strength. At 129 locations across the globe, Bosch employs some 73,000 associates in research and development, of which nearly 34,000 are software engineers.

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