At the turn of the millennium, car manufacturers began selling 'hybrid' cars in an attempt to go green. Then Tesla arrived at the scene, leapfrogged this transitionary phase between gas-powered and electric drivetrains, bringing us the Model S and more recently the Model Y. A German project has now converted the latter into a 'Hyper Hybrid' once again, powering it with carbon-based methanol fuel.
In a bid to reduce carbon emissions from transportation, countries are banning internal combustion engines and pushing for sales of electric cars in the near future. Therefore, a move to invest in research and announce a prototype car in 2021 that can use methanol as a fuel can definitely be considered counter-intuitive. To add to the confusion, the team has taken a highly efficient electric car to make their point.
Bundesministerin Anja Karliczek hat heute in Berlin den Prototypen eines Autos 🚙 vorgestellt, das mit dem synthetischen Kraftstoff Methanol angetrieben werden kann. Dafür wurden, so #Karliczek CO2-Abgase aus der Stahlindustrie zu Kraftstoffen „recycelt“. https://t.co/50w3ll6szZ pic.twitter.com/w8NqLCfsfA— BMBF (@BMBF_Bund) September 22, 2021
The reason to this mystery lies in the statement that Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek made at the unveiling of the Hyper Hybrid: "Not all industrial processes can be completely decarbonized. CO2 will continue to be produced," Karliczek said, "Especially in industry and transport, we will continue to need chemical energy sources in the future."
The Hyper Hybrid is a demonstration of a 'bridge' between inevitable carbon emissions and using 'green' hydrogen for climate protection. Using hydrogen, the carbon dioxide produced in industrial processes can be recycled and used as a synthetic fuel such as methanol for transport. The use of methanol has been previously demonstrated to deliver efficient performance in internal combustion engines.
"Synthetic fuels have an important role to play in making a sustainable, climate-friendly mobility system possible worldwide," said Prof. Robert Schlögl, Director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy. Useful in energy-intensive processes such as shipping or air transport, synthetic fuels can be useful in cars, in places where an electric charger is not available, Schlögl added.
The Model Y featured during the showcase boasts of a zero-vibration generator that generates electricity from methanol. Developed over five years, the generator was developed as part of the Carbon2Chem project that aims to convert industrial carbon dioxide into usable fuel. With a funding purse of €145 million (US$169.66) million, the project has now entered its second phase of creating value chains for its main product, methanol.
Unless all electricity used to power EVs comes from renewable sources, they might not herald us into the emission-free future we dream of. A methanol-powered 'hybrid' would be a good waypoint. Something for Tesla to consider.