The switch to electric vehicles is well underway, but there may be a role for synthetic fuels in the energy mix.
The switch to electric vehicles means it is highly likely that batteries will replace internal combustion engines. There are exceptions in sectors such as trucking, shipping, and aviation, however. These sectors will remain more reliant on combustion engines, meaning they must source new forms of fuel to decarbonise, paving the way for heightened interest in so-called “green fuel”.
Synthetic fuels capture CO₂ in the manufacturing process. These types of fuel could radically reduce the amount of CO₂ generated by sectors such as the airline industry, for example.
Our client, a European electrical energy producer, recognised that several chemicals—including, hydrogen, ammonia, and methanol—were being considered as alternative “green” fuels. Each of these chemicals could be generated using electricity, and could subsequently be used as a transportation fuel, and as a valuable base feedstock for the chemical industry. The client wanted to consider developing technologies related to these chemicals, to identify a suitable development partner, and to pursue a pilot project. Investing into research in green fuels is costly, running into hundreds of millions of dollars to build small scale projects.
They asked us to investigate the top four chemicals that could be generated using electricity and used as both a synthetic fuel and as a solvent. They also needed the chemical with the greatest potential for broader commercialisation and the best ROI.
For each chemical, we conducted a detailed analysis of the current state of development for green synthesis techniques and of the various parties driving the development of new technologies.
We assembled four research teams, each including an expert focusing on a specific chemical. Our specialists were currently developing several catalysis systems for the fuels/solvent in question, and were aware of existing approaches and their associated advantages and drawbacks.
Our research teams evaluated key market factors, such as the current prices and demand for each chemical, and how prices and demand could be projected to evolve over the next 10 years under various scenarios. The team also performed detailed analyses of multiple catalysis technologies that could be used to create each chemical with electricity, giving special consideration to the optimal operating conditions for each process. Our investigations determined the optimal development strategies to make each synthesis technology feasible for use for both small- and large-scale production.
The most promising synthetic fuels
We provided our client with a clear path towards the green mass production of specific chemicals at scale, a detailed understanding of the market drivers, and current and future demand for each chemical, in just six weeks. Our analysis reduced the risks of their investment by focusing their efforts towards the chemical with the most suitable catalysis paths. As a result, the client is now pursuing the low-hanging fruit opportunity to mass produce this chemical using a state-of-the-art catalysis process, thus improving the potential financial viability of their future pilot project.