December 17, 2020
6 min read

A sustainable methanol economy? It may be closer than you think.

Gerhard Neubert

With the Haru Oni project in Chile, the large-scale use of e-Methanol as a fuel and a feedstock is underway, taking long strides in decarbonizing transportation with renewables.

Decarbonizing transportation

Recently, the European Commission increased the EU climate targets and now require a 55% CO2 reduction by 2030 (an increase from the prior goal of 40%). A more ambitious plan for a steadily emissions-increasing transport sector calls for more radical solutions - solutions that are being offered today with the Haru Oni project located in southern Chile.

But first, why the focus on the transport sector? The transport sector is the only sector where emissions have been increasing over recent years. In particular, road transport stands out because it accounts for the highest share of emissions in the transport sector. The good news is that the EU already has a highly ambitious policy in place to decarbonize future road vehicles by ramping up the demand for zero emission vehicles - by setting upper limits for tank-to-wheel emissions. But what about the existing vehicle fleet? 

How can we make the existing fleet of 270 million cars carbon-neutral? And achieve this before 2050, given that electric cars are still well below 10% of new registrations.

The answer is visionary yet simple at the same time. We need think beyond the vehicle, beyond tank-to-wheel emissions. This is where e-Fuels and the world’s best locations for renewable energy come in. This is where a new vision begins - a vision to trade renewables across the globe.

Low CO2-emission fuel options for global transport in millions of tons of oil equivalents (Mtoe).

With their favorable solar- and/or wind-conditions many regions demonstrate the economical potential for e-Fuels production.

e-Methanol in action: The Haru Oni project

Producing fuels from wind, water and CO2 captured from the air - this, while only an abstract concept a few years ago, now becomes reality in the Magallanes Province, a region in the extreme south of Chile. Now, we have discovered that liquefaction of green electricity and its exports in the form of carbon-neutral fuels is one of the best ways to take advantage of the large wind energy potential, available in remote areas, like in Patagonia. “Within the Haru Oni project, a broad spectrum of innovative, climate-relevant technologies to produce climate-neutral synthetic fuels will be demonstrated at one location. In this form, the project will set global standards.” according to Ireneusz Pyc, innovation expert of New Energy Business at Siemens Energy.

In a move to support Germany’s national hydrogen strategy, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy will provide an 8 million euro grant to Siemens Energy for the Haru Oni project.


Harnessing wind to produce e-Fuels: How does the Haru Oni project work?

Wind energy will be used in the project to initially produce green hydrogen. First, electrolyzers use wind power to split water into its components, oxygen and hydrogen. Siemens Energy's PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) electrolysis with its high efficiency and flexibility is ideally suited to harness the volatile wind energy. Next, CO2 is captured from the air and combined with the green hydrogen to produce synthetic methanol: The basis for climate-neutral fuels like e-Gasoline, e-Diesel or e-Kerosene, that can be used to power cars, trucks, ships or aircrafts. In a third process step, approximately 40% of the methanol is then converted into synthetic gasoline.

The final result? A deeply decarbonized e-Fuel that is fully compatible with existing car and truck engines, as well as fuel storage, transport and distribution infrastructure. Moreover, e-Methanol is a universal basic feedstock, which enables its direct application in shipping, or its further conversion to synthetic kerosene to power the aviation sector. 


How to decarbonize the mobility sector.

Reducing our carbon footprint: e-Methanol application

Methanol is a universal chemical compound that is still produced today from natural gas or coal. It is primarily used as a feedstock for chemicals (80%) and in smaller volumes as an energy carrier (20%). Due to the content of “fossil” carbon in the feedstock, conventional methanol consumption causes large amounts of CO2 emissions.

In the future, non-fossil Methanol, known as e-Methanol, will see vast new application fields. It becomes sustainable or ”green” when it is produced from renewable hydrogen of either biological (bio-methanol) or electrochemical origin (e-Methanol) and CO2. Due to the significantly lower carbon footprint in comparison to conventional fossil fuels, green products based on e-Methanol become extremely interesting options for decarbonization of the transport, mobility or heating sectors with no need for new, expensive infrastructures.

Producing largely carbon-neutral e-Fuels in lower developed but renewable energy-rich regions can facilitate their economic growth. At the same time, industrialized countries will also benefit from a more diversified green energy supply and predictable, stable energy costs. In the opinion of Peter Kluesener, strategic expert of New Energy Business at Siemens Energy, “It’s a classical win-win situation: Germany provides innovative technology for Power-to-X-plants worldwide and can thereby benefit from importing green energy from regions with beneficial renewable power resources.”

Many countries from around the world would profit by becoming players in an e-Methanol economy– this includes areas such as deserts with no resources to produce food or green energy from biomass, windy regions with no or low industrial development, or even oil-exporting countries that are forcing the decarbonization of their industries and capturing new business opportunities.

With increased adaption of e-Methanol production, even the regions previously left behind during earlier industrialization stand to benefit by creating a sustainable, autonomous, and successful future.

December 17, 2020 

Gerhard Neubert is a physicist and works at Siemens Energy, focusing on innovation communication like Power-to-X and hydrogen.

Combined picture credits: Siemens Energy