The Sun Fuel in Volkswagen's Future
By Noel Adams
Herr Dr. Pischetsrieder opened his talk by saying that this is Volkswagen's fiftieth anniversary in the United State and 'what a long, strange trip this has been'. After discussing some of his company's new products, focused much of the rest of his address on Volkswagen's views on the environment and the technology his firm is developing to move beyond the petroleum age.
Hydrogen fuel cells are not a realistic solution at the moment. There is no efficient way of storing hydrogen in the car or of transportation. What is clear is that we must diversify our fuel sources. A fuel should be clean without being confusing. Any technology that relies on the driver pulling up to the gas station and choosing between, diesel, methanol, ethanol, natural gas and other fuels and possibly even blends of it is bound to fail. In the end the methods isn't what works in the laboratory it is what is accepted by the customer and for many years to come it has to be a fuel that is liquid at ambient temperatures. Therefore no gas.
Therefore what we need are practical solutions that utilize the massive infrastructure that already exists. Infrastructure that exists around the automobile as far as on the one hand the assembly facilities and on the other hand the gas stations and we need a fuel that reduces the emissions as well in the existing fleet of cars not just for 0.1 percent of the newly registered cars. We need to find long term alternatives and renewable resources for fuel and we need to deliver them through the existing, I repeat that existing infrastructure.
Those challenges converge to a very simple point; they converge to diesel technology. As you know, Volkswagen is a leader in the market technology wise as well as in market share.
From hydrogen to hybrids drivers are being offered all manner of solutions to our environmental needs. The realistic and existing today and available today solution is diesel technology.
Volkswagen's fuel technology is both level headed and leading edge. It relies on three principles. First of all increasing the efficiency of power train units while reducing simultaneously the tailpipe emissions. Secondly incorporating alternate energy sources in the fuel production process and thirdly developing fuels that are CO2 neutral and can be used in existing cars and the answer to that is bio-fuels and synthetic fuels.
Bio-fuels and synthetically created fuels play a major role in our strategy because they broaden the energy sources available to us. Bio-diesel and bio-ethanol are the only fuels that truly allow for energy independence. Especially in Europe you know, bio-fuel is already well accepted. Many plants use as a source of fuel. Most of the oil companies are limiting the blends for their low sulfur diesel fuel to some 5% or 10%. For good reasons no 100% bio-fuel is available yet. I will come to that in a second.
There are possibilities beyond the European way of blending bio-fuel and one of those alternatives Volkswagen pursues in the United States. We are working together with the largest food processing company in the United States, which is, as you possibly know, Archer Daniel Midland. We work on introducing what is called soy methol ester or SME. This is a fuel that can be blended 10% or 20% with normal diesel and it reduces CO2 emissions by the equivalent of the blend because the fuel is made from bio-mass, in this case soy beans. We are doing it here in the United States because ADM is a technology leader in food processing as well as in producing bio-fuels.
This is a serious and very sensible short-term option but in the long run we have again with our partner here in the United States another idea in mind, which means synthetic fuel which can be used without blend on a 100% basis or larger concentrations for an interim period.
Let me give you a little bit of insight into the kind of technology because it doesn't begin with bio-mass, it begins with natural gas. You know that there is ample natural gas available around the globe. Normally the wells nevertheless are located in areas with very little demand for natural gas and therefore this gas is very often burned directly on the well which as far as usage of energy is concerned is obviously a waste and contributes to CO2 emissions. It is absolute nonsense.
It makes a lot of sense to develop technology which we call a gas to liquid GTL process which already on the well produces a liquid fuel from those natural gases. That kind of process already exists both in some countries like Oman as well as Malaysia. Large scale plants and the fuel produced there until now is produced by the oil companies running those plants to blend this GTL, this gas to liquid fuel, to diesel in Europe.
It is obviously possible that with this synthetic gas, this GTL liquid fuel the emissions of existing cars can be reduced dramatically. We have run, together with Shell who is running one of those to plants, we have run an extensive e-test in our capital Berlin, with existing normal standard diesel engines, and the result was that particulate emission and NOX emissions were down more than 20% without any changes other than the fuel on the existing technology.
Therefore without; and this is the requirement I was concentrating on; without completely forgetting about the existing fleet synthetic fuels allow for every car on the market and the same thing applies to petrol cars as well as diesel cars but it is easier on diesel cars, allows for every car in the market to reduce emissions substantially.
Let me come back to the co-operations with Archer Daniel Midland and because the gas to liquid process is just one part of the total strategy. The total strategy, which is biomass to liquid technology which we call BTL Biomass to liquid and the gas to liquid process is a part of an integrated process which first produces a sort of natural gas called biomass and then converts this natural gas with the GTL process into a diesel fuel.
That kind of fuel we call Sun Fuel and it is obviously CO2 neutral because only biomass, which is so to say produced by the sun, this is why we call the fuel Sun Fuel is used again in motor cars. It is renewable 100% and it has the same properties as GTL and therefore essentially low emissions much cleaner fuel and effectively no net CO2 emissions. Therefore we have to see the total process on a well to wheels basis.
Those technologies, the biomass in particular, can reduce CO2 emissions substantially and the interesting point is without effectively working on the total fleet of the cars in the market. Therefore the effect will not only be percentage wise with new cars, or specially registered cars, it will be effective on every single car used today in every place, especially here in California.
Those cars can use therefore these standards we know. The drivers don't have to change their driving lifestyles or have to find special filling stations taking that this biomass based BTL is then available instead of a diesel or instead of one of the qualities of petrol and we will have an instant effect. But even more important the same processes which we are talking about now to produce mainly diesel fuel are as well the right technology to eventually find a source for hydrogen which as I said is difficult to store and transport.
So hydrogen fuel cells could easily combine with the BTL process and therefore then as well for fill that hydrogen is based on what we call a gross no process so that no net CO2 is created from the process. Consequently what we say that synthetic diesel fuels are a step to reduce emissions right away on the existing fleet and never-the-less showing the window into the future for hydrogen future for fuel cells in the car. We think we are on the right track.
Obviously there is one other issue where I should concentrate on a little bit and this is the hybrid car. No doubt that a diesel electric hybrid car is an exciting possibility too and we are developing it but in this area too I think we must be realistic. Whether it is gasoline hybrids or diesel hybrids what they do is they harness the energy produced by the braking work in a stop and to traffic to recapture energy at the end of the day in batteries but the precondition for a hybrid being efficient is that we have many stops and goes so on the long haul long distance traffic on the highway the hybrid obviously has no advantage in terms of fuel consumption whether it's a diesel hybrid or a gasoline hybrid doesn't matter.
It is absolutely clear that for the long haul traffic where the largest consumption takes place the best solution is a diesel engine not a hybrid which is more heavy, cost more to produce, and doesn't have an advantage. The fact of the matter is very simple a significant reduction of fuel consumption under all conditions not only under say short haul stop and go traffic conditions requires diesel technology whether it is in a hybrid or a conventional car.
This means that we at Volkswagen feel ourselves very well positioned. Just to prove that point some of you might know that we in Germany as well as in Europe have on a voluntary basis committed to a reduction of 25% in CO2 emissions. One commitment was made in 1995 and the other in 98. The commitment was reduction of 25% roughly of CO2 emissions and in Germany that figure was already achieved and the means to achieve it was only that the percentage of diesel engines is on the move in relation to cars almost 50%; on the total vehicles is close to 40% without any less driving pleasure and without anymore noise or without less performance in the cars as those who have experienced our diesel engines will know.
Therefore I think we are in a time where certain revolutions take place around the motor car which are not visible today as revolutions because they are going step by step but when we look back say in ten years time to the beginning of this millennium people will say actually two things have changed the one thing is we have now actively, and when I say we I mean the car industry as well as the oil industry, we have actively taken the challenge that by co-operating, rather than how it was in the nineties where there was conflicts between the oil industry and the car industry, by co-operating can improve the emissions of all cars, future cars and today's cars and on the safety side at a time when we: this is a time when we make really strong inroads on the active and passive safety by giving the driver additional ears, additional eyes, additional senses to give him information and who like on the electronic stability program enable him to brake single wheels automatically saving the car automatically.
So you see that we have an imagination of where to go we have a lot of things still to do but we know what to do and we are pretty confident that our customers will appreciate them. And let me end at the beginning of this year with a comment that isn't meant critical just watching what happens here in the market when we talk about safety in particular. We at Volkswagen will never delete any safety items from our cars for the sake of being able to offer lower prices because we think the customer will have to pay the highest price, safety risk in his car.
Therefore, yes Volkswagen cars will always have a somewhat higher price than some competitors, but the one thing I can promise you with my colleagues here in the United States you will be able, as a customer of ours, to acquire a safer car, to acquire a car that has the latest technology in terms of emissions and you are buying it from a company which has a lot of vision of what is still to do and to introduce to the market in the near, middle term and the future.
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