Volkswagen's Future Fuel Strategy Emerges
As a global player, Volkswagen has taken up the challenge of achieving sustainable mobility for the present and future generations, concentrating on synthetic fuels as part of its drive system and fuel strategy.
Exhaust emission standards will continue to become more stringent and demands for measures to further reduce consumption will impact on vehicle development. In addition, world demand for energy is still rising while the availability of reasonably-priced fossil fuels is falling. Concentrating on oil as a primary energy therefore involves considerable risks for the future, not least in view of the political instability of many oil-producing regions. Volkswagen has developed a drive system and fuel strategy to find an alternative that reduces this dependence.
Liquid synthetic fuels produced from natural gas (GtL - Gas to Liquid), coal (CtL - Coal to Liquid) or biomass (BtL - Biomass to Liquid) play an outstanding role in this context, as these fuels can be produced from a number of different primary energies. Furthermore, these fuels could be used in existing vehicle fleets, bringing the additional benefit of an immediate reduction in exhaust emissions. A fleet test in Berlin in summer 2003 established a 6% reduction in NOx emissions, while CO and HC emissions fell by 91% respectively 63% and particulate emissions were cut by 26%. At the same time, the existing filling station infrastructure can be used, a factor with a considerable impact as regards the cost of using alternative fuels.
Many of the world's natural gas reserves are located in areas where demand for energy is relatively low. Reserves that have so far proved uneconomical could be put to meaningful use via GtL processes to produce diesel fuels. Thanks to the extreme flexibility of this chemical production process, fuel properties can be adapted to allow new engine technologies. The Combined Combustion System (CCS) developed by Volkswagen combines the low emissions of a petrol engine with the low consumption of a diesel motor.
Under the second stage of the fuel strategy, biomass (BtL) is also used to produce synthetic fuels. The fuel produced (SunFuel) is virtually CO2-neutral, and contributes to a significant reduction in "Well-to-Wheel” CO2 emissions even at unchanged fuel consumption levels. In this phase of the Volkswagen fuel strategy, the major benefit is again the fact that the present distribution infrastructure may be used
It is likely that the remaining problems as regards hydrogen storage and infrastructure will be solved in the long term. If the technical and economic obstacles can be overcome, Volkswagen expects to see vehicles with fuel cells powered by hydrogen produced using renewable energy resources alongside vehicles driven by an internal combustion engine. However, mass production is not likely within the next 20 years.
Liquid synthetic fuels thus ideally complement the hydrogen economy of the future. If hydrogen produced using renewable energy sources is added to the BtL processes, the positive CO2 balance doubles. The first step in the BtL process can also be used to produce hydrogen. This technology thus gives fuel cell systems and the hydrogen economy the time needed to mature and become competitive vis-à-vis advanced internal combustion engines.
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