Sparks

Sustainable ‘Blue Crude’ oil substitute

 By Amanda Saint

Sunfire, a German company, has produced an innovative new product which is a green, sustainable alternative to oil. Made from green energy, air and water, it can replace crude oil in the chemicals industry and transport sector—a big step in the move toward a carbon-neutral global economy…

Announcing the successful test run on its website, Sunfire says it has now produced more than three tons of the synthetic crude oil substitute ‘Blue Crude’ at its power-to-liquid plant in Dresden. The plant was in operation for over 1,500 hours in an industrial-scale endurance test funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). Car manufacturer AUDI AG, which carried out its own research and development to create a similar oil substitute back in 2015, has tested the Sunfire product and confirmed that it contains the premium properties that are usually found in Fischer-Tropsch products—the synthetic fuel the company now uses and has named Audi e-diesel. These properties that Audi have identified mean that Blue Crude has a high cetane value, which is what gives it excellent combustion properties.

Unlike petrol made from fossil fuel oil, it has no sulfur or aromatic compounds and produces virtually no soot particles during combustion, providing an important tool in global strategies to combat climate change. Christian von Olshausen, Chief Technology Officer at Sunfire, said: “The product has comparable properties with racing fuel, even without additional processing. Blue Crude can be used in existing refineries, fueling stations and transportation infrastructure.”

sunfire: Alternative fuels from air, water and renewable energy

Christian von Olshausen, Chief Technology Officer at Sunfire, said: “The product has comparable properties with racing fuel, even without additional processing. Blue Crude can be used in existing refineries, fueling stations and transportation infrastructure.” Additionally, rail networks that would be difficult and expensive to electrify can become 100-percent renewable and CO2-neutral by using Blue Crude to power diesel-hybrid railcars. Sunfire believes that all of these factors combined mean that their Blue Crude product is the best option for making the global transport sector more environmentally sustainable. “It is the most efficient way of electrifying transport routes, long-haul traffic and air traffic and transitioning these sectors to renewable systems in the medium term,” von Olshausen added.

Sunfire Plant in Dresden, Germany (crankit.in)

Large scale production

However, Blue Crude’s ability to deliver on its promise will depend on volumes and large scale production. In the US alone in 2016, the amount of gasoline used for transportation averaged around 9 million barrels (377 million gallons) per day. So with just three tons of fuel produced in more than 1,500 hours of continual operation, a considerable number of processing plants are needed if the green oil substitute is going to meet global demand for crude oil in the transport and chemical industries. Sunfire’s Dresden plant is just a demonstration facility and engineers are now working on preparing the technology for the first high volume production plant, which will open in 2020. Sunfire’s technology will be installed in a plant in Heroya in Norway, in partnership with Nordic Blue Crude AS, Climeworks and the plant manufacturer EDL Anlagenbau. It will be producing 10 million liters of Blue Crude a year, which is enough to supply up to 13,000 cars with e-fuel and cut 21,000 tons of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel per year. With 1.2 billion vehicles on the road worldwide, and that number forecast to grow to 2 billion by 2035, the need to find more environmentally sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel petroleum is pressing. So what other options are there?

Greener transport alternatives

Electric cars have been growing in popularity rapidly and the number of plug-in and charge battery vehicles on the world’s roads grew from just 113,000 in 2012 to 1.2 million in 2016. Their popularity is predicted to grow significantly in the coming years with forecasts showing that by 2040, electric vehicles will make up 35 percent of new car sales globally and there will be more than 40 million of them on the road. According to Green Choices, biofuels will contribute to the transport sector in the coming years. Biogas from organic waste matter is taking off in Sweden, which already has the largest fleet of biogas-fueled vehicles in the world, around 7,000 vehicles so far. Bioethanol derived from starches or sugar can be blended with petrol and used in all petrol engines to immediately cut carbon dioxide emissions. Replacing just 5 percent of the petrol with bioethanol would cut them by 3.5 percent. Car manufacturers say that adaptations mean that cars could run on a fuel blend containing up to 85 percent bioethanol, which could impact carbon emissions coming from the sector. There are many other options available for significantly improving the environmental impact of the global transport sector while Sunfire focuses on scaling up the technology to allow high-volume production of Blue Crude.

SEE MORE: Piloting greener fuel by Amanda Saint

about the author
Amanda Saint
Journalist and content writer, specialised in engineering and technology with a focus on environmental sustainability, urbanisation and biotechnology.