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Construction starts on sustainable, synthetic eFuel plant in Chile

Partners in the project include Porsche and Siemens Energy.

Here's a layout of what the project should look like once it's up and running.

Siemens Energy

Last year, Porsche and Siemens Energy announced that they would be partnering with a number of other companies on a synthetic eFuel plant in Southern Chile. Now, it's time for the building to begin.

Porsche announced on Friday that construction has begun on the Chilean eFuel plant, known as the Haru Oni project. It will be constructed in stages, with the pilot plant aiming to produce 130,000 liters (about 34,300 gallons) in 2022. From there, two stages will expand the facility's production: first to 55 million liters in 2024, then to 550 million liters by 2026. Production is expected to begin mid-2022.

"Our tests with renewable fuels are going very successfully," said Michael Steiner, Porsche board member in charge of research and development, in a statement. "eFuels will make it possible to reduce fossil carbon-dioxide emissions in combustion engines by up to 90 percent. Among other things, we'll be using the first fuel from Chile in our Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup race cars from 2022."

The Haru Oni factory will draw its energy from nearby wind farms. Electrolysis splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, and that hydrogen is then mixed with carbon dioxide filtered from the air to produce synthetic methanol, which is further refined into eFuel. The Fischer-Tropsch process, which is the name for this production method, has been seen in various uses since its invention in 1925 as an alternative to petroleum-based hydrocarbons.

Porsche hopes this process will make the company net carbon-neutral as soon as 2030, although eFuel is just one part of the overall strategy to reach this goal. In addition to motorsport, Porsche hopes this fuel will help power its older combustion-engine vehicles, as the automaker estimates that roughly 70% of all Porsches ever built are on the road today, and it may take generations for these vehicles to finally retire. By providing a cleaner source of fuel, owners can feel a little better about putting around with a tailpipe as Porsche and every other automaker gradually turn toward electric vehicles.

Not everyone is on board with the idea that synthetic, sustainable eFuel as a guilt-free savior for old cars. According to a study from Transport & Environment, a European environmental group, an eFuel vehicle would cost $12,000 more to operate than an electric vehicle over its lifecycle. The study also posits that EV manufacturing will cost less to offset its emissions than producing eFuel will. This runs counter to what a Porsche vice president said earlier this year, claiming that eFuel vehicles will have the same environmental impact as EVs.