German car company Audi has announced that it has successfully created a carbon-neutral diesel fuel using water, air and energy from the sun – and to prove it they asked a German government official to fill her car up with the stuff and drive to work.
For those of us in coal dust-choked America, it may seem bizarre, but Germany, along with other countries around the world, have become increasingly consumed with finding renewable energy solutions to climate change and oil addiction. It has led them to look to wind and solar at scales that environmentalists in America can only dream of. And guess what? It hasn’t killed jobs. The results have been just the opposite.
Audi, for example, has been toying with cheap, renewable energy to power its vehicles for years. Recently, they announced that they believe they finally cracked the code.
It operates according to the power‑to‑liquid (PtL) principle and uses green power to produce a liquid fuel. The only raw materials needed are water and carbon dioxide. The CO2 used is currently supplied by a biogas facility. In addition, initially a portion of the CO2 needed is extracted from the ambient air by means of direct air capturing, a technology of Audi’s Zurich‑based partner Climeworks.
Engineers also believe the efficiency of the fuel is at around 70 percent – compared to regular diesel’s mid-30’s.
Many critics of “e-diesel” point to the fact that it takes dirty energy to make this “cleaner” energy. Doesn’t this mean that the diesel isn’t really clean? Only if your country depends on coal and oil to power its electrical grid. Germany has the unique position of being at the very forefront of the solar energy revolution. Despite its cloudy skies, the European country out-solars every other nation by a wide margin. In this way, Audi can realistically say that its e-diesel is created using no fossil fuels at all.
To prove that their product wasn’t just wishful thinking, Audi asked Germany’s Federal Minister of Education and Research, Johanna Wanka, to fill up her personal Audi A8 and drive it around. She seemed sold:
“If we can make widespread use of CO2 as a raw material, we will make a crucial contribution to climate protection and the efficient use of resources, and put the fundamentals of the ‘green economy’ in place.”
It’s hard not to draw an unflattering comparison to lawmakers in the United States, who seem bent on clinging to fossil fuels until the last drop is pulled from the earth. President Obama and his administration have tried to make inroads into renewable energy, but have been met with stiff opposition. Recently, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Coal Country) fired off an angry letter to the governors of all 50 states instructing them to simply ignore any efforts to address climate change by the Obama administration.
The full effect of this head-in-the-sand approach to changing energy demands will not be felt for years, but already it’s easy to get the sense that America is being left behind by countries less concerned with pleasing Koch Industries and Exxon-Mobil.
Audi’s bold experiment with carbon-neutral energy may not be the ultimate answer to climate change or sustainable energy, but it’s certainly one piece in the puzzle. At the moment, it has manufactured very little of the e-diesel product, but when full-commercialization begins, it will be interesting to see how it pushes green technology forward. The U.S. Navy is said to have been experimenting with a similar process using – fittingly – sea water. These leaps forward could be huge. Aside from its impact on the environment, it could also mean more jobs for more people in an industry that, unlike fracking or off-shore drilling, could literally stick around until the sun stops shining.