Electrification is currently the automotive industry’s preferred solution to the problem of CO2 emissions. German components manufacturer Bosch is proposing an alternative solution which could save the combustion engine from an untimely death. The company wants the petrochemical industry to develop a synthetic fuel that is completely carbon-neutral, and which could replace gasoline and diesel in the long term.

Bosch is brainstorming to generate ideas on how to make it. The first step in the alchemy-like process would involve extracting hydrogen from water and adding carbon to it. The carbon could be sourced from factories which generate it as a waste product, or extracted from the air using special filters. The carbon and the hydrogen would then be combined to produce a liquid fuel. The process would be entirely CO2-neutral because the plans tentatively call for a power-generation plant fuelled by renewable energy.

Because the fuel is man-made, engineers would be able to dial in different properties for various uses. One type of synthetic fuel could replace gasoline, another could fill in for diesel, and a third could take over for kerosene.

“Achieving our future climate targets calls for other intelligent solutions apart from electro-mobility. After all, even if all cars were to drive electrically one day, aircraft, ships, and even trucks will still run mainly on fuel. Carbon-neutral combustion engines that run on synthetic fuels are thus a very promising path to explore – also for passenger cars,” said Volkmar Denner, Bosch’s chairman.

Reducing the environmental impact of the freight industry is just one piece of the puzzle. Bosch points out synthetic fuels are theoretically compatible with existing infrastructure, so there would be no need to build a brand-new network of refuelling stations. They’re also compatible with every type of internal combustion engine, so they could play a sizable role in keeping classic cars on the road in the coming decades. How else will you drive your 1939 Lincoln hot rod 50 years from now?

Synthetic fuel technology is still at the embryonic stage of development, and making it remains a complicated and expensive process which requires government funding. Bosch engineers predict the fuels could get considerably cheaper in the coming years as production ramps up. The fuel itself could cost about 1.20 euros per litre in the long run, which is about the price of gasoline in Europe right now. Of course, it will inevitably get more expensive once taxes are factored in.

Bosch is working on numerous ways to reduce exhaust emissions, but the company made it clear it’s not currently developing its own brand of synthetic fuel.

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