On the road at the end of the world. We’re talking about Chilean route RN9 through southern Patagonia. From Torres del Paine National Park down to Tierra del Fuego. The route is actually known as “Fin del Mundo” – the end of the world. Once past the Andes, the yawning, flat terrain stretches from horizon-to-horizon, covered with a thin carpet of hardy vegetation. Another element also characterizes the plains between the Atlantic and the Pacific: the constantly howling wind.
A few kilometers north of Punta Arenas, the wind becomes a valuable resource. A huge wind turbine spins over the flat tundra landscape with industrial plants crouching in its shadow. An international industrial consortium led by German company Siemens aims to produce sustainable fuels here in Patagonia. Enel, ExxonMobil, the Chilean state company ENAP and Empresas are all part of HIF (Highly Innovative Fuels), the operator of this test facility in Haru Oni, Chile. Porsche has also invested around 100 million euros, holding 12.5% of HIF Global and plans to purchase the fuel synthetically produced in Chile. How does it all work? Why Patagonia? The explanation is simple: the south wind, which never stops, generates many megawatt hours of electricity – many times more than can be harvested from the constantly available wind energy in other parts of the world. This wind energy powers an electrolysis plant in Haru Oni: first, methanol is produced from water and CO2 taken from the atmosphere, and this is then converted into petrol, diesel or kerosene. This is green fuel for airplanes, ships and cars, which will not have to be abandoned as part of a forthcoming restructuring of global mobility to be replaced by new, alternatively powered aircraft or vehicles that gobble up resources. Instead, existing means of transport can continue to operate sustainably and CO2-neutrally until the end of their service life. Naturally this is a carbon-neutral process because although CO2 is produced as these existing combustion engines continue to operate, the same amount was previously taken from the atmosphere to produce the synthetic fuel. A cycle is established.
The winds of Patagonia foot the bill: without their untiring, almost free contribution, we would lack the key component in the energy-intensive conversion of water and CO2 into synthetic fuel. It is the wind that allows the actually uneconomical model to work.
Measured in terms of global fuel demand, the amount of e-fuel produced in Chile is negligible, so even if production capacities continue to grow, it will hardly change a thing in the strategic conversion of drive technologies away from gasoline. For the Porsche brand, which has long enjoyed great success in the electric drives business, the e-fuel investment in Patagonia does not represent a handbrake turn back to the age of gasoline. Instead it is a commitment to sustainable management: 65,000 liters of e-fuel will drive the global “Porsche Supercup” racing series from 2023, and in the medium term e-fuels could also keep valuable classic sports cars on the road with zero carbon emissions.
Meanwhile, HIF Global is planning to expand its current small plant in Chile into something larger. 50 wind turbines with a total output of 320 megawatts should then enable the annual production of up to 550 million liters of e-fuel. When considering the chances of success for this project we should quote Bob Dylan: The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.