Will renewables-generated synthetic fuels be the future of decarbonisation?


Despite being far more expensive than their fossil-based equivalents, synthetic fuels generated from renewables will play crucial roles in future decarbonised energy systems, said Agora Verkehrswende and Agora Energiewende. According to their joint-study, The Future Cost of Electricity-Based Synthetic Fuels, synthetic fuels generated from clean sources will have two vital long-term applications:

  1. Independence from environmental conditions – Synthetic fuels can be reconverted into electricity on days when the supply from weather-dependent renewable sources is low, such as on cloudy or calm days, which can affect power feed-in from solar or wind sources respectively.
  2. Practicality of medium – Synthetic fuels have a higher energy density, are easier to store, and are more compatible with existing distribution systems. These can make synthetic fuels a more viable source for clean power in areas where large changes in routines and systems can be inconvenient, such as the transport, heating, and industrial sectors.

However, synthetic fuels lose much of the energy input during production, which makes them comparatively less efficient and more expensive compared to the direct use of electricity. For instance, the fuel generated from 100 kilowatt hours of renewable electricity translates into only 13 kilowatt hours of propulsion energy for a combustion-engine vehicle.

As such, synthetic fuels must be deployed strategically due to their high cost and low efficiency. According to Patrick Graichen, Director of Agora Energiewende, synthetic fuels must be used only where they are truly beneficial and where other zero-carbon technologies are not feasible, such as for air and ship transport, the manufacture of chemical precursors, and high-temperature heat.

To find out more on how synthetic fuels can be used in future clean energy systems, please download the full study here.

Credit: Agora Verkehrswende & Agora Energiewende


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