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Can the petrol engine be saved? Why you might still be driving V8s and sports cars well into the future

EFuel could be the key to saving cars like the Porsche 911 and other petrol-powered sports models.

The march towards a seemingly inevitable all-electric future on our roads may not be so inevitable after all.

Not if Porsche has anything to do with it.

As we reported late last year, the German giant has invested €20 million (about $A30 million) into the development of a synthetic fuels (otherwise known as eFuel) facility in Chile with Siemens and ExxonMobil.

But it isn’t just to save cars like the 911.

According to the company, eFuel is able to reduce carbon emissions from current petrol-powered engines without any modifications. That means any current vehicle – old or new – that runs on petrol could be capable of running on eFuel long into the future instead of having to be replaced by an electric vehicle.

Speaking to CarsGuide this week, Porsche’s Andreas Preuninger, who oversees all GT cars including the 911, said the synthetic fuels being developed now are the key to saving the likes of the 911 and even old models from having to be converted to electric power.

“That’s why we do it,” Mr Preuninger said. “We are a strong believer in synthetic fuels, I mean you can even make more power with those and it’s cleaner.”

While synthetic fuels are currently still in development and expected to cost several dollars per litre initially, Porsche plans to produce 550 million litres of synthetic fuel by 2026 at its plant in Chile. According to Mr Pruninger, this will be a vital part of the transition from the majority of the world’s cars being petrol-powered towards EVs.

“Right now, it’s a little bit, or a lot more expensive, but the more you spend money developing the process the better and lower the costs will be at the end,” he explained.

“We have to concentrate on doing something like this, because look at all the cars with a combustion engine out there, you can’t switch them off one day to another and all go electric.

“We have to do both… The cars you buy now should run in 20 years so there should be a way you can operate these cars with a lot less emissions. This would help us a lot to keep combustion engines alive, especially for a 911 and specialty cars like GT cars.”

The critical component to the widespread adoption of eFuels beyond sports cars like the 911, is the lack of modifications required by the engine to run on it. That means anyone with a petrol car, particularly classics, will be able to take advantage of it.

“We’re really eager to get these synthetic fuels, there’s no problem using them in today’s engines,” Mr Preuninger said. “There’s no problem using them in engines from 30 years ago. It’s just a cleaner, better fuel. There’re no unwanted by-products in the fuel like non-synthetic fuel. From our [point-of-view], they only have advantages so we have to keep pushing it forward.”

Porsche is yet to explain in detail precisely how it develops eFuel, only saying the factory in Chile will use wind power to produce green hydrogen which is then combined with captured carbon to make synthetic methanol, which is converted into usable eFuel using “priority technology” from ExxonMobil.

While Mr Preuninger couldn’t give a detailed breakdown, he did explain the eFuel is its own unique product, not a version of existing alternative liquid fuels like ethanol or methanol.

“I’m not a chemist,” he explained. “From the chemical composition it’s fuel - not ethanol, not petroleum - it’s fuel. But it comes without the unwanted by-products that come with [petrol] because it’s made from mineral oil. It has the things we need for the combustion is exactly the same but it’s pure. It’s a very pure fuel, so everything we don’t need is filtered out.”

Porsche plans to produce 130,000 litres of eFuel by next year before ramping up production to 55 million litres by 2024.