Synfuel sounds like something out of science-fiction, perhaps the impetus behind some apocalyptic robot revolution. However, it’s actually a whole new type of fuel that could hugely benefit humanity in the future.

It’s a carbon neutral fuel that’s produced via a process known as ‘direct air capture’, which extracts CO2 from the atmosphere. That CO2 can then be combined with hydrogen that has been produced through renewable energy. Burning synfuel doesn’t even release CO2 back into the atmosphere because the gas is immediately recaptured in a closed loop – that could cut down the estimated 10 billion tonnes of carbon added to the atmosphere each year. No sulphur is produced, and lower levels of particulates are emitted, so local air pollution will be reduced.

It’s carbon neutral, low-cost, and can be used as a blend with conventional fossil fuels or even as a complete substitute. Put simply, synfuel could be what saves the internal combustion engine from the scrapheap.

That all sounds great, but how exactly is synfuel going to be used? Well, there are several research projects going on around the world, and one includes Audi. Another is backed by funding from Bill Gates and predicts that synfuel would cost less than 70p a litre once production is scaled up.

The hope seems to be that synfuel will reduce the burden on electrification to meet targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement. As noted by Dr Oliver Malwald, technology and innovation vice-president at supplier Continental: “It’s easier to capture CO2 from industrial complexes and transform it into an energy source.” This year will see a joint EU and German government programme attempt to capture carbon from industrial smoke stacks.

Mazda is also trying to take advantage. Working with scientists in Tokyo and Hiroshima, they’re looking to produce synfuel from laboratory-developed strains of E. coli.

Regardless of how it’s made and who makes the breakthrough, the promise of synfuel is one well worth cherishing. After all, governments and lobbying groups all across the world are attempting to combat the pollution produced by tradition internal combustion engine cars, with many bidding to put them out of production in just a couple of decades. If synfuel – or something like it – proves successful, we could have our cake and eat it too.

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