Thursday, 4 October 2012


e-mails, e-books (like Dove Publishing produces), and now e-ethanol and e-diesel. You can see now why Audi is racing e-tron quattro R18s (above at Bahrain). It is serious about alternatives to fossil fuels and for the first time I can remember it looks like a practical proposition. Audi e-ethanol and Audi e-diesel are made by combining salt or waste water with waste CO2, sunlight and microorganisms. They are making the stuff in a factory in the New Mexico desert with Audi's American fuels specialist Joule. It is an astonishingly simple process. Genetically modified microorganisms in pipes of brackish water react with CO2 and sunlight, producing ethanol and diesel-range paraffinic alkanes. It needs no biomass. I never really believed in the idea of growing vast crops of that anyway. Now Audi e-ethanol works in petrol cars with only minor changes and e-diesel will work in TDI clean diesels with no modification. Audi says production is “imminent”.

The virtue of these new fuels is in the simple and relatively cheap way they’re made and the materials to produce them are renewable. There is no need for crop-based biomass synthetic fuels have before, so a refinery doesn’t need to be near habitable or arable land. It is being made in the New Mexico desert (see below)and has the same chemical properties as bioethanol produced from biomass. You can blend up to 85 per cent ‘Audi e-ethanol’ with only 15% fossil-fuel petrol for cars running on E85 fuel.

Audi and Joule are starting to make sustainable and pure e-diesel fuel. Petroleum-based diesel is a mixture of a variety of organic compounds, e-diesel DERV is free of sulphur and aromatics and easy to ignite due to its high cetane value. Audi and Joule have had a partnership since 2011, Joule protecting its technology with patents, for which Audi has exclusive rights in automotive. Audi knows how to make the fuels work in engines, and is developing them so that they can be brought to market.

Makes sense. Audi has sometimes looked eccentric in racing. It has competed at Le Mans 14 times since 1999, made the podium every time, and won 11. In 2012 it made history by winning with the pioneering hybrid diesel Audi R18 e-tron quattro.

Audi R18 e-tron quattro #2 (Audi Sport Team Joest), Tom Kristensen (DK), Allan McNish (GB)at Bahrain

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