Editorial Feature

The World’s First Climate-Neutral Methanol Plant

Global technology company Siemens has embarked on a project which aims to decarbonize transportation. The Haru Oni project in the Magallanes, southern Chile, is due to start producing climate-neutral e-fuels in the world’s first climate-neutral methanol plant by 2022.

e-fuel car

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Haru Oni: World First Climate-Neutral Methanol Plant

The Haru Oni project, in which Siemens is partnering with Chile-based green energy producer Ame’s High Energy Fuels (HIF) branch, will be a world-first for climate-neutral e-fuels. It will be the first commercial-scale production plant that integrates renewable energy capture and e-fuel production.

Haru Oni is under construction in the Magallanes, Chile’s southernmost area. The region is known for incredibly strong and reliable winds, making it ideal for this kind of renewable energy-based operation.

The plant will produce climate-neutral versions of methanol and gasoline, often referred to as liquid renewable energy carriers. Innovation in this industry is necessary to bring transportation in line with the planet’s vital decarbonization targets.

The Problems with Transportation

Creating a climate-neutral e-fuel at a commercial scale will be critical to decarbonizing transportation – together with industrial sectors, they are responsible for 45% of the world’s total CO2 emissions.

Electrified transportation has begun to remedy some of this problem, although emissions have only been reduced by 8% since introducing renewable energy sources to transport and industry.

Compared with energy capture and supply, this sector is relatively harder to decarbonize; energy needs for transport vary widely and frequently differ geographically. Furthermore, machines and infrastructure used for transportation – engines, roads, gas stations – must be cross-compatible to avoid significant disruption to logistics and the wider economy.

For this reason, so-called Power-to-X models have been put forward recently by some economists and policy-makers. Power-to-X refers to converting electricity to hydrogen or synthetic fuels and industrial feedstock made from hydrogen, replacing fossil fuels as an energy source. Electricity can be obtained from renewable sources to ensure a clean process.  

What is Climate-Neutral E-Fuel?

Climate-neutral e-fuel is produced from hydrogen, which is made by capturing CO2 from the air and placing it under a relatively energy-intensive process. If the energy used here comes from a renewable source like wind or water, it is known as green hydrogen.

Synthetic fuels made from hydrogen can emit up to 90% less CO2 than fossil fuel counterparts like petroleum gasoline. Some, like e-gasoline, are compatible with existing technology and can be used in unmodified engines as well as standard fuel pumps.

E-methanol can also replace methanol as a liquid fuel. Currently, methanol is utilized in large quantities as a feedstock for chemicals, quoted at approximately 80 Mt in 2019. It is also used as an energy carrier less often, with usage reported at 18 Mt in the same year.

How will Haru Oni Produce Climate-Neutral E-Fuel?

The Haru Oni project will supply enough climate-neutral e-fuel for one million drivers each year. E-methanol will be shipped to European and other markets, where renewable energy generation is more costly or difficult.

Initially, clean wind energy will be captured in the Magallanes area in southern Chile. Due to the strong winds commonly found in this area, clean energy is relatively inexpensive. 

This energy is used in an electrolytic process to split water into oxygen and hydrogen molecules. Haru Oni will use Siemens’s Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolysis method, which is efficient and flexible enough to handle volatile wind energy. 

CO2 will be captured and combined with this green hydrogen to produce e-methanol, the basis for making synthetic fuels that can be transported and used to drive cars, trucks, ships, and even aircraft.

Is E-Methanol an Efficient Solution?

Several conversion steps have to be undertaken to produce climate-neutral e-fuel from a renewable energy source. At each of these steps, some energy is lost due to some degree of conversion inefficiency.

In the case of e-methanol, this currently equates to between 35% and 50% efficiency in a methanol fuel cell. As a result, between half and two-thirds of the energy captured and converted to electricity is lost when it is then converted into e-methanol.

However, there are opportunities to improve. The steps involved to produce e-methanol are multiple, each with a distinct process. Through technological advancements at any of these stages, an improvement to overall efficiency can be achieved.

Research and innovation in this area are still new, and the operation of more commercial-scale plants like Haru Oni will lead to more breakthroughs in efficiency records.

Next Steps for Haru Oni

Haru Oni will become the world’s first climate-neutral methanol plant by 2022, where it will produce around 750,000 l of e-methanol per year. Alongside this, 130,000 l of e-gasoline will be converted. By 2024, production capacity is due to increase to 55 million l e-gasoline per year and 550 million l per year by 2026. By then, the plant will be producing enough fuel for a small city – or one million drivers - each year.

References and Further Reading

Bos, M., Kersten, S. and Brilman, D. (2020) Wind power to methanol: Renewable methanol production using electricity, electrolysis of water and CO2 air capture. Applied Energy, 264, p.114672. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apenergy.2020.114672 [Accessed August 2021] 

IRENA and Methanol Institute. (2021) Innovation Outlook : Renewable Methanol, International Renewable Energy Agency, Abu Dhabi. [Online]. Available at: https://www.irena.org/-/media/Files/IRENA/Agency/Publication/2021/Jan/IRENA_Innovation_Renewable_Methanol_2021.pdf [Accessed August 2021] 

Siemens Energy. (2021) A new hydrogen reality: Fuel from wind and water. [online] Available at: https://www.siemens-energy.com/global/en/offerings/renewable-energy/hydrogen-solutions/haru-oni.html [Accessed August 2021]

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Ben Pilkington

Written by

Ben Pilkington

Ben Pilkington is a freelance writer who is interested in society and technology. He enjoys learning how the latest scientific developments can affect us and imagining what will be possible in the future. Since completing graduate studies at Oxford University in 2016, Ben has reported on developments in computer software, the UK technology industry, digital rights and privacy, industrial automation, IoT, AI, additive manufacturing, sustainability, and clean technology.


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