‘Technological openness’ – or how dogma stands in the way of development

Author profile picture

“If you’re in a hurry, sit down,” reads a Chinese proverb. What I mean is that when important decisions and actions have to be made, it is better to act thoughtfully but purposefully. In terms of transportation, which is without a doubt one of the biggest contributors to CO2emissions on this planet, the race seems to be over.

Aside from the recognition that less driving is required, the battery-powered drive appears to have won the race. Those who, like some car manufacturers, are still spreading “technological openness” are increasingly being put on the sidelines. And not just because of the Twitter and Facebook bubble. BMW, for example, still has hydrogen on the radar, in addition to battery-electric propulsion for passenger cars. Toyota and Hyundai will also continue their H2 electrical strategy. However, it would be fatal to completely exclude hydrogen as such from the calculation.


Any effort, any technology that can contribute to the decarbonisation of the economy, should be pursued. In the end, the climate is not interested in how this is achieved. The first controversial approaches were the so-called e-fuels. This means that carbon dioxide is taken from the air and “green” hydrogen is used to produce synthetic fuels. The advantage: only CO2 which was withdrawn from the air is released again. The internal combustion engine would produce almost CO2-be neutral.

In Norway, where the current monthly sales trend is expected to reach almost 100 percent electrified vehicles in May ’22, the passenger car fleet by the end of 2020 will consist of approximately 2.8 million vehicles, of which only 340,000 are pure electric cars. If the 2.5 million vehicles with internal combustion engines were to run on synthetic fuel while still on the road, we would be on the climate-safe side.

Unfortunately, the production of “green” hydrogen requires energy, which – nomen est omen – may only come from renewable energy sources. Many electric car enthusiasts believe that this is the wrong way, because the energy required for this would be many times greater than what, for example, an electric car with a battery would use at the same distance. And energy, as we have learned now, is precious and very expensive in Germany.

Synthetic fuels

Porsche therefore chooses a different approach. Together with Siemens Energy, the company plans to commission a power plant for the production of synthetic fuels in Patagonia. The electricity for hydrogen production must be supplied by wind turbines. This is not a bad idea, because the wind is quite strong in Patagonia. The fuel itself will then be transported to the markets by tanker in the normal way. Eventually, the ecological balance here will deteriorate dramatically again. On the other hand, a power line from Patagonia to Germany … would not matter.

Model Y

Since the IAMobility mobility fair, the Austrian company Obrist has also started discussions. The Austrians made a crucial mistake. They built a Tesla Model Y as a proof-of-concept rebuilt and from one range extender to supply. A small, extremely cheap methanol engine, which costs only 2500 euros, provides the energy for a small buffer battery, which then drives the vehicle electrically.

Tesla fans are dogmatists of electromobility. For them, only the California producer counts. Electric cars of another brand are looked down upon. Internal combustion engines are excluded in all cases.

Mounting a Tesla with an internal combustion engine is outright heresy for them. That fact was enough to condemn what was in fact a wise attempt on the part of the Austrians and ignore the idea behind it.

Quote from the twitter bubble: “Putting an internal combustion engine in a Tesla. Only in Germany do they come up with such ideas and they call it innovation (Woman facepalming). How many steelworks do we need to cover even 1 percent of our fuel needs ?! Forged swords for steelworks! ”

I do not have to go into that. But back to Obrist: smart, because the methanol-powered car can drive 100 kilometers on 3 liters – thanks to the efficiency of the electric motor. The battery has been drastically reduced, which means less CO2-tax funds. The driving performance can be compared to a conventional Teslas.

Huge solar parks

The methanol – and it is new in Obrist’s view – must be produced in sunny countries, such as North Africa, by huge solar parks. These solar parks should be built on the coast to divide seawater into hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis. After all, large plants need CO2 to forbid. And that’s not all. They want enough CO2 extraction from the air to produce additional graphite: solid carbon which can be used as raw material for further processing (eg lubricants). Graphite is also safer to store than, for example, in other CCS processes, where the gas is stored in underground spaces.

The bottom line is that a vehicle powered by methanol from this circular economy would set the record for the lowest CO2emissions.

Not satisfactory for eco-dogmatists

This innovative idea proved to be of sufficient value for the outgoing Federal Minister Anja Karliczek to propose grants and support from the Ministry of Research and Education. This was the Austrians’ second mistake. Because Karliczek is a member of the CDU and therefore in any case unsatisfactory for eco-dogmatists. It must be seen whether the project is really targeted and financially profitable. But 3 liters of methanol is still less than e.g. 8 liters of diesel or 12 liters of petrol as a replacement for 100 kilometers for the remaining large fleets of internal combustion engines in this world. Because even though the first countries will ban the sale of internal combustion engine cars by 2030, they will continue to drive for years to come. The dogma we have just learned remains relevant in the 21st century. And ideology comes at the expense of pragmatism.

About this column

In a weekly column, written alternately by Eveline van Zeeland, Eugène Franken, Helen Kardan, Katleen Gabriels, Carina Weijma, Bernd Maier-Lepla and Colinda de Beer is trying to figure out what the future will hold for Innovation Origins. These columnists, sometimes supplemented with guest bloggers, all work in their own way with solutions to the problems of our time. So tomorrow it will be good. Here are all previous sections.

Also interesting: Recycling batteries from old electric cars is sustainable, but who gives a guarantee?

Leave a Comment