Toyota teams up with Exxon Mobile to test ‘low-carbon fuels’

Japanese carmaker Toyota takes a further step in its global multi-tech strategy for decarbonizing conventional drivelines. With oil giant Exxon Mobile, it has partnered to test so-called low-carbon fuels in some ICE models. According to the official statement, the potential is to reduce the greenhouse gas footprint by 75%.

Even though Toyota is gradually adopting a more focused battery-electric approach for its future models, the company still firmly believes combustion engines will play a significant role in mobility for some time.

That’s especially the case for developing markets and countries with a heavy reliance on polluting brown-coal electricity production, where the carbon footprint of BEVs is unfavorable. After the solution of burning hydrogen in combustion engines, Toyota is also looking at optimizing liquid fuels.

Clean feedstock

The partnership with Exxon Mobile explores the possibility of gasoline fuel from a considerable quantity of clean feedstock. When used in a conventional car, these could lower carbon emissions by two-thirds without the customer switching to expensive electrified vehicles. These preliminary numbers were derived from the first trials.

Like synthetic fuels, this so-called drop-in solution has the potential to rapidly clean up the existing global car fleet, which won’t be substituted by electric alternatives overnight. Exxon’s vice president for Strategy and Planning, Andrew Madden, calls it the “lowest cost way to decarbonize transportation”. He added that these novelty fuels are “very much at the test phase” but proved compatible with the featured Toyota models.

Miracle solution?

Has the American oil company found a miracle solution that drew Toyota’s attention? Not quite. The cleaner feedstock Exxon refers to is renewable biomass and ethanol. Without unveiling the details, we can assume it’s a matter of higher mixtures than, for example, the obligatory E5 and E10 fuels currently available at European pumps.

The argument for ethanol, which can be fueled in high quantities like 90% in combustion engines, is that tailpipe emissions are offset by the carbon dioxide captured by the feedstock in the production cycle.

But consider greenhouse gas emissions from corn harvesting, transportation, manufacturing, and distribution; the math isn’t that simple. On top of that comes the stress these fuels exert on edibles provision.

Diesel from algae

As Exxon doesn’t provide more technical info, the commercial viability of this new liquid fuel is challenging to estimate. However, Madden says the feedstocks are also “cleaner in production” and would “require government policy support ” to bring them competitively to market.

Once propagating algae-based fuels as an alternative to diesel, Exxon has walked the path of pioneering fuel alternatives before. But, as the abandoning of this invention proves, it is often a question of over-promising and under-delivering. Eventually, Exxon believed it could produce 10 000 barrels of bio-fuel from algae a day by 2025.

The algae Exxon had in mind produced a kind of oil naturally that can be refined by the oil companies into usable biofuel. The organisms can be harvested all year round. They don’t emit CO2 but produce oxygen by photosynthesis, like trees. They don’t need vast agricultural surfaces like palm trees or soy. They only need salt water (not precious freshwater) and have a high yield.


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