Fueling the future: Supporting the global transition
From the development of novel engine architectures to piloting the production of lower-carbon synthetic fuels, Aramco is exploring potential technology solutions to support the call for more sustainable and affordable mobility for all.
Lower-carbon fuels and more efficient internal combustion engines are a priority for Aramco in contributing to the global transition to a lower-carbon future.
Transportation is, of course, at the heart of this, and Aramco is exploring the development of lower carbon synthetic fuels, as an alternative to conventional fuels.
In essence, it’s all about aspiring to deliver lower carbon while maintaining the same levels of performance.
The key potential benefits of synthetic fuels are fourfold:
- Lower carbon: The potential for synthetic fuels to achieve significant CO2 reduction relative to conventional fuels.
- Compatibility: Synthetic fuels can possibly be designed to be chemically similar to conventional fuels and, therefore, can be “dropped into” existing vehicles on the road today.
- Complementarity: Synthetic fuels can complement advanced biofuels to narrow the CO2 mitigation and supply gaps globally.
- Scalability: Production of synthetic fuels involves the use of proven technologies, which can be scaled-up effectively, especially in regions with ample renewable resources.
Amer A. Amer is the chief technologist in the Transport Technologies R&D Division of the Research and Development Center (R&DC). He believes that over the past 15 years, Aramco has made significant contributions to the science and technology of fuel and engine interactions.
The Transport R&D team has been growing globally, including the establishment of three research centers in Paris, Detroit, and Shanghai, as technology hubs to leverage the respective innovation ecosystems in each region. Scientists and technologists across the centers work closely with technology providers and automakers to advance practical solutions for a more sustainable mobility future.
The kind of work that we are doing right now is really a large portfolio of research and development projects, and they include company flagship technologies that could have strategic significance to the oil and transport industries.
— Amer A. Amer
“These include more efficient powertrains all the way to lower carbon synthetic fuels. It’s a very wide portfolio with numerous collaborators,” says Amer.
Aramco started to look for opportunities where it could optimize the engine and fuel as one system with synergy.
“We also tried to look at some opportunities for technologies that could have an immediate impact,” adds Amer. “Technologies that, in the short term, can result in CO2 emissions reductions. Among those technologies that we’re quite passionate about is a technology that is cost neutral to the automaker, which is dilute boost.
“This is a technology that can potentially deliver up to 9% lower CO2 emissions from the vehicle. And, the most interesting part about this, it’s not the fact that it is cost neutral and can deliver CO2 reductions.”
Lower carbon fuel testing
In 2023, at the Bahrain International Circuit, for the first time, Aramco supplied fuels containing 55% lower-carbon bio components, which were used in Formula 2 and Formula 3 cars. This is a transitionary step as the championships work toward the introduction of 100% lower-carbon fuels by 2027. Our intention is to introduce synthetic components to the formulation from 2025 onwards.
For Amer, it’s all about advancing potentially lower carbon fuels.
“We aspire to advance the development of a specific type of alternative fuel known as lower-carbon synthetic fuel, produced using renewable hydrogen and captured carbon dioxide,” he explains. “Through a series of reactions, the hydrogen and carbon from the CO2 are combined into specific molecular configurations to produce ‘drop-in’ synthetic fuels, which are chemically similar to conventional fuels, allowing them to be potentially used seamlessly in existing vehicles without modifications.”
“We aspire for more transport energy with lower emissions. In fact, we aspire for more energy with lower emissions in general. The question is, how do you get there? And, there are a lot of people who have proposed silver bullet solutions, and many of those solutions, in my view, they come without full consideration of the unintended consequences.
“And this is mainly because of improper accounting of greenhouse gas emissions. In a nutshell, you’re moving the burden or shifting the burden from one sector to the other. So, in reality, all energy sources will be needed to support a successful transition in the future,” says Amer.
The transition journey will require a degree of “reinvention” in the transportation and energy industries.
“The market dynamics will ultimately pick what is required,” says Amer.
He believes that a variety of fuel solutions will differ from sector to sector, with a mix of fuels for the marine and aviation industries. For example, methanol and ammonia could play a big role in the future of the marine sector.
No simple answers
“I don’t think that the answer is going to be simple, given the diversity that exists and the different needs and requirements that we see from different parts of the world,” notes Amer.
Aramco aims to continue exploring developing the fuels of the future and the technologies that have the potential to positively impact emissions. The work continues at pace, and Dhahran’s R&DC is making a telling, and valuable contribution.