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Japan firms study carbon neutral fuels for auto sector

  • : Biofuels, E-fuels, Emissions
  • 24/05/27

A group of Japanese companies are exploring the possibility of expanding the use of carbon neutral fuels — such as synthetic fuels, or e-fuels, and biofuels — in the country's automobile sector, aiming to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from internal combustion engine vehicles.

Japanese auto manufacturer Toyota, engineering firm Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and refiners Idemitsu and Eneos said on 27 May that they had signed an initial agreement to jointly carry out a feasibility study by discussing scenarios, roadmaps and necessary regulations to introduce the clean fuels around 2030.

The partnership assumes domestic production of e-fuels and biofuels to enhance the country's energy security. They plan to produce e-fuels from CO2 and renewable-based hydrogen, while biofuels will be derived from plants and other sources. But potential output capacity is still unclear. It is also unknown how they will buy feedstocks to produce the clean fuels, creating the possibility for imports and domestic purchases.

Japan has pledged to ban sales of gasoline-only passenger cars and a shift to electric vehicles (EVs) by 2035, part of its 2050 net zero emissions goal. But EVs also include fuel-cell vehicles, plug-in hybrids and hybrid EVs. This suggests the country will need cleaner fuels to decarbonise engines burned by fossil fuels.

Toyota has already introduced in Brazil since 2007 a hybrid, flex-fuel vehicle that can run on biofuels and gasoline. The company will invest 11bn real ($2.1bn) in Brazil over the next six years to decarbonise and electrify its fleet. But it is still unclear how many flex-fuel vehicles it will introduce in Japan, the company said.

To help reduce CO2 emissions from the auto sector, Japan's trade and industry ministry already requires domestic refiners to use 500,000 kilolitres/yr (8,616 b/d) of the crude equivalent of ETBE or bioethanol. Brazil is currently the sole bioethanol supplier to Japan with 55,179 bl delivered in February.

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