Synthetic petroleum is an age-old science proven in photosynthesis and could hold the key to near-term decarbonisation, and Zero Petroleum is looking for partners in the hydrogen value chain to truly realise the potential of its alternative fuel.

Zero Petroleum is a new enterprise dedicated to the production of ‘net-zero’ petroleum-based products.

The synthetics Zero Petroleum is working towards are essentially fuels synthesised through the recycling of water and carbon dioxide, using renewable energy such as green hydrogen.

Applications of such fuels would include aircraft, performance vehicles and motorsport but would not be limited to conventional transport – these synthetics would also be used for huge mining equipment, combine harvesters and many other agricultural vehicles that are characterised by increasingly high energy density and require a liquid fuel to match.

Zero Petroleum is the brainchild of Paddy Lowe, co-founder and Director and formerly the executive director of the Mercedes Formula One (F1) team, and his business partner Professor Nilay Shah, Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at Imperial College.

Lowe left F1 two years ago after a career spanning more than 30 years, including two separate spells at the Williams team, 20 years as a key technical figure at the McLaren F1 team, and of course his years at the all-conquering Mercedes F1 team.

Together, Lowe and Shah have been working on a synthetic fuel at Zero Petroleum for a year now; the company believes society has gained immeasurably from the unique advantages of hydrocarbons, and its vision now is to be a prime constructor of a fully circular and carbon-neutral supply at scale.

It already has a tangible product to showcase, as Lowe demonstrated on camera during an exclusive webinar-interview with gasworld.

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“We’ve spent the first year doing some R&D in the lab, we have some very exciting product in terms of gasoline, we’re also working on kerosene for jet fuel, so our next step will be to build a production plant,” he explained.

“We intend in the next year to have a plant, ideally located in the UK, which will be making synthetic gasoline – so that’s a very exciting prospect if we can get it to market as, potentially globally the very first fully synthetic gasoline.”

What Zero Petroleum is looking for now, are partners in hydrogen, a key component in this powerful synthetic fuel.

“In order to build more and more plants, which is what we need to do, we absolutely want to tie up with the hydrogen sector – that’s one of the key components, it’s one of the major costs,” Lowe enthused.

“I think there’s a great opportunity for collaboration either within the UK or internationally in putting together projects.”

“We see a number of projects already in place around the world; Porsche have declared a project in Chile to make synthetic gasoline, we also have the example for instance of Norsk e-fuel in Norway, declared last June, which will be making diesel and kerosene.”

“So for any of your listeners, your readers, please do get in touch because we’d be very interested to tie up with companies working in the hydrogen sector because this will very much be a collaborative effort.”

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The vision behind synthetic petroleum

“My view is that the Industrial Revolution isn’t complete, we’ve just started it – so far, we’ve been using this energy and these materials in a linear manner, drawing on the fossil reserves that were put down there hundreds of millions of years ago,” Lowe said of the vision behind Zero Petroleum.

“We now need to convert our system; we can’t undo it, we have eight billion people on the planet, we can’t go back to nature, and we can’t go back to relying on solely biological processes to supply all of this demand. Equally, we can’t demand of whole populations to regress in terms of their standards of living, because that involves so many facets – education, democracy, health, welfare, enjoyment and leisure. These are all things that people want and now expect, and have a right to.”

Zero Petroleum believes electrification, hydrogen and hydrocarbon fuels will be the three main channels for the energy transition but sees the latter – synthetic fuels – as ultimately having the most utility, and particularly in the near-term. Such fuels will be key to a circular energy economy in the future, Lowe said.

“We have to convert this system that we have, which is linear, into a circular system and when it comes to petroleum, which is the foundation of our energy and materials system, we see the pathway to that through synthetics.”

“We can create petroleum in a circular manner, rather than in a linear manner drawn from finite reserves, through synthesis,” he continued. “Creating synthetic petroleum will complete the circle.”

“Currently we consume but we don’t create; therefore industrially, when we add in the creation side, which we have called ’petrosynthesis’, we can have a circular carbon system. This would be a carbon cycle in the industrial system in the same way that we have carbon cycle in the biological system. Such a system is indefinitely stable, just as biology has been stable.”

Exclusive webinar

Paddy Lowe was speaking to gasworld in an exclusive webinar broadcast on gasworld TV on Friday 11thJune (2:30pm BST).

In a wide-ranging interview with Rob Cockerill, Lowe discusses synthetic petroleum, the scale-up of alternative fuels, policy and politics, fuels for the next generation of motorsport, and even his favourite races from his more than 30 years at the sharp end of F1.

For more information and how to watch the webinar, including on-demand access, visit www.gasworld.tv.