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ADV NewsSynthetic Fuel: New Tech To Keep Us On Our Petrol-Powered Bikes

Synthetic Fuel: New Tech To Keep Us On Our Petrol-Powered Bikes

Motorcycles may not need to switch to e-power to be carbon-neutral after all.

Published on 06.08.2021

Can’t imagine trading your petrol-powered adventure bike for a battery-driven version? You’re not alone. But thanks to a groundswell of interest in the creation of synthetic fuels, including from major players like Ducati, BMW and McLaren, we may not have to.

The idea of using synthetic fuels as a replacement for fossil and biofuels isn’t a new one, but with countries around the world setting hard dates for carbon neutrality, the science is getting a fresh look. What is a carbon-neutral synthetic fuel? At its core it’s the result of electrolyzing carbon monoxide from air with hydrogen from water to create a methanol base product that can be used to produce gasoline, including diesel and aviation fuels. 

synthetic fuel motorcycles
Photo: Stephen Gregory

Synthetic fuels were most recently researched as a means for the U.S. to become energy independent, and the plan was to burn traditional energy like coal and biomass to create it. The push lost steam when the country became a net crude oil importer in the twenty teens, but is now roaring back as a carbon neutral alternative to battery power, or at the least a middle game, provided the syngas is created using sustainable energy like solar, wind or hydro.


And while creation of synthetic gas is a complex process, it’s very close to becoming a viable reality, especially in motorsports. In fact, the World Rally Championship series is set to run using 100% sustainable fuels as early as next year. The Dakar organization is also moving toward sustainability with the creation of a new category in 2022 for prototype vehicles relying on electric motors or any other technology focused on reducing carbon emissions, which would include existing biofuels as well as new synthetic fuels. By 2030, Dakar organizers have stated the move to become oil revenue independent will apply to all categories — an ambitious deadline that will undoubtedly encourage development of synthetic petrol for bikes. “The goal for the Dakar is to become the first fully sustainable adventure rally in the world,” said director David Castera in a recent press conference.

Synthetic Fuel carbon neutral
Photo: Dakar/A.S.O

Furthermore, Ducati recently walked back an intention stated in 2019 to go electric, with VP of Sales Francesco Milicia telling MCN that electric motorcycles could not guarantee the pleasure, range, and weight that Ducati riders expect. “We are also looking carefully at other solutions for zero or minimal emissions, such as synthetic fuel,” he’s quoted as saying. “Other brands in our group such as Porsche are looking at it and it’s something we are looking at in the medium term.” 

Porsche and VW, both sister brands to Ducati, have invested in a Siemens Energy pilot project in Chile that uses wind power to make synthetic petrol. Called the Haru Oni pilot project, it’s scheduled to produce 130,000 liters of syngas next year, 55 million in 2024 and 550 million liters in 2026. 

Synthetic fuel carbon neutral
Photo: Mike Levon

In the meantime, BMW has invested in Prometheus Fuels, an energy startup based in Santa Cruz, California, stating that by “perfecting existing chemical reactions and processes, Prometheus will make drop-in replacement fuels that are guilt-free.”

McLaren is also onboard, with COO Jens Ludmann saying to British magazine Autocar that his company believes syngas is a valid alternative to e-power, especially considering the environmental impact of producing batteries. 

And it’s not only major players in the automobile and motorsports industries investing in the creation of synthetic fuel, it’s the gargantuan aviation industry also throwing money at the solution.  

Because when you think of it, one of the smartest aspects of creating a carbon neutral fuel that literally replaces petrol, is its potential to help keep gas-powered motorcycles and cars from ever becoming obsolete. That means our bikes of today, as well as all the classic vehicles from the past — literally anything with a combustion engine — could live on indefinitely.  It also keeps the massive infrastructure that delivers fuel to the end user intact. 

Synthetic fuel motorcycles
Photo: GasGas

So let’s all sleep a little better tonight knowing our future adventure bikes may not need to be electrified after all. Sure, e-tech is constantly improving (Italy’s Energica has a new bike with a top speed of 125mph and a 250-mile range), but nothing will replace rolling up to that dusty pump on the edge of your favorite dirt-based adventure for a slug of good ol’ stinky gas.

Author: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

Author: Jamie Elvidge

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June 8, 2021 11:02 am

Synthetic fuels aren’t a new technology. However, something tells me the eco nazis will be deeply opposed to the idea of running coal into petrol using the tried and trusted Fischer Tropsch process.

June 8, 2021 12:23 pm
Reply to  Miras

Perhaps you should read the article? It says the technology is not new. What’s different is that it would use renewable energy sources like wind, water and sun to power the process, not coal or other dirty fuels.

June 8, 2021 12:31 pm
Reply to  Miras

It’s the new processes being develop for creating synthetic fuel in a carbon-neutral way that is the new tech.

Synthetic Fuel: New Tech To Keep Us On Our Petrol-Powered Bikes - ADVENTURE & OVERLAND MOTORCYCLE TRAVEL
June 8, 2021 11:12 am

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