Toyota Partners With Exxon to Test Low-Carbon Fuels

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Toyota Motor Corp has announced it will be partnering with Exxon to develop a low-carbon fuel that can be used in gasoline engines. Considering that governments around the world are introducing stringent carbon emission standards, this seems like a worthwhile endeavor. However, Toyota also likes to throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, and previous attempts to deliver on similar concepts have fallen flat.

Ethanol arguably turned out to be worse for the environment than gasoline and pretty tough on small motors, despite originally being framed as “green,” since the process of harvesting and then producing the corn-based fuel typically ends up dumping more pollution into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, Toyota has been goofing around with hydrogen power for decades and the technology has yet to advance to a point where it could be considered anywhere near carbon neutral.

Exxon has also piloted some schemes that never took off. In 2018, the company was talking a big game about biofuels sourced from algae. But they were having trouble overcoming the same problems posed by biofuels made from corn or sugarcane. Growing enough of the stuff was difficult and finding a way to refine it into fuel created a slew of logistical issues that meant more energy had to be expended.

That’s not to say the above concepts cannot work or shouldn’t have been pursued. We just never reached the kind of efficiencies that would make them viable alternatives to petroleum.

But the duo seem to have a good feeling about these lower carbon fuels, which Toyota claimed “are compatible with older vehicles as well as its current model line-up” and have the “potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from road transportation up to 75 [percent] compared to conventional fuels available today.”

Though the accompanying video (which was all Toyota offered that expanded on the concept) didn’t have much more to offer. The automaker basically claimed that it wanted to have a diverse portfolio so it could best adapt to changing regulatory landscapes. But it also noted that energy demand is poised to go up by 30 percent through 2050. Having a bigger toolkit likely doesn’t hurt, especially when you’re a company that’s big enough to explore an array of new technologies.

Sadly, it sounds like these low-carbon fuels aren’t all that different from the other biofuels we’ve seen flop. The corporate partners just said that they’d come from cleaner feedstocks and should be a relatively seamless way to make older powertrains more emissions-compliant.

Bloomberg had more:

The fuels are “very much at the test phase” and would require government policy support before becoming commercially available, [Andrew Madden, Exxon’s vice president for strategy and planning] said in a Wednesday interview. They’re mostly a mix of existing feedstocks like renewable biomass and ethanol produced using cleaner processes, he said.
“Having a solution for liquid fuels that we can use in the existing fleet, having it in the kind of policy construct where we allow the market to innovate, is the lowest cost way to decarbonize transportation,” Madden said.

“No matter what you think the pace of electrification transition might be, there will be a billion, if not hundreds of millions of vehicles on the road for quite a long time,” said Tom Stricker, Toyota’s vice president for sustainability and regulatory affairs. “ quite important in achieving those greenhouse gas reductions quickly.”

That could be. But we’ve also seen Japanese companies leaning back into hydrogen vehicles while German automakers have started touting the benefits of synthetic fuels alleged to offer similar carbon-reduction benefits. Meanwhile, the United States government continues to incentivize electric cars as the true pathway toward more-sustainable transportation.

There are a lot of options out there and none of them have managed to dethrone fossil fuels just yet. But a mixed approach, which is definitely Toyota’s modus operandi, doesn’t sound like a bad plan as the world attempts to sort all this out. Heck, maybe the industry will simply fall back into developing more-efficient combustion engines if these low-carbon fuels work out. Stranger things have happened.

[Image: CC7/Shutterstock]

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Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Lou_BC Ironic, the Honda Ridgeline, a truck that every truck guy loves to hate is in 6th place.
  • 28-Cars-Later I keep forgetting I own it, but the space look on the ext cab reminds me of my 'Yota pickup of the same model year. I'm pretty sure there is some vintage of Hilux which features the same looking ext cab window (maybe '88?) its a shame these things are mostly gone and when available are $1,000,000,000 [INSERT CURRENT CURRENCY].
  • Sayahh Imagine if Ford had Toyota design and build a Mustang engine. It will last over 300k miles! (Skip turbo and make it naturally aspirated.) Maybe Yamaha will help tune it...
  • Sobhuza Trooper Isuzu's crime was to build some damn good trucks.Shame on them.
  • El scotto Listen, unless you were Lord Headly-Stempmoor or such when you got off the off the boat, boot in Canada, you got the short end of the stick. People got on the boat, these days a plane, to escape famine, becoming cannon fodder in yet another stupid war, or the government thought it was A-OK to let soldiers kill you. Juneteenth is just a way to right one of the more bad ideas in the American experiment. Instead we have commenters who were buying tater chips and diet soda at Wal-Mart and got all butt-hurt because they heard someone who wasn't speaking English. I'm going to go fix a couple of frankfurters with salsa and guacamole and wash them down with a lager or three