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Audi cooks up ‘e-benzin,’ a renewable, synthetic gasoline substitute

Audi is quickly growing a reputation as the carmaker that also makes fuel.

It’s created an artificial natural gas substitute called “e-gas” and “e-diesel,”¬†too. Now, it has a substance called “e-benzin” that’s meant to serve as a replacement for gasoline. Like the other experimental fuels, it’s made with an environmentally-friendly process.

Audi says e-benzin is produced without using any petroleum. It boasts an octane rating of 100, although that’s using the European measurement system. If e-benzin went on sale, its posted U.S. octane rating would be lower, but probably still comparably to the gasoline grades sold here.

The lack of sulfur and benzene helps the fuel burn more cleanly, which allows engines to use higher compression ratios for added efficiency, Audi claims.

Audi partnered with Global Bioenergies to produce e-benzin. The partner company operates a plant in France that harvests isobutene from renewable materials, and that forms the basis for e-benzin.

Audi e-benzin vial

A second partner, the Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes, refines the isobutene using hydrogen. Global Bioenergies plans to build a a pilot plant at the Fraunhofer Center to produce larger quantities of the fuel beginning in 2016.

Related: Audi’s glass engine is a literal window into how synthetic fuels burn

Meanwhile, Audi will test e-benzin in the lab. Both the carmaker and Global Bioenergies also plan to modify the production process so that it ultimately requires only water, hydrogen, carbon dioxide (CO2), and sunlight.

Audi seems to be on a roll when it comes to synthetic fuels. Last fall, it unveiled “e-diesel,” a fossil-free fuel it claims was made using only water, electricity, and CO2 generated by organic waste.

It also began producing “e-gas” in 2013 using wind energy generated by turbines in the North Sea. The fuel was developed more or less specifically for the A3 g-tron hatchback, which is the only natural gas car Audi makes at the moment.

Audi says it not produces e-gas on an “industrial scale” for customers, but the market for natural gas vehicles is relatively limited. If the company can ramp up production of e-benzin or e-diesel, that could really be something.