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Zero-Carbon and Sustainable Fuels

Developing new fuels and expanding the possibilities of existing ones through R&D and lifecycle analysis.

Lithium-ion batteries, nuclear and renewable electricity will not be enough to decarbonize the entire U.S. economy. Other solutions, such as zero-carbon and sustainable liquid fuels, will be needed for hard-to-electrify transportation sectors — including long-haul trucking, aviation and marine — and high-volume chemicals and materials manufacturing. These new fuels must be drop-in solutions wherever possible, offering opportunities to optimize the fuels for their end-use applications with existing fuels infrastructure and technologies.

Argonne has active R&D programs in hydrogen, low-carbon sustainable liquid fuels with high energy densities, and the sustainable conversion of biomass and waste feedstocks to fuels.

Our R&D advances the U.S. Department of Energy’s vision to produce, store, transport, and use clean, carbon-free, and affordable hydrogen, as embodied by the agency’s H2@Scale initiative — for which Argonne leads analysis efforts — and the first Energy Earthshot. Argonne’s H2@Scale studies evaluate the growth potential in U.S. hydrogen demand by examining current and emerging end uses and technologies in several areas: synthetic fuels, biofuels, hydrogen injection in natural gas pipelines, metals manufacturing and direct use in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. These efforts identify synergistic regional opportunities in the United States for production and use of hydrogen to decarbonize end-use applications.

The energy density required for aviation and marine propulsion is several times what is possible today with lithium-ion batteries. Argonne is performing lifecycle analysis and techno-economic analysis to inform the development of liquid and low-carbon fuels with high energy densities for these applications.

Argonne researchers created a lifecycle analysis module in its GREET LCA model for evaluating the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions from a variety of sustainable aviation fuels. Using that methodology, they concluded that a number of potential sustainable fuels can yield significant lifecycle emissions reductions compared to jet fuel derived from petroleum. The lifecycle analysis methodology and its results have been included in the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation program of the International Civil Aviation Organization.

In another study, focused on marine shipping, Argonne researchers scoped the barriers, uncertainties and possibilities for the transition to alternative fuels. Synthesis of these results provides strategic decision support, technical direction and a set of R&D priorities for maritime stakeholders and the scientific community.

Argonne is also active in advancing waste-to-energy technologies, including the production of biogas from food waste.