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Bentley engineering boss hints at plan to develop synthetic fuels

Bentley engineering boss Matthias Rabe has hinted that the British marque could follow its Volkswagen Group sibling Porsche in developing synthetic fuels to preserve its ICE car offering. 

Speaking ahead of the brand’s annual results conference, Rabe said: “We’re looking more at sustainable fuels, either synthetic or bio-gen. We think the combustion engine will be around for a long time yet, and if that’s the case, then we think there can be a significant environmental advantage from synthetic fuels. We will have more to say on this in time, but we’re positive about this technology.

“We absolutely believe in e-fuels as a further step beside electromobility. We will probably tell you more details on this. Right now the costs are high and we will have to install some processes, but in the long-term, why not?”

His comments come just a few days after Porsche research-and-development boss Michael Steiner suggested that the use of e-fuels could allow the firm to continue selling ICE cars for several years to come, perhaps even after 2030 in the UK. 

Porsche has partnered with technology giant Siemens to build an e-fuels production facility in Chile and will begin physical trials of the technology next year. The firm has previously said the 911 will be the last of its models to go electric and that it’s investigating means of preserving the lifespan of its venerable flat-six petrol engine. 

There has been no indication that Bentley is planning to invest in Porsche’s and Siemens’ Haru Oni project, but company chairman Adrian Hallmark confirmed to Autocar last year that it will launch a number of new and updated ICE cars in the run-up to going all-electric in 2030. 

Hallmark agreed with Rabe, but with the caveat that e-fuels aren’t an immediate and all-encompassing solution: “Today we need about five trillion barrels of oil a day, so replacing that with e-fuels won’t be possible,” he said.

“But as EV uptake rises, to further reduce the impact of cars that need liquid fuels, it can be a parallel exercise, and we can be involved in that journey too. It won’t replace battery electric vehicles, but it can extend the life of combustion-engined cars in a more sustainable way.”

This latest hint from Bentley isn’t the first time that it has expressed an interest in synthetic fuels. In 2019, Rabe’s predecessor, Werner Tietz, told Autocar: “We’re looking at several concepts, but it’s by no means certain that battery-electric is the right way to go. 

“One point we see is that some cars in our line-up – the Bentayga, for instance – are used for towing horseboxes and boats. With the current EV technology, that wouldn’t work.”

In light of this incompatibility between current EV technology and the brand’s heavy, performance-focused luxury cars, Tietz said: “That’s why we’re also evaluating fuel cell technology constantly, even if it is probably 10 years away from reaching a point it can be practical, and also seeing what possibilities there are with the development of synthetic fuel.”

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