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On the road with the Audi A3 G-Tron: A journey with gas from wind power

Werner Popp
With the Audi A3 G-Tron through Emsland and Friesland
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D he journey from the The future of the past is a stone's throw away, 120 kilometers only, although the route should also include a detour to the present. Going back to the future would be even faster in a direct way. It would be only 35 kilometers.

Some consider time travel to be impossible. But that's not true. Uninspired people will say that this tour in the Audi A3 Sportback G-Tron only leads from Werlte in Lower Saxony via Twist and Papenburg to Greetsiel and by no means through time. But what do the imaginative know about traveling? And what about a future in which a car like the G-Tron could be almost climate-neutral?

The future

The future at Werlte lies in the midst of agricultural areas a little away from Loruper Straße. It's fenced in and not quite finished yet. It is still being built on her. It doesn't look inviting at first glance, and it smells more than a little.

The system that stands for the future is not a visual attraction, but a technical one. Lots of stainless steel, pressure tanks, mighty electrolysis basins and, next door, huge vats in which land waste is fermenting with biogas. Peter Altmaier, Minister of the Energy Transition, calls the ensemble a 'milestone in the history of automobility'. Audi calls it 'Power-to-Gas', a technology for producing synthetic methane from renewable energies.

Audi uses excess wind power to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen. 'We then combine the hydrogen in a methanation reactor with CO2 that we have washed from biogas. This is how our e-gas is created.' As Dr. Hermann Pengg, one of the engineers, explains the complicated process, it sounds simple, plausible and convincing. The plant in Werlte is expected to produce 1,000 tons of e-gas soon, binding almost three times the amount of carbon dioxide.

If it works on a large scale, it would contribute to a future of individual mobility that is not neutered by sustainability and climate protection, but makes a significant contribution to it. Why hasn't someone done that before? Were we too comfortable? Too carefree? Was the technology missing or the financial incentive to drive it forward? The questions arise because there is nothing in the car itself of the revolutionary that drives it. The Audi A3 G-Tronworks so well, as on the way west, first the flat Oldenburger Münsterland and then the equally flat Emsland pass by. Horses, cows, the smell of it, corn, grain, the wind in the trees and an event only in Meppen: two fat girls in college jackets who cross the street when it is red. The charm of the area is not of the intrusive kind. The way through the area all the more, because it leads straight from the future into the present.

The present

The present nods evenly in a twist and all over the moorland around the municipality on the German-Dutch border. Slowly she lifts her orange heads on long, green necks made of steel, whirring softly and occasionally creaking. The heads, elongated and oval, resemble those of horses. The necks that they raise and lower drive pumps that bring the dark silt under the moor to light from a depth of 300 to 2,000 meters: crude oil.

Since drilling west of the Ems had encountered oil in the early 1940s, the horsehead pumps in the most productive German field after Mittelplate in the North Sea have been producing almost 600,000 tons of crude oil per year. But how long? Ten years, 15? The German reserves do not go any further. And at what price? It still seems to be worthwhile to develop new production sites for Twist, although the costs of a single test borehole - the result is uncertain - should be around 15 to 20 million euros. Audi invested just as much in the e-gas system in Werlte. Altmaier's ministry is contributing six million to further research there. Because Audi is 'about the major challenges of the energy transition'.

While the Audi A3 G-Tron rolls past the pumps, it does not blow more CO2 into the landscape than was previously bound during the production of the artificial natural gas has been. But as beautiful as it thinks, as with a clear conscience you can accelerate, you can't feel it directly either. The level indicator for the two CNG tanks under the trunk of the Audi A3 G-Tron alone tries to make it clear to the driver. The light points in the tachometer are, of course, green.

Perhaps the greatest moment of inertia in moving away from conventional and towards alternative drives lies in the lack of immediacy of the consequences. Would it be easier for us to rethink if the passenger got breathless every time he stepped on the gas, a tree suddenly collapsed next to the car or a dead penguin plopped onto the street in front of the hood?

Between the pumps, the peat continues to be extracted in the bog, it is piled in dark brown heaps and the rotors of wind turbines are turning in the background. Like thick, wildly shaken up feather beds, the clouds hang over it in the wide sky over the Emsland. It is almost hypnotic, tightStanding under the towers, leaning your head back and watching the leaves spin with what force and speed. Like an oversized plastic bag, the wings hiss and rustle and rustle when they cut through the wind. And with every turn they could soon help refuel a g-tron at all CNG pumps. Audi uses a special fuel card to bill for gas consumption and feeds the corresponding amount of e-gas back into the network. The tank, however, is almost full when it goes from the present to the past.

The past

The past is neatly reconstructed and moored in the canals of Papenburg, and when it comes to driving it, it is not that far removed from the future. The wind once pushed Briggs, Schmacken and Schooners like Friederike, Gesine and Catharina in front of it. Or maybe not. Because the wind has always been capricious. 'Always blows as he wants, but rarely as you need it,' says one of the two fur seals on board the museum ship Friederike in front of the Papenburg town hall with a rolling R. He doesn't want to believe that the Audi A3 Sportback G-Tron also runs on wind power. 'Where does he have his sails, please?' Its sails are rotors and they turn, driven by the North Sea wind. 'Then it runs on electricity, or what?' No, either with petrol or with gas, which is generated with green electricity, but is easier to store and transport than this. In this way it can be possible to further emancipate oneself from the vagaries of nature in energy management and to be less of a burden for the environment when traveling around in a moody way.

And because that is so, the new A3 Sportback G Tron along the Ems, take a detour through East Friesland, just like that and almost climate-neutral. At least if it doesn't burn petrol or ordinary CNG, but Audi's e-gas. However, that will only happen in the future. But that is already present in Werlte, even if not yet fully completed.

Audi Power-to-Gas system

At the beginning the wind blows, at the end the G-Tron almost only blows out CO2 that was previously bound. The e-gas system is the world's first power-to-gas system on an industrial scale. Bio electricity separates water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen comes together in a reactor with CO2 that has been washed from raw biogas. The result is methane, as waste water and oxygen. If a natural gas car runs on this type of e-gas, it does emit CO2, but this has previously been bound in the gas production. The system in Werlte is due to go online from September. Annual capacity? Enough gas to fill up 1,500 G-Trons for every 15,000 kilometers.

Travel through time

The route is not a long one. But they doleads through the history of mobility. Audi produces artificial methane in Werlte and hopes to be on the trail of a fuel of the future. Um Twist, the 'Energy Pioneering Route' leads through the moor past the pumps that deliver the raw material for today's energy: crude oil. The way to Papenburg and Greetsiel, lined with wind turbines, leads into the past to historic sailors and old mills.

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