Amazon will start testing ultra-low carbon electrofuels for deliveries in 2023

It's partnering with Infinium and will start the tests in Southern California.

PATRICK T. FALLON via Getty Images

Amazon is partnering with Infinium to test the use of so-called electrofuels (e-fuels) in its middle-mile diesel fleet, it announced. The company invested in Infinium last year as part of its goal to reach net-zero carbon by 2040. "We’ve been developing this technology for the better part of a decade, and we expect our electrofuels to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by approximately 95 percent over traditional fossil fuel," said Infinium CEO Robert Schuetzle in a statement.

As part of this, Infinium plans to build one of the first-ever electrofuel production facilities in Texas, using renewable-generated hydrogen and around 18,000 tons of recycled carbon waste per year.

A quarter of greenhouse gas emissions are created by the transportation industry, Amazon notes. Infinium's e-fuels supposedly help combat that by combining green hydrogen (from electrolysis) with captured CO2 that would otherwise be emitted by industrial plants. The CO2 and hydrogen are combined into "syngas," which is then converted to liquid fuels via catalysts. The resulting "drop-in" fuel can be used directly in existing, unmodified diesel vans.

Infinium Amazon electrofuels for delivery vans

The vans still emit carbon emissions, but those would have been produced anyway by the industrial plants, so it's supposedly a net-zero operation. The electrofuels are about twice as expensive as traditional fuels, Infinium has explained.

There are clearly some issues that come to mind — the first being that the renewable power used to create hydrogen would be put to much better use in battery-electric vehicles. And neither Amazon nor Infinium explained where they got the 95 percent reduction figure, so I'd take that with a large grain of salt. Finally, despite the 2040 net-zero pledge, Amazon's emissions increased dramatically last year — and that's likely a drastic undercount.

Still, it could serve as an intermediate step. Infinium has previously noted that Amazon will "need liquid fuels for a long time" for ground, marine and air travel. Amazon is also taking other measures, like using green hydrogen (rather than grey hydrogen derived from fossil fuels or other fossil fuels) to power 30,000 forklifts and 800 heavy-duty trucks. It's also investing in companies that develop more efficient hydrogen electrolyzers and has ordered 100,000 electric delivery vehicles from Rivian.