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U.S. energy company HIF Global, Japan's Eneos to explore cooperation in e-fuels

(Reuters) - Houston-based e-fuel producer HIF Global and Japanese oil refiner Eneos Holdings will explore cooperating on e-fuels production and distribution, the companies said, in HIF's second such deal in the Japanese market.

E-fuels producers such as HIF are betting on e-gasoline as a low-carbon bridge fuel for internal combustion cars, and are also looking to develop similar e-fuels for aviation and other hard-to-electrify industries. Many global airlines, for example, are counting on such products to decarbonize their flights.

HIF intends to supply Eneos with carbon-neutral e-fuels produced in the United States, Chile and Australia, the companies said in a statement. They have not yet signed a contract.

HIF Executive Director Meg Gentle told Reuters the focus of talks was for HIF-made e-gasoline, which Eneos can distribute in Japan.

Also under consideration is using HIF-produced e-methanol in Japan as marine fuel, with Eneos further processing the e-fuel at its refinery in Japan to make e‐gasoline and carbon neutral aviation fuel, Gentle said.

Markets around the world are shifting to electric vehicles, with some such as China making a rapid shift as governments mandate sales of EVs to cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

But existing gasoline-powered vehicles, including hybrids from companies such as Toyota and Ford, will likely be on the road for several decades to come. That requires a different solution to make transport carbon-neutral.

"We need a way to decarbonize existing engines to have any chance of reaching net zero," Gentle said.

Sceptics argue, however, that e-fuels, typically made from captured CO2 emissions and hydrogen produced with renewable energy sources, are expensive and energy-intensive.

Synthetic fuel does release CO2 into the atmosphere when burned, but the emissions can be equal to the CO2 captured to produce the fuel, making it carbon-neutral overall.

HIF signed an almost identical agreement with Idemitsu Kosan in April. The agreements are consistent with Tokyo's willingness to provide policy support for e-fuels, Gentle said, and part of its efforts to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.

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