British Engineers Make Petrol out of Thin Air

on Oct 19, 2012

On 19 October 2012, The Independent reported that the small British company Air Fuel Synthesis had produced the “petrol from air” using a revolutionary technology which could prove key in solving the energy crisis and curbing carbon emissions. Although the process is still in its early stages of development, the company hopes to build a commercial scale plant within two years.

**The Petrol-from-Air Technology**
The small British company Air Fuel Synthesis in Stockton-on-Tees in the north of England has produced five litres of petrol since August by means of an “air capture” technology which creates synthetic petrol by using only air and energy.
The Telegraph reports that the petrol-from-air technology which was presented at a conference at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) in London, involves taking sodium hydroxide and mixing it with carbon dioxide. The sodium carbonate thus produced is electrolysed to form pure carbon dioxide. Hydrogen is then produced by electrolysing water vapour captured with a dehumidifier. The hydrogen and carbon dioxide are used to produce methanol which is passed through a gasoline fuel reactor, creating petrol.

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“We’ve taken carbon dioxide from air and hydrogen from water and turned these elements into petrol,” said Peter Harrison, CEO of Air Fuel Synthesis. “It looks and smells like petrol but it is much cleaner and we don’t have any nasty bits,” Mr Harrison pointed out, as quoted by The Telegraph.
**Green Economy Dream Come True**
!m[The Technology Potential “Game-Changer” In The Climate Change And Energy Crisis Battles](/uploads/story/605/thumbs/pic1_inline.png)The £1.1 million project, which has been developed for the past two years, is funded by a group of unnamed philanthropists believing that the revolutionary technology could be a lucrative way of creating renewable energy. In addition, the technology is reported to remove carbon dioxide from the air, helping in the battle against global warming.

“It sounds too good to be true, but it is true”, notes Dr Tim Fox, head of energy and the environment at the IMechE, as quoted by The Independent. “They are doing it and I’ve been up there myself and seen it.” Dr Fox also points out that while the technology employs well-known and well-established components, “they have put the whole thing together and shown that it can work.”

The Telegraph quotes IMechE’s chief executive as saying that the breakthrough has the potential to become a “great British success story” opening up an opportunity for reducing carbon emissions. “It also has the potential to reduce our exposure to an increasingly volatile global energy market.” Dr Fox in turn noted that the technology could “become a game-changer in our quest to avoid dangerous climate change.”

**Commercial Scale**
Despite all the hype, the process is still in the early development stages, with The Independent reporting that although the prototype system is designed to extract carbon dioxide from the air, this part of the process is still too inefficient for commercial-scale operation.
Air Fuel Synthesis, however, hopes that in two years it will be able to build a commercial-scale plant capable of producing a tonne of petrol a day. In addition, the company believes that it will be able to use energy from renewable sources such as wind farms to power the technology which needs electricity from the grid to work.
Mr Harrison believes that in the shorter term the technology is suitable for remote communities with abundant renewable energy sources, but technology issues with storing the electricity. “We’re talking to a number of island communities around the world and other niche markets to help solve their energy problems,” he notes as quoted by The Independent.
In terms of viable commercial production on a larger scale there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered. When or if the process and amount of energy required to produce the fuel will be efficient enough to make it a commercially viable energy source is unclear. Nevertheless, the company has high hopes that with time and further development of the technology costs will be able to be massively reduced. At some point, with the cost of fossil fuels likely to continue rising, the company is banking on the crossover on viability occurring. It is undoubtedly a very interesting progression and certainly one to keep an eye on.


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