19 October 2012

Petrol from Fresh Air?

The Telegraph and the rest of the press is reporting on a small British company that  has developed the “air capture” technology to create synthetic petrol using only air and electricity.

The technology, presented to a London engineering conference this week, removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.  The “petrol from air” technology involves taking sodium hydroxide and mixing it with carbon dioxide before "electrolysing" the sodium carbonate that it produces to form pure carbon dioxide.Hydrogen is then produced by electrolysing water vapour captured with a dehumidifier.The company, Air Fuel Synthesis, then uses the carbon dioxide and hydrogen to produce methanol which in turn is passed through a gasoline fuel reactor, creating petrol.

Company officials say they had produced five litres of petrol in less than three months from a small refinery in Stockton-on-Tees, Teesside.

The fuel that is produced can be used in any regular petrol tank and, if renewable energy is used to provide the electricity it could become “completely carbon neutral”. The £1.1m project, in development for the past two years, is being funded by a group of unnamed philanthropists who believe the technology could prove to be a lucrative way of creating renewable energy.

Company executives hope to build a large plant, which could produce more than a tonne of petrol every day, within two years and a refinery size operation within the next 15 years. 
  Stephen Tetlow, the Institute of Mechanical Engineers chief executive, hailed the breakthrough as “truly groundbreaking....It has the potential to become a great British success story, which opens up a crucial opportunity to reduce carbon emissions,” he said.

Peter Harrison, the company’s 58 year-old chief executive, told The Daily Telegraph that he was “excited” about the technology’s potential, which “uses renewable energy in a slightly different way”.
“People do find it unusual when I tell them what we are working on and realise what it means,” said Mr Harrison, a civil engineer from Darlington, Co Durham.“It is an opportunity for a technology to make an impact on climate change and make an impact on the energy crisis facing this country and the world."

On first reading it sounded too good to be true. I then checked to see if it were April the first again. It certainly is interesting and if it is practicable on a large scale and can be coupled  to renewable energy sources. But is it the answer to the world's fuel needs or ill it remain an interesting concept that will be quietly forgotten?


SnoopyTheGoon said...

Interesting, but the question is how many calories of energy should be invested in producing one calory of energy contained in this fuel.

When we get an answer, we'll know how really lucrative is the process.

Don QuiScottie said...

As an organic chemist I would say (without yet having investigated the details) that it is interesting, BUT we already know how to make petrol and diesel from air and water. We already do it on very large scales by growing plants, which are very good (much better than us) at extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and combining it with water to make chemicals that can be used as fuels, and the power to do that comes free from the sun, rather than expensively along electricity supply lines as in this claimed process. But interesting chemistry nonetheless, which deserves being looked into.

jams o donnell said...

It's interesting but I have no idea whether this will ever be more than a curiosity. It won't be viable unless matched to renewable energy sources.