In an attempt to combat the ever growing problem of global warming and to solve the energy crisis, a small British company has produced the first “petrol from air” using a revolutionary technology. Air Fuel Synthesis is based in Stockton-on-Tees and so far has produced five litres of petrol since August when it switched on a small refinery that manufactures gasoline from carbon dioxide and water vapour. If it manages to produce gasoline on a large scale, it could very well solve the energy crisis as well as helping to curb global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And indeed, this is exactly what company is hoping to achieve, that within two years it will build a larger, commercial-scale plant capable of producing a ton of petrol a day. It also plans to produce green aviation fuel to make airline travel more carbon-neutral.
Tim Fox, head of energy and the environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, said: “It sounds too good to be true, but it is true. They are doing it and I’ve been up there myself and seen it. The innovation is that they have made it happen as a process. It’s a small pilot plant capturing air and extracting CO2 from it based on well known principles. It uses well-known and well-established components but what is exciting is that they have put the whole thing together and shown that it can work.” The process is still very in the early developmental stages and needs to take electricity from the national grid to work, however, for future production the company believes that it will be possible to use power from renewable sources such as wind farms or tidal barrages. “We’ve taken carbon dioxide from air and hydrogen from water and turned these elements into petrol,” said Peter Harrison, the company’s chief executive, who revealed the breakthrough at a conference at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London. “There’s nobody else doing it in this country or indeed overseas as far as we know. It looks and smells like petrol but it’s a much cleaner and clearer product than petrol derived from fossil oil,” Mr Harrison told The Independent.
“We don’t have any of the additives and nasty bits found in conventional petrol, and yet our fuel can be used in existing engines,” he said. “It means that people could go on to a garage forecourt and put our product into their car without having to install batteries or adapt the vehicle for fuel cells or having hydrogen tanks fitted. It means that the existing infrastructure for transport can be used,” Mr Harrison said. If this new technology goes ahead it could single handedly solve the energy crisis and sort out global warming by effectively removing the principal industrial greenhouse gas resulting from the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal. Using the extracted carbon dioxide to make petrol that can be stored, transported and used as fuel for existing engines takes the idea one step further. It could transform the environmental and economic landscape of Britain, Mr Harrison explained. “We are converting renewable electricity into a more versatile, usable and storable form of energy, namely liquid transport fuels. We think that by the end of 2014, provided we can get the funding going, we can be producing petrol using renewable energy and doing it on a commercial basis,” he said. “We ought to be aiming for a refinery-scale operation within the next 15 years. The issue is making sure the UK is in a good place to be able to set up and establish all the manufacturing processes that this technology requires. You have the potential to change the economics of a country if you can make your own fuel,” he said.
At first, the plan is to produce petrol that can be blended with conventional fuel, which would suit the high-performance fuels needed in motor sports. The technology is also ideal for remote communities that have abundant sources of renewable electricity, such solar energy, wind turbines or wave energy, but little in the way of storing it, Mr Harrison said, “We’re talking to a number of island communities around the world and other niche markets to help solve their energy problems. “You’re in a market place where the only way is up for the price of fossil oil and at some point there will be a crossover where our fuel becomes cheaper,” he said.
The problem lies at the moment with the fact that the prototype system that extracts carbon dioxide from the air is still too inefficient to allow a commercial-scale operation. It is also considered far too costly to be commercially viable as it costs up to £400 for capturing one ton of carbon dioxide. However, Professor Klaus Lackner of Columbia University in New York said that the high costs of any new technology always fall dramatically. “I bought my first CD in the 1980s and it cost $20 but now you can make one for less than 10 cents. The cost of a light bulb has fallen 7,000-fold during the past century,” Professor Lackner said.