Air fuel synthesis: A claim to create gasoline

Promises, promises: Engineers have found a way to synthesise everyday vehicle fuel from air and water, in a revolutionary breakthrough.

Making petrol out of fresh air? – Features – Al Jazeera English.

A small company working in two converted shipping containers says it has found a way to make petrol from fresh air and water. Air Fuel Synthesis Chief Executive Peter Harrison says the process could help curb climate change by providing a cleaner alternative to oil.

“We’ve taken carbon dioxide from air and hydrogen from water and turned these elements into petrol,” he told Al Jazeera. “For a country like the UK it means we could create all the fuel you want from renewable energy.”

The 58-year-old civil engineer, who used to work in the offshore oil industry, describes it as an amazing project to be involved with.

Harrison explained that they use a 30 foot tower on top of their first container to capture CO2 from the air. The process of separation involves combining the air with sodium hydroxide and passing it through an electrolyser.

A similar method is used to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The CO2 and hydrogen are then synthesised to make methanol, and eventually petrol.

The first question remains to be answered: Does it really work? The second question then is how feasible is it? Because it apparently costs a lot in terms of not only building the plant but the electricity that must be used. How do you most cheaply generate electricity these days? Fossil fuels. So, I can’t see this as hugely promising right now but is it a start? Is it part of the solution? Comments welcome. References appreciated.

  5 comments for “Air fuel synthesis: A claim to create gasoline

  1. Fergus Gallagher
    January 13, 2013 at 1:34 PM

    It does indeed work. But as you say it’s the efficiency that’s the issue.

    However, it seem a pretty good use as a store for excess electricity from “green” energy source such as wind and tidal power – energy that might otherwise go to waste.

    Imagine, say, a “petrol factory” using wind power at Cape Horn.

  2. Randy
    January 13, 2013 at 11:55 PM

    “create all the fuel you want from renewable energy”

    Why not just use the energy? Is the conversion to fuel better than storage in batteries?

  3. One Eyed Jack
    January 14, 2013 at 3:49 AM

    “Why not just use the energy?”

    This. So much this.

    We are so petroleum fixated that most people miss the point entirely. All you are doing is storing energy chemically. You have to get that energy from somewhere, so just use the energy without converting it to petroleum. Not only do you lose efficiency in the conversion to petroleum, but good internal combustion engines are only about 25% efficient.

    If you have a way to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen efficiently, then you should be using that hydrogen in fuel cells –up to 3X as efficient as combustion engines and the only emission water..

    • Richard Cornford
      January 14, 2013 at 7:23 AM

      Last time this came up I was going to mention a case for retaining liquid hydrocarbon fuels/internal combustion engines in (for want of a better term) “grubby” industries such as mining/quarrying, forestry and probably most agriculture. I can imagine what will be needed of the ‘coupler’ that will be required to safely transfer liquid (or high pressure gas) hydrogen into a road vehicle and I cannot see it being happy with being exposed to much mud, rock dust or even water. That should be a manageable issue in an urban/road-side context, but not so much in a remote, mountain side, logging operation in the drizzle, or a stone quarry in a gale.

      The safety and contamination issues of transferring liquid hydrocarbon fuel into vehicles/equipment in adverse conditions are known and not too arduous, plus liquid hydrocarbon fuels are relatively safe and simple to store, transport and distribute in those conditions, and the necessary equipment relatively easy to maintain (by the people available to do that).

      Even if hydrogen powered road vehicles become the norm there may well still be a place for liquid hydrocarbon fuels, and so possibly a place for synthesised liquid hydrocarbons.

  4. One Eyed Jack
    January 14, 2013 at 7:59 AM

    ” I can imagine what will be needed of the ‘coupler’ that will be required to safely transfer liquid (or high pressure gas) hydrogen into a road vehicle and I cannot see it being happy with being exposed to much mud, rock dust or even water.”

    We already have vehicles that run on LP gas. My father was converting his trucks to LP 40 years ago in our garage and the first truck I ever owned ran on LP gas. Many municipal fleets run on LP. Re-fueling isn’t much more involved than hand tightening one coupling.

    Using hydrogen would be no different except that it doesn’t liquify easily like LP gas. This limits the tank capacity of a vehicle, but much of this can be offset with higher efficiencies. The real problem is that we don’t have a hydrogen infrastructure to support it, and we have already have a huge investment in existing petroleum infrastructure.

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