Pioneering British firm produces ‘petrol from air’ in breakthrough that could solve the world’s energy crisis

  • Institution  of Mechanical Engineers hails the process as a potential ‘game changer’ in  battle against climate change
  • Stockton-on-Tees-based Air Fuel Synthesis claims they  can make petrol directly from water and carbon dioxide in the  air
  • Within two  years the company hopes to have a commercial-scale plant capable of producing up  to a ton of fuel a day

By Damien Gayle

PUBLISHED:03:45 EST, 19  October 2012| UPDATED:04:28 EST, 19 October 2012

 

A British firm has produced the first ‘petrol  from air’, it emerged today – in a pioneering scientific breakthrough that could  end mankind’s reliance on declining fossil fuels.

Air Fuel Synthesis in Stockton-on-Tees,  Teesside, claims to have made five litres of petrol since August using a small  refinery that synthesises the fuel from carbon dioxide and water  vapour.

Experts have hailed the incredible  breakthrough as a potential ‘game-changer’ in the battle against climate change  and solution to the globe’s escalating energy crisis.

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An engineer checks on equipment at the Air Fuel Synthesis premises in Stockton-on-Tees: The company claims to have achieved a world first by producing petrol by reacting together carbon dioxide and water vapour

 

An engineer checks on equipment at the Air Fuel  Synthesis premises in Stockton-on-Tees: The company claims to have achieved a  world first by producing petrol by reacting together carbon dioxide and water  vapour

While the company is still developing their  process and still need to take electricity from the national grid, it believes  it will eventually be possible to power the synthesis entirely from renewable  sources.

Within two years it hopes to build a  commercial-scale plant capable of making a ton of petrol a day and expand into  producing green aviation fuel to make airline travel more eco-friendly.

The technology involves mixing air with  sodium hydroxide, then electrolysing the resultant sodium carbonate to release  pure carbon dioxide.

This is then reacted with hydrogen  electrolysed from water to make a hydrocarbon mixture, with the reaction  conditions varied depending on the type of fuel desired.

The fuel that is produced can be made ready  for use in any petrol tank with the addition of the same additives currently  added to fuel.

Alternatively it can be blended directly with  gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel.

Development stage: The company claims to have made five litres of petrol over the past few months, but they hope to move to a commercial-scale plant producing a ton a day within two years

 

Development stage: The company claims to have made five  litres of petrol over the past few months, but they hope to move to a  commercial-scale plant producing a ton a day within two years

This diagram illustrates the pioneering process for creating petrol from water

 

This diagram illustrates the pioneering process for  creating petrol from water

Peter Harrison, the company’s chief  executive, revealed the breakthrough at a conference at the Institution  of  Mechanical Engineers in London this week.

‘We are converting renewable electricity into  a more versatile, usable and  storable form of energy, namely liquid transport  fuels,’ he told the  Independent.

WATER INTO PETROL: THE PROCESS

Air is blown  into a tower filled with a mist of sodium hydroxide solution. The carbon dioxide  in the air reacts with some of the sodium hydroxide to form sodium  carbonate.

This sodium  carbonate is then electrolysed to release the carbon dioxide, which is collected  and stored.

A dehumidifier  condenses water out of the same air passed into the tower, with this condensed  water then passed into an electrolyser where it is split into hydrogen and  oxygen.

The carbon dioxide  and hydrogren are reacted together to make a hydrocarbon mixture, with reaction  conditions varied depending on the kind of fuel required.

The product  can then be mixed with the same additives used in current fuels to ease  starting, burn cleanly and avoid corrosion problems. Otherwise it can be blended  directly with gasoline, diesel and aviation fuel.

‘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.’

Extracting carbon dioxide from air –  effectively removing the principal industrial greenhouse gas from the  atmosphere – has been described as the ‘holy grail’ of the emerging  green  economy.

However, recycling that extracted carbon  dioxide into fuel usable in existing engines has the potential to transform the  world’s environmental and economic landscape.

Mr Harrison said he planned to be producing  petrol on a commercial basis using renewable energy by the end of 2014. Within  the next 15 years the company is aiming for a refinery-scale operation, he  said.

He added: ‘You have the potential to change  the economics of a country if you can make your own fuel.’

AFS already has the backing of the  Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Tim Fox, the Institution’s head of energy  and the environment, said: ‘It sounds too good to be true, but it is  true.’

Mr Fox said AFS’s small pilot plant, which he  had visited, used well-known principles with the innovation being that they have  made it happen as a process.

‘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,’ he added.

While the company claims to have used carbon  dioxide extracted directly from the air in their reaction, it is mainly using  industrial sources of the gas until it is able to improve the performance of  ‘carbon capture.’

As yet the process is considered too  expensive to be commercially viable, with the extraction of one ton of carbon  dioxide costing as much as £400.

Now watch a video by the company explaining their technology

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