This article on producing gasoline the air and water caught my eye as I was reading the news at Al Jazeera. Let’s be upfront here people, get your skeptical hats on because the process described seems to be a little short on detail (and verification) at the moment.
“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.”
Limitless hydrocarbon based energy? Tell us more.
“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.
It cost them around $800,000 to build the plant. Since the mini-refinery was switched on in August, they have made 15 litres of fuel that could be used to power any normal car.
Philippa Oldham, head of transport at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, is excited at the breakthrough. “The process of making petrol from air is relatively straightforward and really does work,” she told Al Jazeera.
Of course, there is a downside at the moment.
“The barrier to expansion is that the process uses lots of power. Much more energy is fed into the plant, in the form of electricity, than is extracted from it.
Because of this, Lee Cronin, professor of chemistry at the University of Glasgow, is cautious about its potential.
“The bottom line – making very optimistic assumptions about their efficiency, if this company was to scale up to produce enough gasoline to meet demand in the USA, it would require half the world’s energy consumption every day,” he said. “That is clearly unacceptable.”
Mmmm….good point. There is a counter argument though.
Harrison believes Scotland’s ambitious targets mean there will be plenty of spare power. “There is a lot of renewable energy around at the moment that is wasted,” he said. “What we want to do is to catch all that spare renewable electricity and use it in other forms. Petrol is something that is very useful and easy to store.”
Now doesn’t that just lace things up nicely. One of the problems with renewable energy is how to efficiently store the energy when demand has been met. One could imagine that the excess energy during non peak times could be transferred to into this process, creating gasoline that stores energy very efficiently and is easy to stockpile.
I’d like to see some numbers as to exactly how energy intensive this process is as that will play a deciding role in the viability of this new technology.