This news feature:
A small company in the north of England has developed the “air capture” technology to create synthetic petrol using only air and electricity.
Experts tonight hailed the astonishing breakthrough as a potential “game-changer” in the battle against climate change and a saviour for the world’s energy crisis.
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”.
caught my eye for a number of reasons. The first, obviously, is that anything that sounds too good to be true probably is. Is this a hoax? Could be. A web site and a press release do not a breakthrough make. I actually think it’s something even simpler—misdirection.
The first question that leapt to my mind when I read the article was “how much does it cost?” It’s possible that free fuel distilled from the air is more expensive than the stuff refined from petroleum. Then there were a few words that caught my attention: electrolysing, dehumidifier, passed, gasoline fuel reactor. Not only do each of those require energy but in all likelihood more energy is used in the production process than can be produced by the fuel that’s the end product.
So, not only is this air capture technology likely to be more expensive than the petroleum-based product it’s replacing, it may not be any more “green” than the product it’s replacing. There’s no way to tell from the article itself. It’s completely dependent on the energy sources that are used.
File this one under “geoengineering”. If electricity gets cheap enough and is produced cleanly enough, air capture and conversion to usable fuel might be a good use for carbon dioxide scrubbed out of the atmosphere. Otherwise, maybe not so much.