New technology pairing air and electricity to create synthetic petrol is set to change the way we source energy and could well prove to be a game-changer in the global battle against climate change.
The “air capture” technology, developed by a small north London firm Air Fuel Syndication (AFS), was presented to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) in London. Despite receiving backing from the Institution, the technology is yet to garner interest from any of the major oil companies.
The technology replicates the natural photosynthetic process at a much faster pace, and combines carbon dioxide with sodium hydroxide to create sodium carbonate, which is then electrolysed to produce pure carbon dioxide.
Water vapour is then electrolysed and hydrogen is captured with a dehumidifier.
The two processes are then combined, with the carbon dioxide and hydrogen producing methanol which is passed through a gasoline fuel reactor to create petrol which can be used in any regular fuel-powered vehicle.
(See a more detailed description of the process here.)
Air Fuel Synthesis claims that the energy efficiency of the process is better than the 30% efficiency of a typical coal-fired power station, adding that this will constantly improve as larger plants are built, and in addition, they have the added advantage of not contributing to carbon-induced global warming.
The £1.1 million project has been in development for the past two years and was funded by a group of anonymous philanthropists, who believed that the company was capable of developing a new technology that would prove to be a lucrative and clean way of creating renewable energy.
The company has claimed to produce roughly five litres of petrol in three months, from a small refinery based in Teesside in the north of England. The company hopes that the facility will act as a precursor to larger commercial scale applications and projects.
(Click here to find out why AFS chose Teesside to host their refinery.)
The executives are hoping to capture enough interest to fund the building of a large plant capable of producing over a tonne of petrol daily from renewable energy by the end of 2014. If successful, the company could increase production of the technology to a refinery sized operation within the next 15 years.
See the BBC take a tour of the AFS refinery and interview AFS CEO Peter Harrison below:
The company also predicts further expansion into the aviation fuel market, producing green aviation fuel – an industry that consumes large amounts of fossil fuel, which has proven to be particularly difficult to substitute – to make air travel more eco-friendly.
Renewable sources such as tidal or wind energy could also be used, providing a clean alternative to fossil fuels, and significantly reducing the CO2 emissions associated with the burning of fossil fuels to the atmosphere. The company is looking to team up with wind farms to capture and store any excess electrical energy using the AFS technology that is unable to be used by the national grid.
AFS’ chief executive, civil engineer Peter Harrison, stated that the technology had to the potential to change the way that renewable energy is used, and described the breakthrough as “an opportunity for a technology to make an impact on climate change and make an impact on the energy crisis facing this country and the world.”
Stephen Tetlow, chief executive of IMechE, described the breakthrough as “truly groundbreaking”, and noted that the technology has the potential to become a “great British success story” which will “open up a crucial opportunity to reduce carbon emissions” and reduce the UK’s exposure to “an increasingly volatile global energy market.”
A summary on Air Fuel Synthesis’ website states that the technology has the potential to create both an economic boost and thousands of jobs. It also claims that with innovations in green technologies paving the way of the future, investment in businesses like AFS will address bigger economic issues of financial stability and sustainable job creation in the UK, while also tackling concerns of energy security and carbon-induced climate change.