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British Engineers Produce Amazing 'petrol From Air' Technology


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From the Telegraph:

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 Syndication, 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”.

The £1.1m project, in development for the past two years, is being funded by a group of unnamed philanthropists who believe the technology could prove to be a lucrative way of creating renewable energy.

While the technology has the backing of Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers, it has yet to capture the interest of major oil companies.

But company executives hope to build a large plant, which could produce more than a tonne of petrol every day, within two years and a refinery size operation within the next 15 years.

Tonight Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) officials admitted that while the described the technology as being “too good to be true but it is true”, it could prove to be a “game-changer” in the battle against climate change.

Stephen Tetlow, the IMechE chief executive, hailed the breakthrough as “truly groundbreaking”.

“It has the potential to become a great British success story, which opens up a crucial opportunity to reduce carbon emissions,” he said.

“It also has the potential to reduce our exposure to an increasingly volatile global energy market.

“The potential to provide a variety of sustainable fuels for today’s vehicles and infrastructure is especially exciting.”

Dr Tim Fox, the organisation's head of energy and environment, added: “Air capture technology ultimately has the potential to become a game-changer in our quest to avoid dangerous climate change.”

Peter Harrison, the company’s 58 year-old chief executive, told The Daily Telegraph that he was “excited” about the technology’s potential, which “uses renewable energy in a slightly different way”.

“People do find it unusual when I tell them what we are working on and realise what it means,” said Mr Harrison, a civil engineer from Darlington, Co Durham.

“It is 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.

"It looks and smells like petrol but it is much cleaner and we don't have any nasty bits."

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/fuel/9619269/British-engineers-produce-amazing-petrol-from-air-technology.html

Can our resident scientists comment on whether this looks kosher?

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Electricity is required to electrolyse the water vapour? Producing the required electricity is the problem then? I don't see how that is a game-changer. :blink:

you have almost a free nuclear electricity during nights as there is no demand and you paid for the nukes already

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Potentially helps solve the storage problem but if it's less efficient than the alternatives it might be of limited use. Interesting development though.

Plan your journey ahead then...40mpg...therefore 40 miles = 3 month wait.

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Electricity is required to electrolyse the water vapour? Producing the required electricity is the problem then? I don't see how that is a game-changer. :blink:

one thing I will give to lefties - they have decent science journos - telegraph 'science' journalists seem to be temporarily borrowed from the flower-arranging sub-committee

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This is "local news" - various American outfits claim to have done this already. The trouble is that it is usually cheaper to dig your petrol for free out of the ground rather than make it from scratch so the motivation is not there.

We really need a heavy nuke investment. Generation is the issue. There are lots of solutions to storage and distribution, eg we could bury induction cables under the major roads.

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Potentially helps solve the storage problem but if it's less efficient than the alternatives it might be of limited use. Interesting development though.

Yes, would solve the storage problem, mean we could use our existing vehicles and use our existing fuel delivery network (from tanker to pump).

Let's also not forget that petrol doesn't spring magically from the ground next to a filling station - oil has to be extracted (often from a hostile environment), transported - half way round the world in some cases, and refined before it can be used. All these steps require energy.

Any solution that can build on 100 years of engine technology optimisation and avoid having to radically change our infrastructure while removing C02 from the atmosphere has to be worth a gander.

Devil's in the detail though, of course.

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Yes, would solve the storage problem, mean we could use our existing vehicles and use our existing fuel delivery network (from tanker to pump).

Let's also not forget that petrol doesn't spring magically from the ground next to a filling station - oil has to be extracted (often from a hostile environment), transported - half way round the world in some cases, and refined before it can be used. All these steps require energy.

Any solution that can build on 100 years of engine technology optimisation and avoid having to radically change our infrastructure while removing C02 from the atmosphere has to be worth a gander.

Devil's in the detail though, of course.

but the point is, burning it again will put the CO2 BACK in the atmosphere......and plants love it...indeed require it to live.

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but the point is, burning it again will put the CO2 BACK in the atmosphere......and plants love it...indeed require it to live.

Sure but it's not adding more CO2 like burning hydrocarbons would be. You take CO2 out of the air when making the "petrol" and put it back when burning it. It's carbon neutral.

For me the big worry in the paragraph was:

The “petrol from air” technology involves taking sodium hydroxide...

So it's not petrol from air then, it's petrol from air and sodium hydroxide. Wikipedia says we make 60 million tons of that per year globally. How much would be need to make to fuel our cars this way (even ignoring the energy input requirements)? Can we make that much?

I should add I don't know what sodium hydroxide is or where it comes from so if this is a really stupid point please say so.

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That'll be why they are saying it's carbon NEUTRAL then :rolleyes:

I don't think the plants will starve. They seemed to manage for the first 4.5 billions years before we started burning fossil fuels ok. ;)

wont be NEUTRAL till all the energy used to create the stuff produces no carbon.

The thing about oil, is that the energy of the Sun is embedded in it....few other fuels are as cheap to extract and some even take more energy to produce than they finally output.

AND, here is the CLAIM from the Article:

The technology, presented to a London engineering conference this week, removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere

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So it's not petrol from air then, it's petrol from air and sodium hydroxide. Wikipedia says we make 60 million tons of that per year globally. How much would be need to make to fuel our cars this way (even ignoring the energy input requirements)? Can we make that much?

I should add I don't know what sodium hydroxide is or where it comes from so if this is a really stupid point please say so.

Caustic soda or lye. Not a stupid point though, given the disparity in production of NaOH and consumption of fossil fuel, it's plain to see that the current infrastructure wouldn't work.

That said if it were possible to provide fuel security I'm sure they would divert copious amounts of money towards it.

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removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere

So the solution to greenhouse gasses caused by excessive burning of fossil fuels appears to be to use those gasses to create more fossil fuels.

If nothing else at least this should make various Guardian journos heads explode trying to comprehend it :)

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So it's not petrol from air then, it's petrol from air and sodium hydroxide. Wikipedia says we make 60 million tons of that per year globally. How much would be need to make to fuel our cars this way (even ignoring the energy input requirements)? Can we make that much?

I should add I don't know what sodium hydroxide is or where it comes from so if this is a really stupid point please say so.

Not stupid at all, in fact the voice of reason.

Also why the hell would you want to have ar as your source of CO2 (parts per million) - probably so you could get on the government teat for your source of money (or from some other ppeple with money who think they could get on the government teat for it).

Creating a petrol based substitute is totally the wrong direction. The future, one way or another is electrically based land transport, involving batteries for truly mobile transport and line fed for fixed track transport like trains.

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From the Telegraph:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/fuel/9619269/British-engineers-produce-amazing-petrol-from-air-technology.html

Can our resident scientists comment on whether this looks kosher?

Given sufficient electricity, you can synthesise pretty much anything from anything, assuming you have the right atoms.

Long term, this is exactly the sort of technology you'll need to use if you want a liquid fuel - and liquid fuels are useful. The real problem is capturing enough CO2:

1 kg CO2 needs the complete stripping of about 1300 cubic meters of air, giving 272g Carbon, 727g Methanol, and then 320g (~400ml) petrol.

Reversing that, a typical 40 liter fillup needs 130,000 cubic meters of air to be processed, at perfect efficiency.

Energy requirements for:

CO2 + H2O -> CH2(-C) + 1.5O2 come out as 634 kJ/mol (14g) or 1,450,000 kJ for this 40l tank -> 400 kWh

If they can get 5p/kWh, that's £20. (Note: 1 barrel of oil is ~160l, so this is £80/barrel)

HOWEVER, at every stage I'm assumed perfect energy efficiency (and no losses at all for breaking down sodium carbonate). Personally, I'd stop at Methanol synthesis most of the time. And as far as possible use waste streams - paper, wood, plastic, anything with carbon in - as a starting point, so you don't have to capture CO2.

So.. If you have access to a very large amount of very cheap electricity and you can make the whole process highly energy-efficient then it's reasonable. If you want to capture CO2, you do need to figure out a way of efficiently processing a vast amount of air..

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