Engineers Claim To Be Able To Make Petrol From Air

Hidden away in sleepy northern England is an engineering company with a radical idea: it claims to be able to make petrol, to run your car, out of air. Is this the solution to the global fuel crisis, or wild hyperbole?

The company, called Air Fuel Synthesis, revealed its research at a London-based engineering conference this week, claiming that not only can it make gas from air, but that it actually removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, too. It sounds miraculous.

So, how do they claim to be able to do it? First, apparently, they take sodium hydroxide and mix it with carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. That produces sodium carbonate, which can then be electrolysed to form purer carbon dioxide. The CO2 is then combined with hydrogen -- produced by electrolysing water vapour captured with a dehumidifier -- to produce methanol. Finally, that methanol is passed through a gasoline fuel reactor -- which uses some nifty organic chemistry once developed by Mobil -- to create... petrol!

Admittedly, not a lot of gas, but gas nonetheless. The company has been running what it refers to as a "small refinery" for three months and produced... five litres. Solving the global fuel crisis, it is not.

At least not yet, anyway. The company claims to have plans which include building a large plant in the coming decade which could, in theory, produce more than a tonne of gas every day. That sounds like a bold, hypothetical claim though. So what do the experts think? Speaking to the Independent, Tim Fox, head of energy and the environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, explained:

"It sounds too good to be true, but it is true. They are doing it and I've been up there myself and seen it. The innovation is that they have made it happen as a process. It's a small pilot plant capturing air and extracting CO2 from it based on well known principles. 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."

Yowzers. The obvious stumbling block, though, looks set to be cost, and Air Fuel Synthesis makes a point of not releasing estimates of projected pricing yet. If the team can overcome the initial hurdles that every technology faces, though, it looks like your car may someday run on thin air after all. [Telegraph, Independent ]

Image: Kevin May under Creative Commons license

WATCH MORE: Science & Health News


    But I wont need petrol because my car will be powered from the ever spinning disc of the Steorn Orbo

    And how much power is required to produce a 1L ?

    Even if they could, are they really think world's trillionaire going to leave them alone?

    Seems to me that even though it might remove C02 from the atmosphere, it's just going to put it right back when the fuel is combusted. I really think this is a bit of a 'Red Herring', we should be concentrating on getting rid of petrol not sustaining it!!

      Considering plants need CO2 to undergo the photosynthesis process and produce oxygen and that this process also requires CO2 to produce the fuel, putting it back into the air may not be such a bad thing...

        Are you seriously comparing the combustion of petrol with the natural process of photosyntheses.?

          if the CO2 being taken from the air and then put back into the air it makes this process virtually carbon neutral, rainmeetparade wasnt comparing anything, just making a point that some CO2 is a good thing. use your brain a bit before attacking other peoples comments.

            Until you see the numbers there is no comparison. A system that is designed to make petrol can never be as green as using solar or wind etc. Also there is no information in this article that says it is carbon neutral and considering it uses external power to produce it most probably is not! So in effect, get your information right before mouthing off..!!

              Way to sound like an angry hippie. This process sounds more like waste reclamation than anything else. Chill out and enjoy new technology.

      Why should be get rid of petrol? We already use petrol engines, in fact we have millions of them. If we were to abolish petrol, we would have to scrap these engines and buy all new ones. That's a new car, a new lawnmower, a new motorcycle, a new generator... Right there is far more waste you are creating far more waste and pollution from new manufacturing.

      This proposal has merit because it is utilizing existing machinery and delivery infrastructure, while taking the process closer to 'net-zero' carbon. The carbon that is emitted is captured again to make more fuel.

      By the way, props to Arthur C Clarke who saw the future of carbon capturing machines (In the RAMA series iirc). In his future they had to burn more carbon fuels to keep the supply of atmospheric CO2 up!

        It is pointless to create a new source of combustible energy. There is more than enough available to get us to the point where we can gradually wean ourselves of it.

    I'd like to know why they chose air as a feedstock and not a much richer source of CO2 like a smoke stack.

    But how much energy does this use? And where does that energy come from?

      Exactly. I see a lot of electrolysis in that process and that's just a summary!

      Having said that, one of the biggest challenges with making solar a useful large-scale energy tech is energy storage. If this process can be used on-site, then you can have your huge solar-thermal or solar-PV fields out in the desert producing liquid fuel for transportation. Granted, it doesn't solve any of our baseload electricity problems, but liquid fuel for transport is a major hurdle too.

Join the discussion!