British engineers create petrol out of thin air

A British firm has become the first in the world to demonstrate CO2 air capture technology as a viable industrial project.

Air Fuel Synthesis (AFS), based in Stockton-On-Tees, is creating synthetic petrol using only air and electricity. 

The technology, which has been developed over the last few years, will be discussed at a conference at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers' (IME) headquarters tomorrow.

The fuel created can be used in any regular petrol tank and, if renewable energy is used to provide the electricity, the process and end product are carbon neutral.

Pioneered by AFS, the process involves air being blown into a tower containing sodium hydroxide which reacts with carbon dioxide in the air, forming sodium carbonate. Electricity is then used to release the carbon dioxide, which is stored.

A dehumidifier is then used to condense water. The water is split into hydrogen and oxygen and the hydrogen is reacted with the carbon dioxide to create Syngas. This is processed to form methanol which is subsequently turned into petrol.

The fuel can either be used as replacement fuel for existing vehicles or can be used to store intermittent 'wrong-time' or stranded 'wrong-place' energy from renewable sources.

The IME claims that this fuel has advantage over biofuels when blended with conventional petrol and point to the motorsport's interest into the technology.

AFS chairman David Still said:

"We are now ready to build the first commercial Air Fuel Synthesis production plant making carbon-neutral petrol. The technology can add to new or existing renewable energy projects, especially where the energy is stranded; where there is a premium for secure liquid fuels for existing vehicles; or for reducing carbon emissions. Demand for specialist high quality low-carbon fuels in motorsports offers a particularly attractive early niche market for investors."

IME head of energy and environment Dr Tim Fox said the technology had the potential to become "a game-changer".

"The beauty of petrol from air is that you are effectively recycling CO2 and avoiding further transport emissions.

"While the major recent research advances have largely been made in the US and Canada, it is hugely encouraging that it is British engineers and entrepreneurs who are taking air capture technology out of the lab and using it to create a product.

"This is particularly poignant given that so much of the world's fossil fuel-based industrial economy of today has its origins in great British engineering innovation from the North East," he said.

Conor McGlone


biofuels | CO2 | hydrogen | Innovation | transport


Energy efficiency & low-carbon
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