Company Says It Can Make Fuel out of Thin Air

Air Fuel Synthesis, a small British company, has found a way to combine basic elements from air and water into usable fuel.

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Check your calendar: it’s not April 1. A small British company has claimed it can create gasoline out of thin air, and it seems to be for real. According the Independent, the company has produced the first batch of “petrol from air” by employing innovative technology that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Since August, England-based Air Fuel Synthesis has created five liters—or about 1.32 gallons—of gasoline by combining carbon dioxide extracted from air with hydrogen from water to form a basic hydrocarbon — the essential ingredient of gasoline, the Independent reported. The company’s chief executive, Peter Harrison, shared the development at a Friday conference at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London.

“It sounds too good to be true, but it is true,” Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, told the Independent. “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.”

Fox said to the newspaper that Air Fuel Synthesis has a small pilot plant that “uses well-known and well-established components” to extract carbon dioxide from air, but it is the first one to “put the whole thing together” to make it work.

The Daily Mail reported that the company mixes air with sodium hydroxide, then electrolyzes the resulting sodium carbonate. This releases carbon dioxide, which is then combined with electrolyzed hydrogen from water to create a hydrocarbon solution that can be used as fuel.

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The process is, of course, still in its early stages and it relies on electricity from the national grid, The Independent noted. Air Fuel Synthesis intends to move to a larger, commercial plant in the coming years, according to the newspaper, and it would like to create eco-friendly aviation fuel. The company said it may be able to forgo electricity in the future and instead rely on renewable power sources, such as wind farms.

Peter Harrison told the Independent he does not know of any other companies that are creating energy in the same way.

“It looks and smells like petrol but it’s a much cleaner and clearer product than petrol derived from fossil oil,” Harrison said to the newspaper. “We don’t have any of the additives and nasty bits found in conventional petrol, and yet our fuel can be used in existing engines.”

He emphasized that the product would require no infrastructural changes to vehicles.

The Independent describes such an innovation as “the holy grail of the emerging green economy,” as it does not emit the polluting greenhouse gases of traditional oil and coal. Harrison said it could revolutionize contemporary environmental and economic landscapes.

“We are converting renewable electricity into a more versatile, useable and storable form of energy, namely liquid transport fuels,” Harrison told the Independent. “We think that by the end of 2014, provided we can get the funding going, we can be producing petrol using renewable energy and doing it on a commercial basis.”

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Harrison said his company’s new petroleum product could soon prove helpful to remote or island communities that have renewable electricity sources—such as solar and wind energy—but do not have a way to store it. Right now, however, the prototype system remains too inefficient to operate on a large scale, the Independent noted. According to the Daily Mail, price is also an issue, as the extraction of one ton of carbon monoxide can currently cost as much as $650.

Still, technology expenses are expected to decrease significantly, and the Daily Mail said experts have praised the Air Fuel Synthesis breakthrough as a possible “game changer.”

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