Out of Thin Air
by Judy Molland
Create fuel out of thin air? Is that really possible?
Air Fuel Synthesis, a small company located in Stockton-on-Tees, in the north of England, claims they have developed an “air capture” technology allowing them to create synthetic gasoline using only air and electricity.
With the push to lower carbon emissions and our overall carbon footprint, what’s appealing about this technology is that it can produce carbon-neutral gasoline.
The Christian Science Monitor explains how it works:
The process starts by blowing atmospheric air into a tower containing the sodium hydroxide, which binds to the carbon dioxide to form sodium carbonate.
Adding energy to that substance splits out the carbon dioxide specifically, which is then stored for later use.
Next, a dehumidifier removes water vapor from the air, and more energy is added to separate the hydrogen and oxygen molecules.
Mix the hydrogen with the carbon dioxide in the right proportions and you produce a synthetic gaseous hydrocarbon.
That, in turn, can be processed into methanol–which can be further turned into synthetic gasoline.
The resulting gasoline can either be used in vehicles directly or blended with conventionally extracted and refined gasoline.
By clicking here, you can access an interactive diagram that will provide a visual demonstration of how this process works.
According to Air Fuel Synthesis, the resulting fuel can be used in any regular gasoline tank and even better, if renewable energy is used to provide the electricity it could become “completely carbon neutral.”
Company executives hope to build a refinery size operation within the next 15 years.
Well, certainly if that’s true, it’s an amazing breakthrough.
From The Telegraph:
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.
Developing the technology that can have a real impact on climate change while reducing dependence on foreign oil supplies sounds great, but are there any downsides here?
The biggest one seems to be the question of where the energy for this process will come from, since outside energy is needed to facilitate the technology at a few stages.
New Scientist [see below] points out that this will only be truly carbon-neutral gasoline if all that energy comes from renewable sources like solar, wind or water. On the other hand, if the necessary energy comes from burning coal, then the whole process is hardly carbon-neutral.
Indeed, many critics have been skeptical of the technology, questioning how much energy it would take to produce this gasoline.
Stay tuned, while we wait to see if this is truly green gasoline. Can engineers really produce fuel that looks and smells like the real thing, but is much cleaner?
Whatever the answer, this is an exciting prospect!
The big question mark over gasoline from air
by Paul Marks
In a shipping container on a British industrial park, not far from where George Stephenson launched the world's first steam railway in 1825, another transport revolution might be beginning. Every day the machinery inside produces half a litre of purified gasoline. It sounds humdrum until you realise one thing: the only raw material used is air.
Last week, Air Fuel Synthesis (AFS), a company in Stockton, UK, revealed the first successful demonstration of an idea that dates back to the oil crisis of the 1970s: that carbon, hydrogen and oxygen can be plucked from carbon dioxide and water in air to be converted into methanol and then morphed into gasoline.
However, amidst the headlines, some media coverage overlooked the key point: the energy efficiency of the process has yet to be demonstrated. This matters because the technique uses electricity for key stages. It should not require more energy input than is gleaned from burning the fuel it produces.
The big idea is to capture atmospheric CO2 and turn it into fuel so there's no net increase in CO2 from cars and trucks fuelled by such gasoline. As long as the process is powered by renewable electricity sources such as solar, wind or tidal, using the gasoline is carbon neutral.
Snagging carbon dioxide
The AFS plant comprises a CO2 capture unit in one shipping container, with a methanol reactor and miniature gasoline refining system in another. Air is blown into a sodium hydroxide mist, snagging CO2 as sodium carbonate. A condenser collects water from the same air. To make methanol – formula CH3OH – hydrogen is generated by electrolysing the water while the carbon and oxygen come from electrolysing the sodium carbonate. The methanol is then converted to gasoline.
Following tests over the last three months, AFS chief executive Peter Harrison says the demonstrator reliably produces half-a-litre of gasoline a day. Peter Edwards ,an inorganic chemist at the University of Oxford whose team is working with a Saudi firm on similar ideas, is impressed: "I take my hat off to Air Fuel Synthesis. They have taken a concept that has been around for 35 years and gotten the process going."
But Harrison points out the demonstrator, funded with a £1.2 million, two-year investment from private backers, was built to make gasoline, "not to prove its net efficiency or energy balances".
Douglas Stephan, a chemist at the University of Toronto, Canada, also researching fuel production from CO2, describes AFS's demonstrator as "an engineering tour-de-force". But he too warns efficiency is the key. "Until a detailed assessment of the energy efficiency is enunciated, I would remain sceptical about this technology," he says.
Andrew Bocarsly, chief science advisor at Liquid Light Inc, a company in Monmouth Junction, New Jersey, aiming to synthesise chemicals like methanol from CO2, points out that many researchers worldwide have so far failed to find cost-effective and efficient ways to split hydrogen from water.
Going to need a bigger plant
"I do wonder about the cost efficiency of their chemical conversion processes," he says, noting energy is required to back convert carbonate to gaseous CO2, to liberate hydrogen from water, to convert the hydrogen and CO2 to methanol and to transform methanol to gasoline.
AFS says demonstrating efficiency will have to wait for a bigger plant, which will fit into three shipping containers that can be dropped anywhere fuel is needed and produce 1200 litres of gasoline a day. Harrison says motorsport venues, keen to reduce their fossil fuel dependence, and some remote islands have expressed an interest in these £5 million units. "The demonstrator has given us the confidence that this next level of gasoline plant will be efficient enough," says AFS marketing manager Graham Truscott.
Harrison says the ultimate goal is to build refinery-sized plants that could compete with oil – but he says they could cost £10 billion and need serious government aid. That in turn would need serious proof of energy efficiency. Bocarsly adds: "This issue will be the test for commercialisation."
There's one more factor to consider, says Edwards: "The efficiency of this process would also have to be balanced against the cost of alternative measures like burying or dumping CO2 underground."
From http://www.care2.com/causes/amazing-british-engineers-create-gasoline-out-of-thin-air.html#ixzz2AgsLTNGm and http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn22407-the-big-question-mark-over-gasoline-from-air.html
For more information about alternative fuels see http://nexusilluminati.blogspot.com/search/label/alternative%20fuel
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