By Asha Kreiling
With gas prices fluctuating continuously upwards and climate change fears perpetually looming, it’s hard not to anxiously anticipate alternative energy and clean fuel to lessen our stresses. We’ve all heard about solar and wind energy. Then there’s algae fuel and hydrogen power. But, what about just plain air and water?
A small engineering company called Air Fuel Synthesis (AFS) in northern England has developed technology for manufacturing fuel from carbon dioxide and hydrogen. The process involves “air capture,” which extracts carbon dioxide from air, and hydrogen from water vapor. Then AFS engineers combine the two to create methanol, which is converted into petrol.
The process of creating synthetic petrol from carbon is not a new discovery. A spokesperson for the company explained how Germans and South Africans used the same process decades ago. What is revolutionary about AFS’s project is that the engineers are removing carbon dioxide, the most notorious greenhouse gas (not coal), from the atmosphere to produce fuel. Thus, this technology has potential not only to produce clean, renewable energy, but also to help curb climate change as well.
Like all alternative energies, though, some input energy is required to power the process of creating a liquid fuel output. Some scientists question whether this technology is efficient since it entails using energy to manufacture energy. Engineers at AFS say that, with adequate funding, the company can use renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar, to power their operations in a carbon-neutral manner. In addition, liquid petrol is easier to store and transport than other energies like natural gas and surplus wind and solar energy, making it a viable option for powering cars and airplanes.
Also, unlike other alternative fuels such as hydrogen or ethanol, in order to use this synthetic petrol no alterations to vehicles or fuel transportation are needed. No engine conversions, hydrogen tanks or separate pipe lines are required, so existing infrastructure can be used.
Since they started in August, AFS has produced about 5 liters of synthetic petrol over a period of 3 months. The nascent project began 2 years ago with an investment of 1 million pounds (1.6 million U.S. dollars). Now AFS is working to secure funding for larger production facilities to make air capture more efficient and economical. The company plans to have industrial scale plants by 2015.
For now, the project remains in its early stages of development, but it is an exciting and promising alternative to the dirty energy that dominates the market today.
Watch this short video about the project: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-20003704