A firm from Stockton-on-Tees, UK, has succeeded in synthesising gasoline from water, and carbon dioxide (CO2) extract from the air. Air Fuel Synthesis Ltd (AFS) was founded in 2009 to create carbon-neutral liquid fuels from renewable energy sources.
The plant uses a CO2 capture unit with a methanol reactor and gasoline refining system. Air is blown into a sodium hydroxide mist, generating sodium carbonate. A condenser collects water from the same air. Then to make methanol (CH3OH), hydrogen is generated by electrolysing the water while the carbon and oxygen come from electrolysing the sodium carbonate. The methanol can then be converted to gasoline.
AFS products include methanol, petroleum, diesel, aviation fuel and raw material for all forms of plastics. AFS synthetic fuels can replace existing fossil oil-based transport fuels without the need to change infrastructure, and they are also net carbon-neutral.
The AFS website states:
“Possible answers to the increasing requirements for sustainable fuels include:
- Hydrogen / fuel cell
- Synthetic fuel from air and renewable electricity (“electrofuels”)
It is likely that all of these responses to the problem of declining fossil fuels are needed, although the sustainable AFS fuels process avoids the disadvantages associated with each of the other three options. There is, for example, no conflict with land use for food or with deforestation (as there can be with biofuels) and there is no need for additional (or even wholesale) replacement of existing infrastructure and vehicles as there is with electric or hydrogen/fuel cell technologies.”
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.”
Last year AFS was successful in a joint venture funding bid in Round 4 of the Regional Growth Fund applications, giving them a total grant value of £2.7m ($4.4m), against a Capital Expenditure of £9.0m over 3 years.
The grant is being used to build a commercial scale Methanol to Petrol processing plant, initially producing 1.2m litres of Bio-Fuel annually. AFS will also install Renewable Energy Generation Technology to provide “green” electricity to the site, so that manufacturing the fuel is truly carbon neutral.
Douglas Stephan, a chemist at the University of Toronto, Canada, also researching fuel production from CO2 describes AFS’s demonstration as “an engineering tour-de-force,” but warns efficiency is the key. “Until a detailed assessment of the energy efficiency is enunciated, I would remain sceptical about this technology,” he says.
Peter Harrison, AFS’s chief executive, says the ultimate goal is to build refinery-sized plants that could compete with oil, but he says they could cost £10 billion and may need serious government aid.
AFS expect to have the plant fully operational and servicing clients from the early part of 2015, but their long-term plan is to produce over 10 million tonnes per year.