Green Technology Spotlight: Gas Up With CO2

Engineers may have found a way to both produce fuel for vehicles and remove carbon from the atmosphere at the same time.

Researchers at UK-based Air Fuel Synthesis, Ltd. believe they’ve found a "real, sustainable alternative to fossil fuels," using a simple technology that dates back to World War II.

The synthetic fuel works in all current vehicles – no changes to infrastructure are needed.

"We haven’t broken the Second Law of Thermodynamics or anything," Graham Truscott of Air Fuel Synthesis told Raw Story. "We take carbon, we combine it with hydrogen, put it in a reactor to make methanol, then we take the methanol and put that in another reactor to make petrol. The processes of making synthetic petrol from carbon are well known and have been around for many, many years. The Germans were doing it during the Second World War. The South Africans were doing it during the apartheid years. But they were taking their carbon source from coal. We’re taking our carbon source from the atmosphere."

Other companies are working on related technologies, but Air Fuel is the first to actually capture carbon from the atmosphere and turn it into fuel.

They plan to use renewable energy to power the production process – their first plant should be operating in about two years.

Here’s how the process works:

  • Air is blown into a tower that contains a mist of sodium hydroxide which reacts with the carbon dioxide in the air, forming sodium carbonate. Electricity is then passed through the sodium carbonate to release the carbon dioxide, which is stored.
  • A dehumidifier in the tower condenses water from the air. The water is then split into hydrogen and oxygen using an electric current.
  • The carbon dioxide and hydrogen are reacted together to create Syngas, which is then processed to form methanol.
  • The methanol is passed through a gasoline fuel reactor, creating petrol.

"Air capture technology ultimately has the potential to become a game-changer in our quest to avoid dangerous climate change," says Dr. Tim Fox, Head of Energy & Environment for  the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. "What was just a smart idea in the minds of a handful of academics a few years ago is now a proven, engineered method for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and making a useful product. The beauty of petrol from air is that you are effectively recycling CO2 and avoiding further transport emissions."

"What we need now is the financial and political support to help turn this revolutionary demonstration into a large-scale industrial solution that could make sustainable products, remove and store CO2 from point sources or the atmosphere and set the international carbon price to drive innovation across all clean technologies."

The first conference completely focused on air capture was held in October in London.

Here’s Air Fuel’s website:

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