Within a week we have heard of a cryogenic process turning air into gas and now of a start-up company in Stockton on Tees successfully producing petrol from air in a process attested to by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
The air-to-petrol process is an innovation from Air Fuel Synthesis. It extracts carbon dioxide from air and mixes it with hydrogen extracted from water to make methanol, which will then be refined into other hydrocarbons.
After The Independent published on its success on Friday, the small company is now under bombardment with offers of investment. This will take the process to the next stage of demonstrating commercial implementation.
Interestingly, the team that has developed this process is today refusing pressing offers of investment from oil companies, fearing that the end intention would be acquisition followed by shut down to stop up competition.
The intention is to see petrol, aviation fuel and plastics produced from this clean source of storable renewable energy – which has the huge additional environmental value of recycling our carbon dioxide emissions.
The fuel produced is clean, without additives and can be used in existing engines, avoiding any conversion costs.
Tim Fox, who is Head of Energy and Environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, says: It sounds too good to be true but it is true’, noting that the company is using well known processes and that the innovation has come from ‘making it happen as a process’.
It will be 2014 before they are in a position to demonstrate a trial commercial plant’s production of a tone of petrol a day. In the current development process they have produced 5 litres of methanol since August.
Finding this on the forecourt is some time away – but not that long. This is light at the end of one of the tunnels we face in our struggle to replace oil as a universal energy source; and with something which is less environmentally damaging.
This invention is clearly a game-changer.
Looking down the road a bit, might we reach a stage where city air was cleaner than country air?
Heavily urbanised and industrial areas are the greatest producers of carbon emissions, so they will be the richest locations for the plants producing petrol from carbon dioxide-laden air. We may see a logical juxtaposition of such plants below the flight paths in the near approaches to airports – where the possible downing of a faulty aircraft into the fuel stores at such a plant would become an issue.
Might large cargo ships on long passages carry their own recycling plants?
And will we see battery cattle?
Will this process even be an encouragement to lifestyles that major on producing carbon emissions? Stand by for the return of the CFC [chlorofluorocarbon] sprays we have had to replace by lumpy pump action jobs.