A small company in the north of England has developed the “air capture” technology to create synthetic petrol using only air and electricity. Experts last night hailed the astonishing breakthrough as a potential “game-changer” in the battle against climate change and a saviour for the world’s energy crisis.
The technology, presented to a London engineering conference this week, removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The “petrol from air” technology involves taking sodium hydroxide and mixing it with carbon dioxide before "electrolysing" the sodium carbonate that it produces to form pure carbon dioxide. Hydrogen is then produced by electrolysing water vapour captured with a dehumidifier.
The company, Air Fuel Syndication, then uses the carbon dioxide and hydrogen to produce methanol which in turn is passed through a gasoline fuel reactor, creating petrol.
Company officials say they had produced five litres of petrol in less than three months from a small refinery in Stockton-on-Tees, Teesside.
The fuel that is produced can be used in any regular petrol tank and, if renewable energy is used to provide the electricity it could become “completely carbon neutral”.
The £1.1m project, in development for the past two years, is being funded by a group of unnamed philanthropists who believe the technology could prove to be a lucrative way of creating renewable energy.
While the technology has the backing of Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers, it has yet to capture the interest of major oil companies.
But company executives hope to build a large plant, which could produce more than a tonne of petrol every day, within two years and a refinery size operation within the next 15 years.
Tonight 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.
“It also has the potential to reduce our exposure to an increasingly volatile global energy market.
“The potential to provide a variety of sustainable fuels for today’s vehicles and infrastructure is especially exciting.”
Dr Tim Fox, the organisation's head of energy and environment, added: “Air capture technology ultimately has the potential to become a game-changer in our quest to avoid dangerous climate change.”
Peter Harrison, the company’s 58 year-old chief executive, told The Daily Telegraph that he was “excited” about the technology’s potential, which “uses renewable energy in a slightly different way”.
“People do find it unusual when I tell them what we are working on and realise what it means,” said Mr Harrison, a civil engineer from Darlington, Co Durham.
“It is an opportunity for a technology to make an impact on climate change and make an impact on the energy crisis facing this country and the world.
"It looks and smells like petrol but it is much cleaner and we don't have any nasty bits."