Written by Philip Proefrock on 24/10/12
An English company called Air Fuel Synthesis has begun producing gasoline (petrol) directly from air and water. Using carbon capture technology to sequester CO2 out of the atmosphere, and electrolysis to crack water into its constuituent hydrogen and oxygen, the company's process then combines the hydrogen and carbon dioxide to create synthetic gasoline or other fuels.
To be carbon emissions neutral, any carbon that is going to be burned as fuel ought to have come from the atmosphere, rather than from fossil sources buried in the ground. That is why plant-based and microbial methods of producing fuel are considered relatively clean, since the carbon in them was atmospheric. This process short circuits that even further by directly extracting the CO2 from the air and synthetically creating the gasoline replacement.
In addition to the direct atmospheric carbon extraction, the process also uses renewable energy to power the electrolysis process, so that the carbon debt is not merely transferred. Although the feedstock is free, the other costs of the process are likely too high for this to be an immediate replacement for oil drilling and refining, at least in the short term. And the process has only been able to produce a small amount of fuel in its test facility, yielding just five liters (less than 1.5 gallons) in two months. But cost and capacity are issues that can be improved as the method is developed and scaled up.
This adds to the number of non-petroleum processes being developed for fuel production we have seen. It seems less a question of whether these methods will work than it is one of which ones will reach commercial scale, and how soon that happens.