A company produced the first “petrol from air” using a new technology that is believed to solve the problem of energy crisis and help curb global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Stephen Tetlow, the IMechE chief executive, described 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. It also has the potential to reduce our exposure to an increasingly volatile global energy market,” he said.
Since August Air Fuel Synthesis in Stockton-on-Tees has produced five litres of petrol when it switched on a small refinery that manufactures gasoline from carbon dioxide and water vapour, The Independent reports.
The British company hopes that within two years it will build a huge commercial-scale plant aimed to produce a ton of petrol a day. The creators of the technology also intend to produce green aviation fuel to make airline travel more carbon-neutral.
Tim Fox, head of energy and the environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, said: “It sounds too good to be true, but it is true. They are doing it and I’ve been up there myself and seen it. The innovation is that they have made it happen as a process.”
He continued: “It’s a small pilot plant capturing air and extracting CO2 from it based on well known principles. It uses well-known and well-established components but what is exciting is that they have put the whole thing together and shown that it can work.”
Although the technology is still in the early developmental stages and needs to take electricity from the national grid to work, Fox and his colleagues hope it will eventually be possible to use power from renewable sources such as wind farms or tidal barrages.
“We’ve taken carbon dioxide from air and hydrogen from water and turned these elements into petrol,” said Peter Harrison, the company’s chief executive, who revealed the breakthrough at a conference at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London.
“There’s nobody else doing it in this country or indeed overseas as far as we know. It looks and smells like petrol but it’s a much cleaner and clearer product than petrol derived from fossil oil,” he added.
He went on, saying: “We don’t have any of the additives and nasty bits found in conventional petrol, and yet our fuel can be used in existing engines.”
“It means that people could go on to a garage forecourt and put our product into their car without having to install batteries or adapt the vehicle for fuel cells or having hydrogen tanks fitted. It means that the existing infrastructure for transport can be used.”
However, Professor Klaus Lackner of Columbia University in New York suggested that the high costs of such a technology would possibly fall dramatically.
“I bought my first CD in the 1980s and it cost $20 but now you can make one for less than 10 cents. The cost of a light bulb has fallen 7,000-fold during the past century,” Professor Lackner told reporters.