'Air Into Petrol' Achieved, And Why It Still Doesn't Work

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A small British company claims to have done it, and hopes to use similar processes to produce aviation fuel, but there are still some reasons we probably won't be creating vast quantities of fuel from air anytime soon. Since August, the systems and processes developed by Air Fuel Synthesis in Stockton-on-Tees has produced "five litres of petrol" from carbon dioxide and water vapor, the Independent.co.uk reported Friday. The company reportedly says it hopes to within two years build a commercial-scale plant that will turn out one ton of petrol per day from the conversion. Researchers have long been aware of the science behind the processes -- and the inefficiencies and costs that likely explain why no one other than Air Fuel Synthesis is attempting it now.

The chemistry of the transformation requires a still-complicated series of steps and the use of enough electricity to make other methods of energy production, by comparison, significantly more efficient and cost-effective. A Forbes article that addressed the process characterized the inefficiencies as "grotesque" suggesting it would be far cheaper to use the electricity to power electric cars or even "to electrolyse water to run fuel cells in cars." Proponents of the technology recognize the costs inherent in process-essential steps like carbon capture but expect that the prices will fall as the technology develops. Contacted for comment by The Independent, Columbia University professor Klaus Lackner noted, "the cost of a light bulb has fallen 7,000-fold during the past century." Air Fuel Synthesis may need similar advances before its processes become commercially viable.