Fuel out of Thin Air?

It’s not just hot air nor is it  some great Indian Rope trick! Rather it’s a great British Hope trick! Yes, recently a company based in UK (Air Fuel Synthesis) reported a break-through in converting thin air into fuel.  Since it sounds rather bizarre and incredible, I must clear the air.  So let us get into some details.

As you know air contains good amount  of carbon dioxide and some moisture besides , of course, oxygen & nitrogen. Here are the steps to produce fuel:

#1: Pass air containing carbon dioxide through a tower of  Sodium hydroxide solution to make Sodium carbonate. This will release carbon dioxide on electrolysis

#2: Use a dehumidifier to separate water from air

#3: Split water by electrolysis to get Hydrogen

#4: React Carbon dioxide & Hydrogen with a catalyst at a high temperature to produce Methanol

#5: React Methanol in presence of Special Catalysts to produce Gasoline/Diesel etc

All the 5 technologies are well- known & established individually. What is the big deal then? The innovation lies in combining all known technologies in a cost- effective manner to produce fuel.The unresolved question is how does one carry out the critical step#3 to produce hydrogen? Where does one get power to electrolyze and split water? The answer is : use renewable power such as solar or wind power. The entire process is technically viable and the company claims to have produced 5 litres of gasoline in the lab scale.

Apparently the UK company is looking for investors to prove their technology at a scale of  1 ton per day. Potential investors have to find answers to several questions to establish commercial viability. If it works as the company claims, it will solve several problems including Global warming. It can’t be simpler than this. Take Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, convert to fuel and burn the fuel to produce Carbon dioxide back again. What a ‘carbon neutral’ virtuous cycle!

As the price of Crude oil is skyrocketing, Energy is the hot topic of research all over the world. People are talking about energy from municipal & domestic waste , from waste plastics & tyres, bio-masses like cellulose, Algae etc. In such a scenario there are bound to be both real & false claims and it is up to the investors to differentiate the real winners from the false.

Published in: on October 28, 2012 at 2:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

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