Air Fuel Synthesis (AFS), a small firm in Stockton-on-Tees, UK, has succeedin in synthesizing gasoline from water and carbon dioxide (CO2) extracted from air. The Independent reported on Friday that the company has manufactured five liters of gas since August using a small refinery at its demonstrator plant. While that is a small volume to start with, AFS plans larger demonstrations and commercial-scale production. Essentially, the process will allow renewable energy to be converted into usable fuel in a sustainable carbon-neutral process.
Tim Fox, head of energy and the environment for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) in London, told The Independent: “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. 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.”
AFS admits that “For some people, reading some of the more lurid reports perhaps, the process seems just too good to be true.” However, the company insists that “we are serious scientists, engineers and business people” with a process that really works and that can be scaled up to commercial levels of production. Independent engineering analysis has confirmed that “a 1-tonne a day production plant taking carbon from a point source such as a brewery, distillery or aerobic digestor (which can be built within 18-24 months of funding) can be competitive with equivalent specialist fossil fuels and commercially viable.” Not only that, the company says, “an AFS plant will be non-polluting and provide a secure supply of fuel from a containerized unit located wherever required.”
AFS company materials say that its process “captures carbon dioxide and water from the air, electrolyzes the water to make hydrogen, and reacts the carbon dioxide and hydrogen together to make hydrocarbon fuels.” All components of the system are available now as either off-the-shelf components or demonstrations.
Paul Marks, writing for New Scientist, cautions that, in spite of the promise of the new technology, its energy efficiency has yet to be proven. Douglas Stephan, a chemist in Canada who is researching the production of fuel from CO2, tells Marks, “Until a detailed assessment of the energy efficiency is enunciated, I would remain skeptical about this technology.” That apparently isn’t going to be done until AFS has had a chance to build a larger demonstration plant allowing for evaluation of this key question.
Photo and diagram credits: AFS