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Firm prepares demonstration of hydrocarbon fuels project

A company that claims to be able to produce hydrocarbon fuels from air and electricity is preparing a demonstration project.

Air Fuel Synthesis (AFS) has developed a process it says can capture carbon dioxide and water vapour from the atmosphere and convert them into liquid fuel for use in vehicles.

Once the company has proved the concept, it hopes to commercialise it as a way for companies with vehicle fleets and for communities in remote locations to produce their own fuel using renewable electricity.

The proposed method involves reacting sodium hydroxide with carbon dioxide from the air and electrolysing the resulting sodium carbonate to form pure carbon dioxide. Hydrogen is produced by electrolysing water vapour captured with a dehumidifier.

Tony Marmont, company chairman and a visiting professor at Loughborough University, told The Engineer the hydrogen would then react with the CO2 to produce a hydrocarbon mixture.

‘All the chemists say it won’t [react] but it will,’ he said. ‘All I can say is it will. CO2 is reckoned to be an inert gas but I’m afraid it isn’t.’

Carbon dioxide is known to react with hydrogen at high temperatures and pressures in the presence of a metal catalyst.

AFS says its process only uses around 21.4KWh of electricity to produce one litre of fuel with an energy conversion efficiency of around 45 per cent.

The firm is planning to open a five-litres-a-day pilot plant in Teeside, funded by private investors, before the end of the year. The demonstrator, housed in a 30ft-container, will initially use grid electricity before moving to a site with wind turbines.

‘We are proposing to use renewable energy in a slightly different way from the traditional view of it going into the grid,’ said AFS managing director Peter Harrison.

‘We’re advocating that if we use renewable energy for the manufacturing processes it takes away the use of fossil fuels for producing the same products.’

Marmont said that if the reaction proved too difficult to scale up then the company could convert the carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide, which could more easily be used to produce fuels but would add an extra stage to the process.

Readers' comments (7)

  • Interesting use of hydrogen, pressure, energy input and a metal catalyst.

    Note how hydrogen, pressure, heat, a catalyst and nickel are reportedly being used by Andrea Rossi at the University of Bologna in developing low energy nuclear reactions.

    Are we on the verge of exploiting hydrogen and appropriate catalysts to create and control low energy nuclear reactions?

    Just musing.

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  • Would this process work more efficiently by being attached to an existing fossil fuel plant where the carbon dioxide is already in a more concentrated form? Naturally, you would still use electrical energy from renewable sources!
    Me too just musing....

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  • I seem to remember a company in America doing something very similar using the same or similar elements, only using concentrated sun light as the energy source instead of electricity!

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  • Rossi's work was developed from fuel cell technology, and I believe AFS's was the same starting point.
    Lots of people are working on similar processes, but AFS seem to be deliberately avoiding fossil fuel sources of CO2 to uncouple themselves from coal or petrochemicals, but exploiting brewing or other "sustainable sources."
    This could be an excellent way to store surplus power from sustainable sources in a readily usable fuel.

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  • Where this would also be a winner, would be 'island' type communities along way from either roads, or true islands, where a initial investment would enable fuel for transport to be produced.
    Look at the cost of fuel to Afganistan forces or innuit community's. Most innue towns are only resupplied during a short period of winter, where tankers of fuel are shipped across the frozen muskeg. A hugely environmentally dangerous operation.

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  • I feel that this is a very complex process for producing hydrogen gas. It is also going to be very expensive. I beleive highly impractible and much slower way to get the h2 from ho2. The amount of power used for the output of H2 produced does not make it a viable commercial product.

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  • I agree with DaveC that it would be more sensible to use output gases from a power station, rather than just atmospheric levels of CO2. I am not a chemist and am assuming that higher concentrations of CO2 in the input to this plant equals a more efficient process.

    The immediate problem is not the shortage of hydrocarbons, especially gas, but the CO2 produced in using them. Therefore, in the short term we need a process to clean up power station emissions more than a new process to produce liquid fuel.

    The fuel production just becomes a way to help pay for the carbon capture and processing from existing power stations.

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  • This is exactly the approach being taken by most companies in this area, and we suspect the approach AFS will take initially.

    See our recent feature on CO2 as fuel for more details about companies who are already doing this.

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