Editorial Feature

Creating Petrol from Air

A new innovative technology has been developed by a British company for producing petrol from elements in the atmosphere. This technology seems promising in fighting global warming and resolving the energy crisis. Air fuel synthesis (AFS), a company located at Stockton-on-Tees in the northeast of England, has shown that it is possible to generate petrol from thin air.

The idea of producing methanol from CO2 has been explored by others in the past as well. In 2011, Carbon Recycling International opened a plant for removing waste carbon dioxide from a power station, which had a methanol production capacity of 5 million litres a year. Similarly, a research work at the Princeton University published in 1994 dealt with producing methanol from CO2. This work is now being carried out by a company called Liquid Light which aims to produce petrol from air in a large scale. AFS has gone one step ahead by converting methanol into something similar to petrol, using established processes.

How do you produce Petrol from Air?

AFS has produced five liters of petrol from air in its refinery over a demonstration period of two years. The following are the steps used in the production of petrol from air:

  1. Carbon dioxide is separated from the atmosphere
  2. Carbon dioxide is combined with hydrogen which is separated from water vapour
  3. CO2 is reduced to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

To detail the process, air is captured and passed through a CO2 filter. The CO2 thus produced is sent to a fuel reactor where hydrogen, which is separated from water using a hydrogen electrolyser, is present. Carbon dioxide and hydrogen combine with the help of a catalyst to form liquid hydrocarbons. The small pilot plant was used for capturing air and separating carbon dioxide from the air using already established principles.

The Technology

AFS has a high-tech demonstrator facility in which it develops operational expertise in sustainable fuels and generates many renewable fuels that can be used as precursors for commercial scale applications. AFS has successfully proved that this green technology is viable and can produce carbon neutral, green fuel from sustainable power sources.

The company’s chief executive, Peter Harrison asserts that its demonstration of petrol production from air is more of proof of principle and not yet a large-scale production process. He believes that this process can work at industrial scale with some effort to reduce costs and develop the supply chains.

AFS has managed to produce this sustainable fuel by converting carbon dioxide and water into synthetic hydrocarbon liquids. These hydrocarbon liquids can be further used for producing sustainable fuels or other oil-based products. This fuel is more pure and cleaner than the fuel produced from fossils and smells like conventional petrol. A wide range of technologies are integrated together in order to pass the fuel into the transport fuel market and prevent the emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

The Future for this Technology

AFS’ innovative renewable fuel technology could be of great use in a scenario in which the global oil resources are rapidly depleting. Five litres in two years might be nothing, but for the future, AFS has developed a design using which it can produce one tonne of petrol a day and they are likely to start production by 2015. The company also has plans to produce sustainable aviation fuel, which is tough to extract from other non-fossil sources.

AFS’ Chief Executive, Peter Harrsion foresees this novel technology helping people eliminate batteries from their vehicles and fit hydrogen tanks to their cars or adapt their cars for fuel cells in the future.


Kris Walker

Written by

Kris Walker

Kris has a BA(hons) in Media & Performance from the University of Salford. Aside from overseeing the editorial and video teams, Kris can be found in far flung corners of the world capturing the story behind the science on behalf of our clients. Outside of work, Kris is finally seeing a return on 25 years of hurt supporting Manchester City.


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