Post date: Friday, 17th August 2012

British company announces that it is making petrol from air

 
Hyundai fuel cell car

Hyundai's hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, on show at the London City Hall event yesterday.

A British company has announced that it is making zero carbon gasoline from air and water using renewable energy.

The announcement was made at the recent Investing in Future Transport event at City Hall, London, at which a speaker representing the Chinese government also expressed surprise at the lack of British companies seeking Chinese partners.

He said China is offering partnerships and over £1bn of funding to start-ups in the electric vehicle sector who are researching and developing new batteries and charging technology, but had had little take-up so far.

Petrol from air

Teesside-based Air Fuel Synthesis (AFS) announced that it is now producing carbon-neutral petrol (gasoline) as a practical drop-in synthetic alternative to fossil fuels.

The development is part of the company’s continuing £1.1m development programme at its demonstrator facility in the North of England where a gasoline fuel reactor is now producing petrol from a methanol base, as a stage towards a commercial fuel production unit, which will be powered by renewable electricity.

The whole process consists of a wind turbine powering an electrolyser that splits water to make hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is combined with carbon dioxide captured from the air to make a hydrocarbon mixture, that can then be developed to make any type of gasoline product.

The company initially proved its fuel reactor technology in April 2012 by producing methanol fuel from carbon dioxide and hydrogen.

Peter Harrison, CEO, Air Fuel Synthesis, was presenting his technology at a "Dragons' Den" event, part of the Investing in Future Transport event.

He said that the technology “has the potential to become a great British success story, which opens up a crucial opportunity to reduce carbon emissions. It also has the potential to reduce our exposure to an increasingly volatile global energy market. The potential to provide a variety of sustainable fuels for today’s vehicles and infrastructure is especially exciting.

“Further investors and partners will enable us to rapidly commercialise our technologies and help customers address fossil oil price volatility and supply constraints as well as the implications of carbon-driven climate change,“ he said.

The event, which was hosted by ex-Top Gear presenter Quentin Willson, showcased many new types of green transport technology, and included an electric vehicle investor contest which was won by ABB.

This contest recognised the best investor deal in the last 12 months in the sector. Large multinational ABB has acquired start-up company Epyon, which has developed a network of fast-charging direct current electric vehicle charge points and software. It reduces the time taken to charge an electric vehicle to 15 minutes, and enables the charging to be tailored to different starting conditions, power requirements and charge times.

It is significant because ABB offers power and automation services to utility and industry clients that help them improve performance and lower their environmental impact. This represents a fast mainstreaming of the technology in a business context, which will help bring prices down later for consumers.

On display outside City Hall was a mobile hydrogen generation facility. ITM's electrolyser uses about 56kWh of electricity to produce 1kg of hydrogen, which, in a fuel cell driven car, represents the equivalent of around one gallon, or five litres of petrol.

Their unit is mobile and modular, so any number that might be required can be transported to a location where the hydrogen is needed, to produce it on site. The fuel cell vehicles are then filled at the most convenient place for the client, without the need to transport hydrogen around the country.

Several electric vehicles were also available to test drive.

Quentin Willson, who owns two electric cars for his and his wife's everyday use, spoke passionately about electric vehicles. He said that in driving 100,000 miles he has never once run out of power, and reckons that even now there are sufficient charging points around the country to make them viable, in addition to being able to recharge at home.

His Citroën C-Zero costs just £1 to travel 100 miles. "From 2005's Gee Whizz we have come a long way. Electric vehicles can now travel 80 miles on a single charge," he said.

He admitted that at present it does not make financials sense for everybody, and so he has been campaigning for the Government to lift the 20% VAT added to the price of these vehicles for early adopters. “What we do now, determines the final outcome," he said.

ITM's Graham Cooley was in no doubt that hydrogen cars are this future. “With an energy efficiency of 60 to 70% when made from renewable energy, they are a triple zero fuel," he said. "Hydrogen is the answer to storage of intermittent renewable energy," he added.

The biofuels demand

For Dominic Emery, speaking on behalf of BP, it was biofuels that represent the future. BP is investing heavily in traditional corn-ethanol production from sugar cane.

He said that BP's 2030 Outlook shows their view of trends: that from a total global present-day requirement of 85 million barrels of crude oil per day, by 2030, we will need 102-105 million per day. "But oil finds are decreasing," he said.

"From 5% of volume of total fuel used now, biofuels will therefore need to rise to 10% by 2030," he said. “BP has invested several billion in this to date and it will be even more significant in the future. To be successful we need materiality and scalability, which means large continuous tracts of land."

It must be cost-competitive, he said, and the only source that meets this criterion now is Brazilian cane ethanol. It is produced without subsidies at around $60 per barrel, which compares very favourably with oil. The only problem is, it requires industrial scale production across hundreds of thousands of hectares of land.

However, he talked up the need for production to be sustainable not just environmentally but from a social perspective, with a trained and well-supported workforce. “It can do a lot to support rural populations not just in Brazil, but in America as well," he said.

The last word must be left to Ke Gang Wu, of the British China Chamber of Commerce, who made several open calls for British partners to work in China.

He said that China is prioritising electric vehicles over the next decade with central government funding of £1bn a year. This figure can often be matched by a similar amount from the province where a facility might be located. For example, he said, the second largest manufacturer in Guondong Provice is seeking a partner to develop new batteries.

Several are also looking for partnerships with British start-up companies in electric vehicles and their components.

“I am mystified why more British companies are not coming forward when we will pay the research and development," he said. So were many of those present in the audience.

Story: David Thorpe, News Editor

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