Friday, October 19, 2012

Too good to be true?

One of the many problems this country faces is its energy dependence on foreign suppliers, from Russian gas to Islamic oil, neither having our best interests at heart. Yet essentially we're a technological society that depends on the burning of hydrocarbons to produce the power we need, for transport and power generation. Despite the claims of the greens, a hell of a lot of hydrocarbons go into the making of their bird-mincers and sunshine panels, environmentally friendly they aren't save at the point of use and they aren't even particularly efficient there either. Still when someone comes up with a formula to produce petrol from air you have to wonder just what medication they're on (and could we have some)
A small company in the north of England has developed the “air capture” technology to create synthetic petrol using only air and electricity.
Experts tonight hailed the astonishing breakthrough as a potential “game-changer” in the battle against climate change and a saviour for the world’s energy crisis.
The technology, presented to a London engineering conference this week, removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The “petrol from air” technology involves taking sodium hydroxide and mixing it with carbon dioxide before "electrolysing" the sodium carbonate that it produces to form pure carbon dioxide.
Hydrogen is then produced by electrolysing water vapour captured with a dehumidifier.
The company, Air Fuel Syndication, then uses the carbon dioxide and hydrogen to produce methanol which in turn is passed through a gasoline fuel reactor, creating petrol.
Company officials say they had produced five litres of petrol in less than three months from a small refinery in Stockton-on-Tees, Teesside.
As an engineer having worked occasionally in the chemicals industry at first I thought this must be complete bollocks (and my engineering hindbrain is still telling me that too) I'm also wondering about the laws of conservation of energy too, it simply doesn't happen that you get more out than you put in, you can release energy, you can't create it so to speak. Yet if the process is economically viable in producing a petrol substitute at less (or equivalent too) the current market cost then these guys are onto a winner. Though again the usual caveats involving cold fusion apply here, if it looks too good to be true then it probably is.
Nor can we expect that the big fuel companies will be interested, not unless of course they can see at least as much profit for themselves in it, still a chemical plant in a nice safe democracy has got to be a better bet than an unstable theocracy...
If we can break the ties to foreign energy supply via shale and now this process we may be able to turn back some of the overt influences those suppliers have forced upon us too (yes we're looking at you Saudi Arabia) so I'm going to watch this one very carefully and hope some middle east cartel doesn't buy it and bury it...

8 annotations:

StourbridgeRantBoy said...

In the 1950's Nuclear energy was lauded as being 'too cheap to meter' it does, of course work out at being the most expensive way to produce energy when development and de-commissioning is taken into consideration. I'll bet some far-sighted consumers are still laughing. There is money to be saved in conserving energy not just consuming it. The less you consume the more you are charged pro-rata - that cannot be right. We have allowed the basic requirements of society i.e. water, gas, electricity etc to be sold off to foreign governments and suppliers.......big mistake!

Laurie -

Anonymous said...

Isn't the key the two electrolysis processes - where does the electrical energy come from? (I think water electrolysis needs twice the energy that the hydrogen/oxygen reaction produces, for example).

It is possible that if we ran out of natural oil it would be worthwhile making it (expensively) from other energy sources if it was essential for applications where there was no alternative (aircraft?) but it makes no sense as part of the energy economy.

Farenheit211 said...

I also think this looks 'too good to be true'. I also remember the fuss over cold fusion and how that story panned out.

I agree with anon that the electrolysis processes use more energy than they liberate and is therefore not cost effective.

Personally I'd like to see Britain go down the shale gas and oil route if we have sufficient deposits. I'd also like to see our coal mines opened again not just for fuel but for chemical feed stock.

Woodsy42 said...

Why would they take CO2 to create sodium carbonate then electrolyse that to create CO2 again? Seems a expensive way to purify it, if that is what's happenning.

Anonymous said...

I do not know if it’s just me or if everybody else encountering issues with your site. It seems like some of the text in your content are running off the screen. Can someone else please provide feedback and let me know if this is happening to them as well? This might be a problem with my browser because I’ve had this happen previously. Cheers

Anonymous said...

About 10 years ago, I had an interesting conversation with an American who worked for a major oil company. He told me that his employers, and other companies, are sitting on patents for non-petroleum based energy. The system, apparently, is to buy out the patents so the technology can't be used by anyone else, and thereby destroy their share price, but when oil really does become too expensive, or rare, then the patents will make their appearance. By this means, the oil companies can still hold everyone else to ransom, that is, apart from those happy to use sail!

Anonymous said...

Assuming that this isn't total rubbish and depending on the economics prehaps it could be used as a rather indirect system of storage.

So for stupid things like tidal and wind, intermittant and miles from anywhere instead of supplying the national grid could the power they use supply an automated petrol factory. Emptying a tank every month or whatever might make some economic sense.

In the same light don't some powerplants need to run at a relativly constant speed for efficiency even if the power they produce isnt needed. Could these petrol plants be sited near by to act as a giant battery, using the surplus and otherwise wasted power (assuming no better use)to produce petrol for general sale?

As a general business the idea seems nuts, essentially burning fuel to create the energy to rebuild the fuel just burned, as a sideline to use up spare energy maybe.

Quiet_Man said...

@ Anon @ 6:04pm

As far as I'm aware there are no problems with the site and I view it on 2 different pc's with 2 different browsers (Firefox and Chrome) I can also view the mobile version on my phone, so unless someone tells me different I'm assuming the problem is at your end or your browser.