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Scientists Turn Air Into Petrol

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the take-that-dead-dinosaurs dept.

Transportation 580

rippeltippel writes "The Independent reports on a scientific breakthrough which would allow us to synthesize petrol from thin air. Quoting from the article: 'Air Fuel Synthesis in Stockton-on-Tees has produced five liters of petrol since August when it switched on a small refinery that manufactures gasoline from carbon dioxide and water vapor. The company hopes that within two years it will build a larger, commercial-scale plant capable of producing a ton of petrol a day. It also plans to produce green aviation fuel to make airline travel more carbon-neutral. ... Tim Fox, head of energy and the environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, said: "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." Although the process is still in the early developmental stages and needs to take electricity from the national grid to work, the company believes it will eventually be possible to use power from renewable sources such as wind farms or tidal barrages. "We've taken carbon dioxide from air and hydrogen from water and turned these elements into petrol," said Peter Harrison, the company's chief executive, who revealed the breakthrough at a conference at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London."

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cold fusion fraud again? (-1, Troll)

stm2 (141831) | about 2 years ago | (#41704143)

make your bets

Re:cold fusion fraud again? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704189)

Nope just global warming fraud.

Re:cold fusion fraud again? (4, Insightful)

camg188 (932324) | about 2 years ago | (#41704409)

FTFA: " that promises to solve the energy crisis as well as helping to curb global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."

Complete BS. This will not solve any energy problems because it is not a new energy source. This process will only transfer energy from one location to a gas tank, at a net loss of energy.

Re:cold fusion fraud again? (5, Interesting)

samkass (174571) | about 2 years ago | (#41704503)

FTFA: " that promises to solve the energy crisis as well as helping to curb global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere."

Complete BS. This will not solve any energy problems because it is not a new energy source. This process will only transfer energy from one location to a gas tank, at a net loss of energy.

Yes, but liquid is a really convenient way to transfer energy around the country and world. The best wind sources tend to be in areas with few people, and most people don't build homes inside volcanoes. Even nuclear power is difficult from a regulatory standpoint when you try to build close to where the need is. We don't have the grid for it. But using that energy to pull CO2 from the air and generate easily-transported (and stored) liquid fuel does seem like a pretty cool thing.

Re:cold fusion fraud again? (0, Flamebait)

prefec2 (875483) | about 2 years ago | (#41704583)

Maybe you should build a grid in the USA. Your current grid looks like one from a third world country. And you should stop thinking in a single source of energy system, which is appropriate for a grid with few big plants. The future is decentralized energy production and consumption. You have to combine wind, solar power, photo voltaic, water power, pumped-storage hydropower plant, compressed air reservoir plants, the many consumers, and a grid in between, which is able to handle energy flowing through it in various directions.

Re:cold fusion fraud again? (3, Interesting)

Smidge204 (605297) | about 2 years ago | (#41704567)

Same thing can be said of Hydrogen, which I suspect you'd agree with.

Assuming it's real and works - and I can't think of any physical reason why it'd be impossible - what this could be is a way to store and transport energy. Gasoline is quite energy dense and easily transportable. There is a massive infrastructure already build out for it and it's something everyone is familiar with. There's no reason you couldn't use a renewable resource to power this process. Currently you can't put sunshine in your gas tank - but with this maybe you can.

I agree that using renewable electricity directly is better, but this could be (again, if it's real/works) yet another piece of the puzzle. It seems like it would be more efficient and direct that biofuels. It's presumably carbon neutral once you power it from renewable electricity. Only issue I'd have with it is, if we were to replace all fossil-petroleum derived fuels with this stuff, it would do relatively little to reduce pollution in population centers. Might eliminate sulfur contamination but NOx and particulates from poorly maintained engines would still be a problem. I'd still advocate electrification of vehicles over this by itself, but a hybrid running off of renewable gasoline seems like a terrific way to fill the "EV range" gap.
=Smidge=

Re:cold fusion fraud again? (4, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | about 2 years ago | (#41704595)

The energy crisis it solves will be for stuff like jet planes.

I think this technological branch has a better chance of producing solar powered 900+kph airliners than improvements in battery and motor technology. At least it'll do it earlier.

Re:cold fusion fraud again? (-1, Redundant)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#41704451)

Tim Fox, head of energy and the environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, said: "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.

In other words, the entire world just found out the The Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London has failed to teach Tim Fox the most basic of science.

ie. Burning Petrol is exothermic. Turning the products of combustion back into petrol much therefore be endothermic, ie. it needs energy from somewhere.

Although the process is still in the early developmental stages and needs to take electricity from the national grid to work, the company believes it will eventually be possible to use power from renewable sources such as wind farms or tidal barrages

...or we can cut out the inefficient middle man and use that power directly instead of converting it into hydrocarbons.

Re:cold fusion fraud again? (4, Insightful)

RobinH (124750) | about 2 years ago | (#41704525)

To be fair, gasoline has a decent energy density and there's a lot of legacy equipment that runs on it. If you convert sunlight + CO2 + H20 into gasoline, and burn it, at least that's better than digging it out of the ground, refining it, and releasing more CO2 into the atmosphere.

Re:cold fusion fraud again? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704611)

Cold fusion violated the known principles of nuclear physics (quantum tunneling and Coulomb repulsion) to produce fusion. This technology only uses electricity to assemble CO2 and H2O into octane (C8H18) in an endothermic process. Anyone who has solved a Gibbs free energy equation could tell you how it works. This technology is actually well suited to being powered by unreliable wind farms and solar plants since it doesn't need a reliable source of power, only a net number of joules supplied. On the other hand, if you use coal to supply it then it is beyond idiotic.

Net energy? (3, Insightful)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 2 years ago | (#41704147)

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that this consumes far more energy than it "creates".

Re:Net energy? (5, Insightful)

second_coming (2014346) | about 2 years ago | (#41704169)

does that really matter if they are going to power it using renewable energy?

Re:Net energy? (5, Insightful)

halltk1983 (855209) | about 2 years ago | (#41704279)

If you have a net loss of 80% from this and a 50% net loss from batteries, then it matters 30%. That means you need 30% more "renewable resources", meaning 30% more windmills or solar. However, something like this might be a good way of handling the extra energy generated at night, and other off peak times, so we can increase the base load handled by nuclear.

Re:Net energy? (5, Insightful)

drewco (1631735) | about 2 years ago | (#41704299)

Bingo! If nothing else, it is a useful way to store collected energy that would otherwise (and is currently) going to waste.

Re:Net energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704321)

This could be a solution the "Hydrogen problem": produce Hydrogen and then use this plant to convert it into pretrol (whilst also re-using atmospheric CO2 into the bargain).

Re:Net energy? (5, Insightful)

Skal Tura (595728) | about 2 years ago | (#41704383)

and batteries cannot store at sane cost significant enough amount of energy.
There is a reason why massive battery arrays really don't exist ...

Re:Net energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704387)

combustion engines are only between 20 and 40% efficient, so I don't see the gain.

Re:Net energy? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704389)

Actually, if the average weight of you tank of petrol, as it is used up, is significantly less than your stack of batteries would be (which don't get any lighter as you use them up), then the batteries can be worse. It will take more energy to push your heavy, battery laiden car around than it will to push the petrol powered one. As long as the petrol is coming from a renewable source like airborne CO2 captured with solar or wind generated electricity, then you've eliminated it's biggest drawbacks, making it carbon neutral, and no longer a scarce and depletable resource.

Re:Net energy? (3, Insightful)

ikkonoishi (674762) | about 2 years ago | (#41704459)

Batteries are heavy, expensive, and wear out. This would be much better even at less efficiency.

Re:Net energy? (3, Insightful)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#41704557)

True, but you can't use batteries for everything. Airliners won't fly on batteries, for example.

Re:Net energy? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704289)

Yes it does. If you can use that renewable energy elsewhere in a more cost efficient way this just makes the worth of energy gained less.

Re:Net energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704297)

Well I would rather they use that than say, coal power. Which would produce more gases than this plant would consume.

Coupled with nuclear or in the future fusion power it might provide us with a reliable way to get fuel, though I would place my bet on the fuel producing bacteria.

Re:Net energy? (4, Informative)

Simon Brooke (45012) | about 2 years ago | (#41704337)

What matters is that they take energy and store it in a convenient, portable form. We have many millions of machines which run on petrol, and replacing all those machines with equivalents which run on batteries would require a huge consumption of energy. So there's merit in keeping them going.

Also, this process can take energy for example in periods of strong wind when there's a surplus of 'green' energy, and store it for periods of calm. My home is entirely wind-powered and consequently I have a huge bank of lead-acid batteries as energy storage for calm weather - they aren't very efficient, but they do what's needed. If this 'air (plus electricity) to fuel' process is at least as efficient as a lead acid battery, it's a win.

Re:Net energy? (0)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#41704561)

This could *never* power all the cars in the world. Some of those cars are going to have to be designed to use electricity, so why not all of them?

Where it might be useful is for things like aircraft which will probably never be able to run on batteries.

Re:Net energy? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704677)

Because there are already millions of cars out there without the capability to run on electricity. Replacing them all would consume such amounts of energy and vast amounts of material resources that it'd probably be more environmentally friendly just to continue operating them on petrol extracted from the earth. However if you can power them somehow on energy not extracted from the earth we 1: reduce the number of oil wells, which damage ecosystems, and 2: produce no net increase in CO2 because any CO2 released originally extracted from the atmosphere.

Re:Net energy? (1)

fearofcarpet (654438) | about 2 years ago | (#41704569)

What matters is that they take energy and store it in a convenient, portable form. We have many millions of machines which run on petrol, and replacing all those machines with equivalents which run on batteries would require a huge consumption of energy. So there's merit in keeping them going.

Also, this process can take energy for example in periods of strong wind when there's a surplus of 'green' energy, and store it for periods of calm. My home is entirely wind-powered and consequently I have a huge bank of lead-acid batteries as energy storage for calm weather - they aren't very efficient, but they do what's needed. If this 'air (plus electricity) to fuel' process is at least as efficient as a lead acid battery, it's a win.

Yah, doesn't anyone remember the "hydrogen economy?" Although completely misunderstood by the media, the idea was to store and transport energy via hydrogen. But it was a stupid idea. I like the one in TFA and this one [technologyreview.com] better because they don't require converting internal combustion machines to electric.

Re:Net energy? (3, Informative)

MisterPoo (2756337) | about 2 years ago | (#41704351)

does that really matter if they are going to power it using renewable energy?

Sounds like a great way to make clean energy more dirty! Energy loss does matter.

Re:Net energy? (1)

jonbryce (703250) | about 2 years ago | (#41704379)

Yes, because if you have a source of renewable electricity, it is better to use it as electricity to cut down the amount of fossil generated electricity.

Re:Net energy? (3, Interesting)

Solandri (704621) | about 2 years ago | (#41704609)

Given that nobody (except Iceland) is at 100% renewable energy, yes it does matter. Say you consume 100 TWh a year. Say 25 TWh of that comes from renewables, the rest from fossil fuels (ignore nuclear to keep this simple). Say petrol (gasoline) accounts for 10 TWh of your energy use. And say this process requires 2x as much energy as it creates in petrol.

If you create all your petrol using renewables to power this process, then you're reducing your fossil fuel consumption by 10 TWh, but increasing your renewable consumption by 20 TWh. However, you only have 25 TWh of installed renewables capacity. So the 20 TWh of renewables this process consumes displaces 20 TWh of other consumption which used to come from renewables. To make up for that shortfall, you have to burn 20 TWh more fossil fuels.

That is, your renewables consumption remained at 25 TWh. Your fossil fuel first went down by 10 TWh, but then increased by 20 TWh. So powering this process with renewables resulted in a net 10 TWh increase in the consumption of fossil fuels.

Don't make the mistake of mixing up consumption with production. You cannot pick and choose where your power comes from. If your renewables production is static and less than 100%, then nothing you do on the consumption side matters. Once you exceed that static amount of renewables production capacity, every new power drain you add comes entirely from fossil fuels.

Re:Net energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704207)

Isn't the basic principle the same as how a tree makes hydrocarbons, but instead of using sunlight it's using grid energy?

Re:Net energy? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704333)

Absolutely. But the key point here is not how much energy it takes to create a litre of petrol, or other hydrocarbon. It's that that energy can come from a static source - solar power, wind power, hydro, anything that can generate electricity but which is too difficult to put into a compact form - and turn it into an energy dense substance that we already know how to deal with. It turns hydrocarbons from an energy source into an energy storage mechanism.

So we could, hypothetically speaking, stick some massive solar farms in the middle of the Sahara, Death Valley, the Australian outback, and produce the world's petroleum needs by extracting the carbon and hydrogen from the atmosphere. The petroleum gets burnt; the carbon and hydrogen go back into the atmosphere as water and carbon dioxide, and the process starts again. No net change to the world's atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

We are a long way from that goal, but this puts us a significant step forward toward that end goal.

Re:Net energy? (2)

Skal Tura (595728) | about 2 years ago | (#41704359)

Doesn't matter really, because for wind farms, solar etc. this is way better store of energy than batteries.

1) Build a huge ass solar plant in desert
2) Have these turn it all into gasoline
3) Haul the gasoline on cheapest energy consumption method to everywhere in the world
4) PROFIT

OR

Have an existing wind farm/solar plant but it produces more at times than can be consumed nearby. Use these to turn the excess into gasoline. When there is no wind or sun shine burn the gasoline to supply the baseline, all excess gasoline sell at the pumps :)

Re:Net energy? (0)

JazzHarper (745403) | about 2 years ago | (#41704361)

I would be even more skeptical if they claimed that it creates more energy than it consumes.

Re:Net energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704391)

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that this consumes far more energy than it "creates".

That's a pretty short limb you've got there, considering no-one is claiming to be creating energy out of thin air; just synthesizing gas out of the C and H in the atmosphere.

If you're trying to slam them at least slam them for not actually extracting CO2 from the atmosphere but instead using "industrial sources", or statements like "I bought my first CD in the 1980s and it cost $20 but now you can make one for less than 10 cents".

There's plenty of stupid in there already, no need to add extra. Try to keep up.

Re:Net energy? (2)

Terrasque (796014) | about 2 years ago | (#41704415)

By and large, the only skill the alchemists of Ankh-Morpork had discovered so far was the ability to turn gold into less gold.

-- Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

Re:Net energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704433)

I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that this consumes far more energy than it "creates".

It definitely does, no way to get around that. But where does that extra energy come from.

The sun? Lots of green leafy plants out there using solar energy to extract carbon dioxide from the air and hydrogen from water to create and store energy in a form that we can burn as fuel.

Now if they are using electricity to perform the process and, like my neighborhood, they burn coal and garbage to generate that electricity, we're really not getting any where.

Re:Net energy? (1)

wcoenen (1274706) | about 2 years ago | (#41704453)

Of course. But it might still be a good way to balance a grid with a lot of variability from renewable sources. Having to dump your electricity on the market at negative prices [cleantechnica.com] is a bad thing as it just increases the cost of electricity at the times when there isn't an excess.

This could fix that. much wind/solar? Turn on the petrol synthesizers to absorb the cheap excess power.

Then again, maybe the capital cost would be too high to justify anything else than running the synthesizers 24/7. I have no idea.

Re:Net energy? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704463)

yeap, efficiency 1.0 and perhaps efficiency 1.0. but if it reduces cost a lot, then I'm all for it.

and even if efficiency is 1.0, most things are until it the process is refined and a few iterations later (e.g., computer processors).

Re:Net energy? (1)

ArhcAngel (247594) | about 2 years ago | (#41704521)

Yes but it gives the machines something else to snack on. Thus they might not turn us into batteries...at least in the short term.

Re:Net energy? (1)

imbaczek (690596) | about 2 years ago | (#41704529)

Of course, that's obvious and not the point. The point is whether the whole idea is worth pursuing. There's a extremely high density battery (read liquid fuels) crisis coming in the next decade or two and inventions like this will help to cushion the fall; question is by how much.

Re:Net energy? (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#41704535)

But that energy doesn't have to come from fossil sources. So when we run out of fossil fuel and switch to nuclear we can still synthesize hydrocarbons if we need them.

Running uphill to coast downhill (1)

diodeus (96408) | about 2 years ago | (#41704163)

...net energy gain -200%

Re:Running uphill to coast downhill (5, Interesting)

SirGarlon (845873) | about 2 years ago | (#41704293)

Yes, this does sound like snake oil from a thermodynamic point of view. But don't you think it is at least worth tinkering around with the technology? Extracting CO2 from ambient air is probably not efficient enough, but if one were to get the CO2 from a concentrated source like the smokestack of a coal-burning power plant, and if, as TFA says,

the company believes it will eventually be possible to use power from renewable sources such as wind farms or tidal barrages [to synthesize the fuel]

might there not be something of value 20-30 years down the road?

Re:Running uphill to coast downhill (4, Insightful)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#41704403)

For a fledging technology, it's a good start. Seeing as portable energy will always be less efficient than the grid powered by huge power plants, it's a fair trade. You expend energy in order to turn it into a portable state. Sort of like how rechargeable batteries take more energy to charge than they provide to the device that uses them.

Re:Running uphill to coast downhill (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704417)

Take energy, water and CO2 and make a carbon based fuel.

When the tree in my backyard does this we call it "growing", and the fuel "wood".

This newfangled technology was useful millions of years ago when it first came on the market, and has been in continuous use for all of human history, I think it has value NOW!

Re:Running uphill to coast downhill (1)

RobinH (124750) | about 2 years ago | (#41704577)

Except for the obvious problem that we can't grow trees at the rate that we want to consume them, and we don't have a good way to turn trees into liquid petrol anyway (do you want to run your car on firewood?). Ethanol from corn is closer, but not a good solution due to the energy it requires to make it. The switchgrass thing seems better (less energy required) but hasn't seemed to make headway yet. Why not take the same process plants are using and speed it up by several orders of magnitude (if we can)?

Re:Running uphill to coast downhill (1)

slack_justyb (862874) | about 2 years ago | (#41704651)

There is nothing snake oil about it. This is a real thing. The problem is that a large operation can only squeeze about 300 gallons of fuel out of the air per day. In addition it takes like the energy that thirty or so homes would use in one day to do this. Guy can do whatever he likes with his free time, but the more important thing he is going to have to work on is oxygen separation. The chemical is pretty strongly bonded in water and doubly so in carbon dioxide.

Re:Running uphill to coast downhill (1)

Smidge204 (605297) | about 2 years ago | (#41704661)

You are converting a form of energy you can't use into a form you can use. As the saying goes, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.

I think electrified vehicles (EV and hybrids) are a more efficient use of that energy, but those have limitations that this method can potentially get around. The most important point, IMHO, is the promise of diversity in the new energy infrastructure which is never a bad thing.
=Smidge=

LOL Ethanol (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704197)

Ethanol production is making car fuel from thin air. Plant matter is mainly carbohydrate produced from CO2 and solar energy. Nothing new here.

Thanks guys... (1)

haydensdaddy (1719524) | about 2 years ago | (#41704213)

cause that having too much air thing was bothering me...

Re:Thanks guys... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704315)

I did not realize plants could post to Slashdot....

Re:Thanks guys... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704319)

herpa derp carbon dioxide and hydrogen herp

Re:Thanks guys... (1)

JazzHarper (745403) | about 2 years ago | (#41704335)

cause that having too much CO2 thing was bothering me...

FTFY.

Oil imports (2, Interesting)

Circlotron (764156) | about 2 years ago | (#41704223)

Not having to import oil from middle eastern countries would be a worthy goal.

Re:Oil imports (1)

prefec2 (875483) | about 2 years ago | (#41704509)

That is not that complicated. Don't use cars to burn the precious resource. Walk, cycle or use public transportation instead. The latter can be run on electricity from renewable sources. And the first two run on pizza and stuff. Do not heat your home with oil. You insulation. Good designed homes are able to produce more energy than they consume. True you cannot build these houses for the same price, like those shacks normally built in the USA and Canada. A outside wall should be 40-50 cm think and it requires insulation. with good insulation and modern windows, you can even throw out that air conditioner, which uses so much electricity.

Re:Oil imports (1)

fearofcarpet (654438) | about 2 years ago | (#41704523)

Not having to import oil from middle eastern countries would be a worthy goal.

That is happening all by itself. [cnn.com] And if you live in Europe, there is a good chance you are burning gasoline/diesel that was imported from the US. [washingtonpost.com]

But is it efficient? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704225)

How much does it cost to make a gallon / ton of this petrol?

Re:But is it efficient? (2)

turkeyfeathers (843622) | about 2 years ago | (#41704285)

Assuming you mean metric ton, the cost of a ton of this petrol would be around 380 times the cost of a gallon of the stuff.

Re:But is it efficient? (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | about 2 years ago | (#41704645)

Add the 60% Tax for the UK market. You've got a bargain!

Re:But is it efficient? (1)

drewco (1631735) | about 2 years ago | (#41704329)

It probably costs an insane amount of money, like most new technology on a tiny scale does. Refining the techniques, finding better ways to power it, and ramping up to a commercial scale could make a real difference, especially when you consider the fact that oil will become more expensive and scarce over time.

fight against global warming (4, Insightful)

miknix (1047580) | about 2 years ago | (#41704275)

Exclusive: Pioneering scientists turn fresh air into petrol in massive boost in fight against energy crisis

Since this process absorbs and converts CO2 which is one of the gases responsible for the greenhouse effect, if they use a renewable energy source to power the process, I'd say this is a good fight against global warming and not against the energy crisis.

Re:fight against global warming (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704381)

Except you're just going to burn the gas and release the CO2 again.

The advantage of using intermittent power sources to make a fuel (ie hydrocarbon in this case) instead of hydrogen, batteries, supercaps etc is that it is easier to store until needed.

I don't know why this sounds too good to be true, when nature does it we call it "photosynthesis".

Re:fight against global warming (4, Interesting)

ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) | about 2 years ago | (#41704581)

Well, imagine a world where we have so much energy being created through hydro, wind, solar, nuclear (fission and fusion) that we have a true net surplus. We could make oil with this then pump that oil back into the wells we originally got oil from. True sequestration.

The problem we have today is, fundamentally, that we are outrunning nature's ability to handle our activity. The true, long-term value of this then is that we can speed up nature's process to meet our desires.

Re:fight against global warming (5, Interesting)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#41704597)

Even if burning it releases 100% of the CO2 it took to make it, you're still carbon neutral. Current sources are a long, long way from carbon neutral as they take non-atmospheric carbon and turn it into atmospheric carbon.

Spaceballs! (1)

Kaldesh (1363017) | about 2 years ago | (#41704305)

In other news? Mel Brooks assures everyone that there is absolutely no air shortage what-so-ever.

Its been done before (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704309)

The sealand process back in the 1970's.

They used a stirling cycle engine (another old tech for you young whippersnappers) to liquify the CO2 then made methol alcohol.
Hydrogen was obtained via splitting water.

(And as for "cold fusion fraud" or "net energy" upthread:
1) it may be garden-common fraud as in "investors told X and X is a lie made to seperate them from thier cash" instead of "press announcement made and turns out can't be reproduced." Unless you mean that cold fusion works and the frand is that most think it does not [lenr-canr.org]
2) VS what - having photons make plant matter long before humans were around, that plant matter gets compressed and heated then far, far, later Man shows up, finds a pool of oil/hunk of coal and declares "Net energy of this stuff I found starts off at 0" vs "Hey! the amount of photons needed to make the coal/oil is far more than the amount of photons needed to make this 'air to fuel' process work. And to do this calculation don't we need to assign a 'time value' to a photon from centries ago?")

If real, the hidden benefits are... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704323)

  • A way to create a high-density portable energy source (gas) (to date, we've been relying on digging it out of the ground)
  • A way to balance the burning of fuel against the green house gases created.

Of course, on the downsite, it will cost more energy to produce than you get out of it, and the electricity it would consume will need to be supplied by...other green house gas emitting processes.

Re:If real, the hidden benefits are... (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#41704615)

What portable energy source doesn't take more energy to produce than you get out of it? It's just the cost tradeoff of portability.

Pointless... (2, Insightful)

captainpanic (1173915) | about 2 years ago | (#41704327)

From an energetic point of view, this is utterly pointless. They use electricity which was produced at 40% efficiency from fossil sources, to turn the same CO2 which came from those fossil fuels back into a fuel at much lower than 100% efficiency.

To go from coal to a fuel, there are processes such a the Fischer tropsch process, as used in South Africa on industrial scale, which are far more efficient.

If you want to use sustainable electricity to produce a fuel, for heaven's sake, just make hydrogen, and be done. Or better still, use the electricity directly - by the time we have excess sustainable electricity, electric cars will be a reality too.

Re:Pointless... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704427)

The point is, that petrol is quite easy to store, while pure hydrogen is quite difficult to store since all tanks I know of leak hydrogen because hydrogen is the smallest molecule and has to be stored under a lot of pressure or very cold.

If you could convert CO2 and water into petrol at a better efficency that batteries, it will be worth while. Basically, it would be a petrol based battery - and is compatible with todays cars.

Hydrogen is a terrible fuel for a vehicle. (5, Interesting)

Cyno01 (573917) | about 2 years ago | (#41704439)

Thats why we use gasoline. While hydrogen does have a higher specific energy, Octane and other hydrocarbons of similar lengths have some of the highest energy densities of any readily available compounds. Hydrogen has a specific energy of about 142 megajoules per kilogram, while gasoline has about 48mj/kg. BUT, a kilogram of gasoline is about 1.4 liters, and a kilogram of liquid hydrogen is a little over 14 liters. so not only would you need a fuel tank nearly four times the size for a car of similar range (and thats assuming hydrogen would be as efficient as an internal combustion engine), but hydrogen is only liquid at 20 degrees kelvin, or about 250 degrees below zero. Maintaining that low a temperature requires even more energy.

Re:Pointless... (2)

Tapewolf (1639955) | about 2 years ago | (#41704489)

From an energetic point of view, this is utterly pointless.

Yes, but it would be nice to be able to make plastics and lubricants without oil.

Re:Pointless... (1)

LongearedBat (1665481) | about 2 years ago | (#41704643)

The problem with hydrogen powered cars is that they tend to float up in the air and blow away in the wind.

Even though it is surely a net energy loss... (2)

Assmasher (456699) | about 2 years ago | (#41704331)

...imagine using energy that cannot be used for internal combustion being used to produce petrol?

This could be a great help during civilization's crossover from hydrocarbon energy to wind/solar/fusion.

"Its not like gas comes from thin air" (5, Funny)

sbditto85 (879153) | about 2 years ago | (#41704355)

You were wrong dad, you were wrong.

Re:"Its not like gas comes from thin air" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704659)

to be fair the air has been fattened with carbon before the process can work.

Re:"Its not like gas comes from thin air" (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704703)

Actually, he was right then. But he wouldn't be right now.

A warning (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704365)

Take care of that! In a few years, we will not have any carbon dioxide in the air and then all plants will starve to death and then within a blink of an eye we all will follow!

Energy storage, not energy production (1)

DRichardHipp (995880) | about 2 years ago | (#41704385)

The importance of something like this (assuming the report is true) is for use as an energy storage mechanism, not as a means of "producing" energy.

Imagine a PVC power plant out in the desert someplace. Electricity from the plant is used to generate liquid hydrocarbons that can be stored and burned for fuel for use when the sun isn't shining, or that can be used in circumstances that are necessarily off-grid such as to power an airplane. The "gasoline" thus produced can be thought of more as a battery than as an energy "source". It is merely storing the energy of the sun for later use. And it is completely carbon neutral since the CO2 released when the fuel is burned was taken out of the atmosphere in the first place so there is no net change in atmospheric CO2.

The Achilles's heel of many renewable energy schemes has always been that they are inconsistent and do not generate energy when and where it is needed, and that there is no efficient way of storing the energy for later use. If the reports in this article are true (and that is a BIG IF) then this could be a huge win for renewable energy.

So the idea is sound. The question becomes whether or not the report is real (I have serious doubts) and if it is real, is the efficiency sufficient to make it worthwhile.

Is it just me? (1)

medcalf (68293) | about 2 years ago | (#41704397)

Thermodynamics says that's going to be some very, very expensive fuel. But more immediately, doesn't this sound like the green version of the lead-into-silver scams of the 1700s? If they say they need a canal built: run.

Re:Is it just me? (1)

jmitchel!jmitchel.co (254506) | about 2 years ago | (#41704633)

There are lots of these magic ways to make gas (bio waste to gas for instance) that actually work in a pilot plant. In mass production...

Re:Is it just me? (1)

ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) | about 2 years ago | (#41704639)

Well, it's more likely to need a pipeline. Cheap real estate + easy access to renewables usually means desert. This process requires water. Deserts, as a defining characteristic, lack water. (Yes, yes, I, in an attempt at brevity that this parenthetical phrase defeats, am omitting some fine points about the definition of desert.) Deserts also tend to be rather remote. Therefore, we'll need an incoming pipeline of water (though if you can handle the salinity problem seawater would work fine.) and an outgoing pipeline of fuel. I feel sorry for the poor sap that has to maintain this whole mess of course.

Renewable turtles all the way down (2)

Overzeetop (214511) | about 2 years ago | (#41704405)

Unless your entire supply chain is renewable, this isn't even good for renewable (regardless of the efficiency). Here's why:

Currently, all of our renewable energy requires that we build ways to harvest that energy. That's done by mining and manufacturing which generally runs on non-renewable resources. For example: on a small scale, PV solar costs about 12.5c per kWh, amortized at 0% over the life of the panel (0% is the the most conservative number, at 5%, it's closer to 25-30c). Since solar panels take (effetively) 12.5c/kWh worth of energy to create, and that's mostly from fossil fuels, we're essentially burning non-renewables in order to create a solar collection system which manufactures fossil fuels.

As things get better, this may change, but for the time being this it the "green" equivalent of money laundering.

Water? (1)

wcrowe (94389) | about 2 years ago | (#41704419)

Does it require fresh water? If so, where is all the water going to come from?
   

Re:Water? (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about 2 years ago | (#41704665)

It requires hydrogen from water. The summary says it uses water vapor, but any water source would likely suffice... with distilled water being the most efficient and the Dead Sea being among the least efficient.

Ultimate plan (1)

nomaddamon (1783058) | about 2 years ago | (#41704421)

Lets build a petrol power plant, direct its exhausts to this new CO2 -> petrol power plant and feed the created petrol back in the petrol power plant...
If we are efficient enough, we might have discovered a way to burn petrol without any pollution or energy created

Thin air into petrol (4, Funny)

rossdee (243626) | about 2 years ago | (#41704437)

Wouldn't it be more efficient to turn thick air into petrol
specifically the CO2 exhaust of a fossil fuel power plant)

BTW has someone asked Romney if he supports the repeal of the Laws of Thermodynamics

Re:Thin air into petrol (1)

ZeroSumHappiness (1710320) | about 2 years ago | (#41704687)

I support the repeal of the laws of thermodynamics. I doubt the fundamental congress will take up the bill though. They seem to have been in recess for the last thirteen billion years or so.

We'd have to be really really desperate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704443)

The process actually works, the chemistry is more than a century old. However, for reasons, pointed out by other posters, the economics suck.

We are right now the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. We have lots. It makes a reasonable transportation fuel. It puts much less CO2 into the atmosphere than gasoline or diesel. It renders electric cars pointless. It also renders the technology in TFA pointless.

So what do the plants/trees breath? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704493)

So what do the plants/trees breath when we remove all the carbon dioxide from the air ?

How to spot crappy science journalism (2)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | about 2 years ago | (#41704499)

A quote from a professor comparing the retail price of a CD when they were invented, to the stamping cost of a CD today, in order to illustrate improvements in efficiency in a physical process.

One is something that someone made up because they thought it was what people would swallow. Rather like the claims in this article that this is an important technology for the energy crisis.

It's a useful excuse to delay research into electric vehicles and prolong the fossil fuel economy.

Hello snow ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704501)

Oh, great ... now we'll take the CO2 out, induce the negative greenhouse effect and create the mother of all ice ages. Better buy some uber mukluks, a sled and stock up on the blubber.

Hasn't this already been done... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704505)

In Russia ???

http://en.rian.ru/mlitary_news/20121019/176747388.html#close

It's Funny (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704513)

No one ever talks about the carbon cost of converting every car in the world to run entirely on batteries. New methods of petrol creation may not be the ideal solution, but dammit, we've already got the cars. The great thing about this is that the process itself is no longer contingent on exploration and dino juice -- you plug it into the infrastructure and then can focus on improving that end environmentally.

Fast charging of electric cars is a nice idea, but this works now.

Unlikely... (2)

Wdi (142463) | about 2 years ago | (#41704519)

This smells fishy. Certainly, there are no laws of nature violated... carbon dioxide can be hydrogenated to hydrocarbons, alcohols, etc., that is well-known technology ...but why would anybody trying to build a commercial company presumably trying to earn money at some stage go to the expense (both financially and energy-wise) to isolate carbon dioxide from air (0.04%), when it is readly available for example from the exhaust of tradional power plants and other fuel-burning processes (>22%, up to 100% with 'clean coal' tech), or, if you want to go fully biological, from fermentation operations (100%). That does not make any economic sense at all.

Also, the point about the lack additives is strange. Original refinery fuel is almost pure hydrocarbons and minor oxidation products, too - the additives are not a side product of the distillation process from oil. The addititives are added (immediately before filling the delivery trucks) because they improve the burn characteristics, lubrication, waste product accumulation - which are needed for synfuel in the same fashion.

Interesting but probably impractical (1)

tbannist (230135) | about 2 years ago | (#41704545)

It's interesting but it's doubtful that it will see much use (at least in the near term). I'd bet this will always be significantly more expensive than our current most expensive source of conventional oil (tar sands). So it can only be viable in the face of high carbon taxes and/or sequestion subsidies or when conventional oil sources can no longer meet demand. When we are in the full blown energy crisis then it could be embraced fully, but I would bet it will either fill a niche roll or be discarded completely. I doubt we will collectively choose to continue to prop up our existing fossil fuel infrastructure at that point, we'll decide to switch to electric and make the necessary cultural changes to adapt in the face of the costs. This process is essentially a way to convert renewable energy into a format that work with conventional infrastructure. My bet is that this process (or a similar one) will end up as the primary fuel supplier for hobbyists, rich dillettants, and other groups (planes? nascar?) that have a special need for fossil fuels.

Howeer, this might be a dead end technology if a competing technology proves to be fundamentally more efficient (and thus cheaper), for example, it might be more efficient to capture the carbon from methane released from rotting compost and sewage treatment.

Two Words... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704551)

Bussard Collector

Needs to be a little smaller and more efficient though, maybe Seven of Nine could help.

And for their next trick.... (1)

SDcard (2498974) | about 2 years ago | (#41704599)

....water will be turned into wine!

Hydrogen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41704641)

It requires energy to produce the fuel. In other words, it's like hydrogen fuel that can already be synthesized, except hydrogen combustion produces less emissions than petrol.

Sabatier reaction? (2)

Urban Garlic (447282) | about 2 years ago | (#41704691)

So TFA doesn't say, but I wonder if this is includes the same "Sabatier reaction" that's part of Robert Zubrin's "Mars Direct" plan -- in the Zubrin case, you send a nuclear reactor and some hydrogen to mars, and use that plus martian CO2 and a catalyst to make methane and oxygen, which become the basis for bootstrapping your martian chemical industry.

Obviously, these guys have more dilute CO2, and their other reactant is H20, not H2, but it seems likely to be closely related.

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