You've got to give it to those boffins over on that island of theirs: despite the funny way they talk, they're damn clever. A British company called Air Fuel Synthesis has apparently (apparently) developed a system that harvests carbon dioxide and water vapor straight out of the air and turns it into gasoline that you can put straight into your car. Um, wow.
This seems crazy, but according to an article in The Independent, Air Fuel Synthesis has a process that does, uh, air fuel synthesis that's been operating since August. The refinery combines water vapor and carbon dioxide, taking hydrogen from the water and combining it with carbon in the CO2 and a catalyst to create methanol, which is run through a bioreactor to turn it into gasoline. In some sense, it's just combustion in reverse, and it's the same basic trick that plants use to make a living as well, meaning that it confers the additional advantage of scrubbing the atmosphere of CO2 as it goes.
The Independent reports:
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."
As you've probably been expecting, here come the caveats: first, they turned the refinery on in August, and in nearly two months of operation, it's managed to produce just five liters of fuel (just under a gallon and a half). As you well know, five liters is barely enough to get your Reliant Robin from Bishop's Cleeve to Horton-Cum-Studley. And second, there's no information on just how much energy this thing sucks down while it's operating, which probably means that it's horrendously inefficient.
However, this first generator is just a small pilot plant that's operating as a proof of concept, and the technology is scalable: an industrial-sized plant that produces a ton of fuel per day could be up and running in just two years. And as for energy, well, since fuel is very concentrated and there's already a big distribution infrastructure in place for it, you can just build your plant next to a hydroelectric plant or wind farm to nuclear reactor to take advantage of the cheap electricity, and then ship the fuel out. Basically what we're saying here is that as far as we can tell, there are no giant barriers to the adoption of this technology, which is pretty exciting.
We should also add one final caveat: things that usually seem too good to be true, are. This is one of them. We're not saying it's bunko, and so far we don't have any evidence that it's not doing exactly what it says it is, but we're certainly looking forward to more details on the process.