Friday, 26 October 2012

Petrol from Air: Fandabbydozy! Or not...

This sounds fantastic. Well, a bit too fantastic actually. Literally, a fantasy...but Nick Clegg is keen (!!).
The boffins at Air Fuel Synthesis claim to have come up with a technology that will manufacture petrol (or similar) from air. The chemistry involved is straightforward i.e. petrol is made up of hydrogen and carbon so one simply takes the carbon dioxide from the air, strips out the carbon and combines it with hydrogen taken from water (which eny fule no is made up of hydrogen and oxygen). Fair enough, I thought. But wouldn't this involve a massive input of energy into the process as one would effectively be trying to reverse entropy? As eny other fule also nose, this cannot be done, so the overall effect of the process would be a net energy loss i.e. the energy you get from burning the hydrocarbon you have created is less than the energy you have used to make it. As seekers of truth, we here at Xorg Inter-Galactic commissioned the expert advice of a leading panel of engineers on the viability or otherwise of this initiative:
"When you convert hydrocarbons to carbon dioxide you get energy out. To get it to go the other way you must put energy in due to the tiresome workings of entropy....The only way this can work is by using some form of low grade (ie cheap) energy such as waste heat, solar to drive it. This stuff is low potential ie low kW per m2 or m3, and so kit to process it must be big, and so risks being expensive. In addition, the CO2 in air is 300-400 ppm, so you have to process many tens of thousands of tonnes of air for a tonne on petrol.This story is bollocks because it has always been possible to make hydrocarbons from CO2 and H2 - the South Africans have been doing it for years to make petrol from coal to get round sanctions. It's only profitable if coal is a lot cheaper than oil, as again, you have put to a lot of energy in to push the process uphill against entropy.
I think these guys are after funding or something. Harumph!!!" - (Prof Rufus T Firefly, Warrington)
"My first take on their website was that it's an April Fools Joke ! I reckon these guys are extorting public money, which Whitehall splashes around on anything green, in order to keep themselves off the unemployment register.   Remember we are all paying for the subsidised electricity that people with PV cells on their roofs are getting from their “feed in tarrifs”.  It created a false market. That's what public funds do if they are wrongly directed. So my simple mind says this is tosh and nerdish politicians like Nick Clegg can’t see it." - (Prof Eustace McGargle, Oxford)
A chappie writing for Forbes magazine is similarly sceptical.
"There’s always someone out there claiming to have found the latest method of gaining free energy. But it does have to be said that most of these claims are nonsense: as with this being reported today, a method of producing petrol (gasoline) from just the air."
Oh, well. Back to the drawing board!

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