Gasoline alchemy from water vapor and CO2

This seems almost scam quality – only time will tell if it is just another pipe dream.

From WUWT Tips and Notes by J B Williamson;

A small British company has produced the first “petrol from air” using a revolutionary technology that promises to solve the energy crisis as well as helping to curb global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Air Fuel Synthesis in Stockton-on-Tees has produced five litres of petrol since August when it switched on a small refinery that manufactures gasoline from carbon dioxide and water vapour.

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.

UPDATE: In comments, Ric Werme points out:

Also interesting –

The Naval Research Laboratory is using an electrochemical acidification cell (see image below) to take seawater through a two-step process to capture carbon dioxide and produce hydrogen gas. Carbon dioxide is concentrated in seawater at levels 140 times greater than in the atmosphere. A portion of it is carbonic acid and carbonate, but most is bicarbonate. Harvesting all that carbon coupled with the hydrogen is what the electrochemical acidification cell does employing a catalyst similar to that used to create synthetic oil from coal but with much greater efficiency.


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Removiing CO2 from the air is a VERY, VERY BAD idea !!!

Steve (Paris)

What happens to trees when you suck all the CO² out of the air? Doesn’t all that green stuff turn grey and die? And we all starve to death. Are Paul Elrich and John Holdren investing in this business by any chance?


ps.. I do , of course mean, in commercially viable fuel quantities.

It would seem to require more energy than it provides, if you ask me.

Steve (Paris)

How much “energy in” does it take to suck a ‘ton a day’ of ‘gasoline’ out of the air?

Thomas H

It is well established you can make methanol from CO2. Maybe that’s what this is about.

Mike McMillan

Applied cold fusion, no doubt.

I do see only one problem: the energy needed to transform CO2 into fuel costs more energy than you can obtain from burning that fuel again. Just a matter of chemical energy balances… So, where is the gain?

Brian H

As a contribution to decarbonization it is of course worthless, even were decarbonization not inane. The oceans will outgas CO2 to restore any trivial reduction such a process achieves.


Why do you waste others time also by publishing such silly science fantasies ?
REPLY: Why do you waste time reading things with “alchemy” in the title if you know you won’t like it?


Yeah, I’m Going To Need To See The Math On That.
Basically they’re turning electricity (coal) and chemicals into other chemicals, from what they say. Probably less efficiently than the alternatives, and with the added benefit of starving poor innocent plants.
I’m also glad I don’t live on the same planet as the commenters there. Serious cortisol poisoning must result and/or cause.


If the climate scientologists are correct, wouldn’t extracting CO2 from the air bring about an ice age and starve all the plants?


I think the “gain” here is taking advantage of green mania and jumping on the green gravy train, to put it bluntly.

Max Roberts

Pure scam, not enough CO2 in the air for this to work, and they need electricity for the manufacturing. More wind turbines needed apparently, or a sea barrage.
“provided we can get the funding going”
They hope to qualify for millions of pounds of government money, until they go bankrupt, but by then the cash will have vanished.
“We don’t have any of the additives and nasty bits found in conventional petrol, and yet our fuel can be used in existing engines,”
Um, don’t those additives help the fuel to burn smoothly.
Comments are fun, Independent readers seem to be a little bit weird to say the least.


Perisamy: Think of it as a “Friday Funny.”
Like the Wind-powered electric car.

David, UK

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.
Only a paper so blinded by ideology such as the Independent could print such fairyland nonsense. Unless by “possible to use power from renewable sources” they mean “possible to use power that is 0.01% from renewable sources.” Such idiocy.


If the process uses the input energy efficiently (something I really, really doubt) this could perhaps be an interesting alternative to batteries, a way to store energy from solar and wind power on the days they actually deliver.

a jones

Yes. I was going to post this in Tips and Notes but the gentleman beat me to it.
this is not a new technology, it dates back at least 70 years and probably further with various people tinkering with it.
Yes it can produce hydrocarbon fuel, the simplest is methanol but higher order paraffins are perfectly practical.
The problem is that it takes more energy to do this than is got from burning the resulting fuel. The factor is between one and half to two and half times the energy input to that recovered from the synthetic fuel.
Which is fine is you have such a source of abundant energy which cannot be transported and need to turn it into portable fuel. it is also why it attracted a lot of attention in WW2 and later after the 70’s oil crisis.
Otherwise like everything else about alternative energy it is yesterdays news.
What did not work then doesn’t work now. And never will.
Kindest Regards


Let me see if I have this right – they are taking two kinds of ash – CO2 and water, and making fuel from it. Normally in a process breakdown there is a “and a miracle occurs here” claim when you take two unlikely ash piles and combine them to produce yet more energy at no cost. Not buying it. The miracle, that is.

Mike Spilligan

If it seems too good to be true ……… Well, you know the rest.


Making the assumption that this works best as a carbon sequestration system…. one wonders how much energy it would take to get reasonable recovery from a large source. E.g. a coal fired power station… and would the power exceed the amount produced by the plant.


Um, I don’t get it. It seem fairly elementary (granted I couldn’t go out and do it right now without research) to reverse the process of burning fuel, recombining it in the presence of large amounts of energy as they seem to be doing. I don’t see any special breakthrough, you’re not going to get any more energy back from burning the fuel than it took to manufacture it. The only use I could see is if the process was made fairly efficient for storing energy… maybe I missed something.

If you mount input of the device at the end of your car’s exhaust pipe and its output is fed into the car’s petrol tank, you get for-ever free motoring.
That is what I call progress, need I say more.


Ferdinand Engelbeen says:
I do see only one problem: the energy needed to transform CO2 into fuel costs more energy than you can obtain from burning that fuel again. Just a matter of chemical energy balances… So, where is the gain?,

The only gain would be in the utility of the fuel vs the primary energy source. Storage and transport benefits. No real gain if using fossil fuels as the primary energy, as those are already excellent energy storage and they can already be made into transport fuels by processes that have less production chain losses than fuel->heat->motion->eletricity->fuel is likely to entail.
If the efficiency of the process is decent, it could be useful for running transport on nucular 😉
If the efficiency is really high, it could cause environmental catastrophy by enabling the exploitation of diffuse, intermittent, low quality energy sources like wind, wave and solar.

“provided we can get the funding going”
They hope to qualify for millions of pounds of government money, until they go bankrupt, but by then the cash will have vanished.

Yep. They are a bit late to the trough if you ask me. They should have started promoting this four years ago when the US was handing out tens of billions of dollars for this sort of nonsense. It would have been pretty simple, really. Just “invest” a few thousand in the right political campaign, set up your business, then wait for the tax dollars to come pouring in. Simple, really.
In 2009, US President Obama took the entire year’s income tax revenue, ALL of it, and dolled it out to political supporters in what was framed as an “economic stimulus” program. I believe that is the largest heist in world history of which we are currently aware.

son of mulder

Simple questions “There are 20 million vehicles in the UK. Assuming maximum efficiency of their engines, how much electrical power would be required to provide a full sustainable supply of this new petrol? How does that compare to the total UK output of electricity currently and by what factor would the number of installed wind turbines have to be increased to meet this additional demand?”


They have a lab bench scale demonstration that can make a gallon of petrol/gasoline in over a month. They hope within 2 years to scale it up 15000x to make a commercial(?) scale plant that can make 360 gallons (8.5 barrels) of petrol/gasoline per day. No mention of costs of the apparatus, level of energy inputs, or energy conversion efficiency.
The major problems I have with this are:
1. You can’t scale up that much in a single step with any reasonable expectation that it will work.
2. Scaling up has always been the failure point for all these ‘green fuel’ ideas. To date few have made it successfully to the pilot plant stage, none have really made it past.
3. 360 gpd is not a commercial scale plant, it barely qualifies as a pilot plant.
4. We need to know the energy input to output conversion ratio. Simple entropy would seem to guarantees that it is going to be abysmal.
5. Cost. Cost. Cost. There has to be a catalyst involved if nothing else. How much is needed? How much can we MAKE? There are limits, for example, on the amount of platinum available.


Only works with significant Govn’t funding.
Alchemy fantacy! Creating “Gold”…

And I apologize to the mods for the changing username but after I post an initial comment, WordPress makes me log in for some reason and subsequent comments are posted under this name unless I remember to click the “Change” button. I’m not intentionally playing multiple sockpuppets here. My previous posting in the thread was as “crosspatch”.
[Reply: Thank you, George. But please use ‘crosspatch’, which is unique, while ‘George’ is not. Your comments are always worth reading. — mod.]


Yes it sure is possible to make gasoline from CO2 but that process is bound to be extremely energy inefficient. There’s no way to create gasoline from CO2 without spending way more energy than can be used by burning that gasoline back to CO2. Such gasoline is not going to be cheap. And where exactly are they planning to take that energy from, I wonder…

Methanol to be used as a gasoline additive is made by CRI near the geothermal power plant Svartsengi in Iceland. Electric energy is coming from the power plant and CO2 comes from the hot steam wells and has to be removed from the steam before entering the turbines in the plant.

Robert A. Taylor

This is 18th and 19th century chemistry. Probably producing octane, a higher alchohol, or a mixture of various hydrocarbons. Perhaps they’ve developed a new catalyst or something. In any case it requires more energy in to crack water and carbon dioxide.

Thon Brocket

Interesting. If it works, it’s effectively the battery – the energy-storage technology – that has always been the missing link in the wind / solar paradigm.
So unhook all those wind-turbines and solar-panels from the grid, and use them to make gasoline on-site, instead – sort of like having hundreds of small oil-wells. A single unconnected generator powering a chemical process is a lot more easily and efficiently operated than one which has to be hooked up to the supply grid; so that gets rid of all the well-know problems of intermittency and back-up requirements that plague renewable generation. Go back to coal, gas and nuclear for electricity; but now the clean/green effect is switched to getting rid of fossil petroleum for transportation. Two big advantages there: reduction of local pollution – NoX, diesel paticulates and so on – and geopolitical; not having to import oil from Venezuela and Saudi Arabia would be Good News.
Extracting CO2 from the atmosphere (400 ppm, right?) seems dumb, though. Get it from the coal-fired stations at a thousand times the concentration.

Ian H

The energy for this is coming from electricity?
If so then I imagine the aim is to produce fuel for transport and feedstock for chemical processing in a hypothetical nuclear powered future. You probably wouldn’t use this stuff to run your car – batteries for doing that are getting better and that niche is closing fast. But I have yet to see any proposals for a battery powered passenger jet.

Espen:—-could perhaps be an interesting alternative to batteries,
JK:——The problem is that fuel is converted about 30% to mechanical energy, while electricity in a battery is at least double that when considering battery losses + motor losses.

Tobias Ostien

One- A whole lot of mays and coulds.
Two- A whole lot of lack of numbers in regards to energy input vs. output.
Three- If it’s too good to be true…there’s money in it somewhere.
You’re out!

Claude Harvey

As always, it’s a matter of “the ratio of energy in versus energy out”. As soon as I hear them talking about getting that “energy in” from wind and solar I smell a poor ratio to be defended by the argument that it doesn’t matter because wind and solar energy is free…..NOT!


I suppose that the potential for storage is the issue since it would obviously take more energy to produce the “gasoline” than can be obtained by burning it later.

Rick Bradford

I expect this company is more about trying to suck green grants out of the fatuous British government than sucking CO2 out of the air to make petrol.
It’s almost as if they sat down one day, trying to write the perfect subsidy application, and this is what they came up with; not only does it provide ‘renewable’ petrol, but wait, there’s more! — it reduces CO2 levels too!

Gras Albert

Joule Unlimited have just commissioned their first industrial sized plant near Hobbs, NM, which is growing Ethanol and/or Diesel in a single step continuous process using bio-engineered enzymes, waste industrial CO2, waste water and sunlight. Land use is non arable (no effect on food production) and the process has delivered 10,000 US Gals per acre annually with eventual productivity to reach 25,000 gals per acre at a production cost as low as $1.28 per gal ($0.30 per litre).
There is already a worldwide infrastructure for distribution, it’s carbon neutral and it’s sustainable which is probably why you can’t invest in the company because the Arabs, Russians and Germans already have.
Joule’s renewable fuel platform will best the scale, productivities and costs of any known alternative to fossil fuel today, with no reliance on biomass feedstocks or precious natural resources. Our inputs are sunlight, waste CO2 and non-potable water. Our output? Millions of gallons of clean, renewable fuel that drops into existing infrastructure.

Bair Polaire

The company can and has used carbon dioxide extracted from air to make petrol, but it is also using industrial sources of carbon dioxide until it is able to improve the performance of “carbon capture”.
That’s what I expected. Extracting CO2 from air is being done since more than 100 years. I doubt they can beat the industry leader on that:
The start-up of the world’s first air separation plant in 1902 initiated the development of the cryogenic industry. Today, several hundred engineers and specialists work at Linde for the worldwide sale and contract execution of plants recovering the air components oxygen and nitrogen as well as the various rare gases.
Over 2,800 air separation plants in 80 countries bear witness to the outstanding market position of Linde in this field of technology.
Maybe they have developed a new process to efficiently turn CO2 into petrol. That alone would be good news.

There’s nothing so improbable, in principle, in extracting water and CO2 from the air and turning it into fuel. Plants do it all the time. What it needs to make it viable is a cost-effective energy source. At present thery’re just using electricity off the grid,
Clearly this is just a proof of concept, and a very long way from a usable technology, but it could make sense in time, especially in relation to unreliable intermittent energy sources like wind and solar. We all know these are inherently lousy ways to make electricity, principally because electricity cannot be stored. It also requires expensive infrastructure to transport it from where the wind and sun are found to where the power is needed. Using them to make fuel, on the other hand, could make sense in some places, if the technology can be developed.


Well, if they hang their machine at the exhaust pipe of an electricity generator on petrol and feed the generator the produced output of their machine and it keeps on running, then I think they’re up to something (perpetuum mobile, anyone?). Subsequently, they will have to turn to industries that produce CO2 (and there are many of them), so they don’t have to deplete the atmosphere and starve plants and life as we know it..
Otherwise, and that will probably be the case, it will need grants or taxes to make up for the loss of energy. And the energy produced will therefore cost more than tradional sources. In that case I like this idea better than wind or solar, but in the end I don’t like energy that needs grants and taxes at all, so I guess this invention will not be viable enough to outlive the green energy hype/hoax. I think it is just not sustainable, in a normal world.

Rob L

Feasible but wasteful. Making hydrocarbon fuels with CO2 extracted from air is almost economic if you have a large cheap source of high temperature heat like a nuclear power plant (I’ve seen estimates as low as $50 per barrel equivalent), but to do it using electricity is incredibly wasteful as electricity is already a very high quality form of energy – far more so than hydrocarbon fuels. It makes the process several times more expensive.
The best place to do this would be somewhere really really cold, like Svalbard as less energy is required to separate CO2 from air


If they are reversing this reaction
C8H18 + 25 O2 → 16 CO2 + 18 H2O
good luck to them! The first thing you need to do is split the water, probably by electrolysis. Then you need to add energy to break more bonds and rearrange things. No wonder they want to hook it up to “free” power sources like wind and solar.
Iceland runs on some hydrogen because of all their excess geothermal energy – they put it into electrolysis. But they are smart enough to have hydrogen powered vehicles.
There’s no need to go past the “lets split the water” phase.

Without more information about what chemicals are the result of the synthesis, it is hard to make a proper evaluation. But it could be a useful alternative to the hydrogen based fuel cell model that was being pushed once upon a time. Linked to thorium nuclear it may be a useful technology for motor racing fuels in a few hundred years when all fossil fuel carbon is used.

Lewis P Buckingham

This may work if there is a research grant in it as well as bonus carbon credits.
from what little I remember from organic chemistry they would need a lot of heat and pressure to build a mixture of alkanes, which would mean it would need more energy to make petrol than would be useable when burnt.


“What happens to trees when you suck all the CO² out of the air?”
Oceans outgas CO2 and nothing changes.


Well when you burn petrol you get energy out. To reverse the process you need to put the same amount of energy back in, plus extra to cater for inefficiencies. So where do they get the energy required from?. If its solar/ nuclear fine. If its coal burning you have lost again due to inefficiencies.

It is interesting because Petrol is very energy dense and we know how to use, store and transport it efficiently. Electricity isn’t so convenient especially for moving vehicles. In an ideal world one could run power stations at full tilt the whole time keeping up their efficiency and use any spare juice to make petrol for instance at night time. You could even build windmills and tidal power stations far out to sea, or far from civilisation, and ship the energy they produce back to us as Premium grade. So even if it takes more electrical energy than it produces fuel energy that isn’t necessarily an end to it.