As the US undergoes its busiest travel week of the year, it is timely to reflect on the future of our fuel supplies. The modern world relies so heavily on the need for mobility, but, with our current reliance on fossil fuels, travel has a precarious future.
Oil reserves are not limitless, and the by-products of the internal combustion engine are impacting on global warming. It’s time to find a viable alternative, and Israeli university researchers believe that they have done just that.

Scientists from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) have discovered a ground-breaking method that is able to derive an alternative liquid fuel from hydrogen (water) and carbon dioxide, two of the most common elements on earth. The development team comprised Professor Moti Herskowitz, who is the Israel Cohen Chair in Chemical Engineering and VP and dean of R&D, along with Professor Miron Landau, Dr. Roxana Vidruk and researchers from BGU’s Blechner Center of Industrial Catalysis and Process Development.

“It is an extraordinary challenge to convert carbon dioxide and hydrogen to green feed,” said Herskowitz, “The technology is based on novel specially tailored catalysts and catalytic processes. Well-established, commercially available technology can be directly applied to the process developed at Ben Gurion University. It is envisaged that the short-term implementation of the process will combine synthetic gas produced from various renewable and alternative sources with carbon dioxide and hydrogen. Since there are no foreseen technological barriers, the new process should become a reality within five to ten years."

Herskowitz unveiled the new discovery during a presentation at Bloomberg Fuel Choices Summit which was held in Tel Aviv on 12th-13th November, during which he stated that the new process could become the primary technology for producing liquid fuels once “carbon dioxide capture from various sources, including air and water splitting, become technologically and economically feasible.”

The new substance in its raw state is similar to synthetic crude oil and can be turned into a usable liquid fuel using the same type of technology, but the research team explained that further technologies, such as water splitting equipment, would need to be developed in order to make the new fuel a viable and competitive alternative. It already provides a more practical solution than other alternatives, such as electric cars, as it could use the existing infrastructure used for oil and liquid gas distribution, and Herskowitz said he was confident that the new technique would be adopted within five to ten years.

The BGU team believe that the most logical approach would be to implement the changeover in stages, and they suggest “beginning with carbon dioxide, water and natural gas, biomass or bio-gas as the starting products and ultimately evolving into a technology that requires only carbon dioxide derived from the atmosphere and water.”

"The process is patent pending, and we are ready to take off, demonstrate and commercialize it," Herskowitz said, adding that bench experiments have been conducted and scale-up should be fairly straightforward.

The Israeli government has a visionary approach to its future transport solutions, and has a valiant ambition to replace 60 percent of its conventional oil consumption with the latest innovations in alternative fuels by 2025, making it the world leader in this field.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about Israel’s vision at the Bloomberg Fuel Summit and announced the joint winners of the first annual $1 million Samson Prize for innovation in the field of alternative fuels, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Southern California (USC) G.K. Surya Prakash and Nobel Laureate George A. Olah. The Summit focused on key factors surrounding the incorporation of new fuels, and will discuss whether the advances in new technologies will live up to expectations, and whether the sector will continue to be dominated by one fuel.

The advent of new and environmentally friendly alternatives is excellent news for the planet, but it will be interesting to see how readily new technologies are embraced. As the opportunities for diversification in the fuel sector begin to open up, will the world be released from the stranglehold of the oil companies, and what will be the economic implications of this? The world’s economy is driven and dominated by the oil industry; ‘black gold’ both feeds and undermines the global economy but is so inextricably interwoven into every aspect of the world’s manufacturing processes that it is not yet clear how the new, carbon-neutral fuels would be integrated into the financial system. Increased demand and uncertainty over reserves currently allow companies like Opec to manipulate supplies in order to artificially inflate prices, a practice which has led to the upward spiralling oil costs being experienced in the Western world, but if fuel can soon be generated to order, will this tyrannical reign be over?

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