It has been the dream of environmentalists for years, to discover the alchemic ability to turn water into liquid gold: gasoline.
Now a company based in Dresden in Germany claims to have developed the technology to do just that. Sunfire GmbH has created an engineering installation that can synthesize petroleum-based fuels using water and carbon dioxide.
“I would call it a miracle because it completely changes the way we are producing fuels for cars, planes and also the chemical industry,” said Nils Aldag, Chief Financial Officer and co-founder of Sunfire GmbH.
The technology utilised in the process actually dates back to 1925, building on a technique known as the Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis, which was first conceived and developed by German chemists Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch. The Fischer-Tropsch (F-T) method involves the use of electrolysis to convert carbon dioxide extracted from water and hydrogen gas derived from water vapor into liquid fuels such as diesel and kerosene, and requires a series of reactors operating at temperatures between 150 and 300 degrees Celsius.
In terms of fuel economy, the new process currently loses out to conventional methods of fuel production using fossil fuels as these are much cheaper to produce, but its creators believe that it will find its place in areas where fuel is required in far-flung locations.
“What is important is that the value creation happens at the place where you use the fuel,” he said. So there will be no crude oil transportation costs and expensive infrastructure. “You are producing the fuel right where you are actually going to use it,” Aldag stressed.
This factor is of particular interest to the US military, where the cost of delivering fuel to remote locations can often escalate its overall pricetag to $400 per gallon. Sunfire believes that the technology will continue to be improved and refined and they hope that it will be available commercially by 2016, though there needs to be more of an incentive for companies to choose to invest in it.
"This rig enables us to prove technical feasibility on an industrial scale," said Sunfire CTO Christian von Olshausen. "It is now a matter of regulatory factors falling into place in a way which gives investors a sufficient level of planning reliability. Once that has occurred it will be possible to commence the step-by-step substitution of fossil fuels. If we want to achieve fuel autonomy in the long term, we need to get started today."
A point to ponder is whether, if this method of fuel manufacture was to be commonly adopted, this gradually warming world would have the water resources to spare? The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released earlier this year, predicted that global warming will cause widespread droughts and water shortages across the world. Now the technology is finally available, our dreams of making fuel from a once plentiful and abundant resource might now be compromised by climactic changes that could turn water, not fuel, into a form of "liquid gold."
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