As technology advances, so do the opportunities to make synthetic versions of unsustainable materials. Synthetic leather has been around for a while and synthetic sweeteners frequently hit the market. Even ways to make synthetic fuel have been around for a century, but not quite like the way being tested out in Osaka recently.
From January 11-17, the Demonstration Business Promotion Team Osaka along with Sustainable Energy Inc ran trials on a synthetic fuel produced from water and carbon dioxide present in the air. If successful, this could become the first carbon-based and truly carbon-neutral fuel of its kind.
The idea may sound pretty wild at first, but all the basic elements needed for fuels like gasoline are right there in the water and air: hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen. The hard part is just getting all those atoms into the right places cheaply and quickly.
Sustainable Energy does this by first using a photocatalyst to create what they call “radical water” from light and CO2 in the air. Radical water is water that contains radicals, which are molecules with unbound electrons that are more conducive to chemical reactions.
Next a “seed fuel” is added to the radical water which reacts with the CO2 to continuously produce more of the same type of fuel. For example, if kerosene is added then more synthetic kerosene will be made. The synthetic fuel itself can also be used as a seed fuel in future production, eliminating the need for fossil fuels once started.
▼ A diagram illustrating the basic process
Since this synthetic fuel behaves like the natural fuel it is based on, it too will release carbon dioxide into the air. However, since it is also made from carbon dioxide in the air, it could be possible to achieve a balance. Since the main energy source to drive the chemical reaction appears to be sunlight, this balance doesn’t seem out of the question.
The tests carried out at Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park in Osaka City used synthetic fuel made by this process to power a generator which was used to charge an electric vehicle. The purpose was to measure both the emission of other air pollutants such as sulfur oxides and the stability of power generation from this fuel. Using this data production of the fuel as well as equipment to make use of it can be further developed.
▼ A news report on the tests
Such a fuel seems too good to be true, and as such there were many mixed feelings about it online. Some where cautiously optimistic while others doubted this synthetic fuel’s ability to succeed or outpace other alternatives such as fuel cells.
“I don’t know…”
“Are they trying to be alchemists in Osaka?”
“I think just running an engine on water alone is more practical.”
“We’re better off using crops like corn to get fuel.”
“I doubt they can make it so the energy to produce is less than the energy it creates.”
“There’s not enough CO2 in the air to make a suitable amount of fuel.”
“This is basically a different kind of solar power, isn’t it?”
It would seem that a lot of the criticism directed at this method is under the assumption that the process is decided and ready for use rather than still in development. Clearly there are major hurdles such as how to efficiently collect enough pure CO2 from the air to produce the fuel or determining if the whole system is any better than current solar panels in the end.
If it does work then we may all be a lot better off from it, but even if it doesn’t the lessons learnt from tests like this might lead to something else further down the road.
Sources: Osaka City, Sustainable Energy, Hachima Kiko
Read more stories from SoraNews24.
-- Japan’s hydrogen fuel cell stations begin to open, but are they worth the switch?
-- Japan’s JAXA wants to build a fuel processing plant on the surface of the moon
-- Ramen-based fuel now powers one of Japan’s most beautiful sightseeing railways
- External Link
Login to comment
This is fossil light, fossil water and fossil CO2, is it?
The US Navy developed something similar over a decade ago to make jet fuel for aircraft carriers at sea, reducing the need for tanker support. The process requires a great deal of power, but nuclear powered ships have no shortage of power available.
The best molecule to attempt to manufacture in this way would be 2,2,4, trimethylpentane (aka iso-octane) if the use is for ICEs. If such a process is developed that converts efficiently, it could be used in what we might call 'marinoplasts' (see: chloroplast) which would be, for example, 10 kilometer square mats of floating solar cells that feed a central, very large floating 'converter' platform that uses captured CO₂ brought continuously to the platform by a dedicated convoy of carriers that drop off the CO₂ and take on the now solar charged hydrocarbons for transport back to distribution ports. The design of such mats is an interesting thought project which includes design, construction, and maintenance of these mats and the equipment to go with such activity, operation, a design that allows migrating marine mammals to pass under them with minimal stress to the animals, and a slew of other considerations. These mats would drift west just north of the Equator and then be towed south to drift east on the relatively constant equatorial currents. The central equatorial Pacific Ocean is an enormous untapped space that would be perfect for such development and we have adequate technology for it now. Another application might be 'battery ships' that are charged at the platform and plugged in on the shore. It would be a 'space program' sized development, but gluing together C's and H's into stable, momentum rich fuel molecules similar to what a chloroplast does, and in large volume is clearly within the range of our knowledge. The biggest problem will be what to do with the Oxygen produced because, on a windless day, the trash Oxygen could become quite dangerous. I've been playing with this for about 10 years as one of those things I do when in motaland and the details are just fun to add and test in gedanken form. The geometry that I use would deploy in a 10 kilometer square mat would deploy 25 solar cells per m², 100,000,000 cells @ even just one watt = 100Megawatts. If nothing else, it would make a great scene for a scifi story of just the daily life on such an installation. Imagine being in a subsurface maintenance craft leading a disoriented pod of migrating whales out from under the mat... so many details I could add in construction and operation and all just to build a fantasy playground for the mind that requires confirmed possibilities, that is, actual physical properties of matériel and construction. What else would a scientist fantasize? It's one of my favorite mental playgrounds of several...
Load the fuel produced into a conventional fossil vehicle and load the equivalent energy that produced that amount of fuel to a comparable electric car and see which vehicle goes farther