Fuel from Thin Air
Oct 22, 2012
You can’t just make valuable resources such as fertilizer and fuel out of thin air. Or can you? Several companies are looking into innovative solutions that sound like they were ripped from the pages of a sci-fi novel.
For example, Massachusetts-based Angstrom Advanced has a project in late-stage development that produces liquid ammonia by pulling from resources readily available in the atmosphere.
"We manufacture hydrogen electrolyzers that are optimized for running on the intermittent electricity produced by wind turbines," says business developer Sam Sterling with Angstrom Advanced. "Hydrogen is the primary component in ammonia, so we can pair this product with a small ammonia converter so farmers or communities with wind turbines can create their own fertilizer at minimal expense."
Users also need a nitrogen pressure swing absorption device, a small piece of equipment that sits next to the ammonia reactor. This device pulls nitrogen straight from the surrounding air. The size of each batch depends on several factors, but Sterling says a production rate of 1,000 to 10,000 tons of compressed liquid fertilizer per year is possible.
Meanwhile, a British company is testing a device it says can create synthetic petrol by pulling carbon dioxide out of the air, purifying it and mixing it with hydrogen to produce methanol. This mixture is passed through a gasoline fuel reactor, and presto changeo – you have petrol.
These projects would dramatically affect the global fuel landscape if they are proven to work on a large scale and not just in these small-batch scenarios. So consider it a compliment when I say I hope their projects are full of a lot of hot air.