A small British company has produced "petrol from air" using a revolutionary technology that promises to solve the energy crisis while at the same time helping to curb global warming by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Air Fuel Synthesis in Stockton-on-Tees has produced five litres of the new fuel since August when it switched on a small refinery that manufactures hydrocarbons 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 tonne of petrol a day. It also plans to produce green aviation fuel to make airline travel more carbon-neutral.
Tim Fox, the head of energy and the environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London, said: "It sounds too good to be true, but it is true. They are doing it and I've been up there myself and seen it. The innovation is that they have made it happen as a process. It's a small pilot plant capturing air and extracting CO2 from it based on well-known principles. It uses well-known and well-established components but what is exciting is that they have put the whole thing together and shown that it can work."
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.
"We've taken carbon dioxide from air and hydrogen from water and turned these elements into petrol," said Peter Harrison, the company's chief executive, who revealed the breakthrough at a conference at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.
"It looks and smells like petrol but it's a much cleaner and clearer product than petrol," Mr Harrison said.
As well as removing CO2 from the atmosphere, the new process has an advantage for the renewables industry in that it converts electricity from, say, a wind farm, into a more storable form of energy – a liquid fuel.