In November 2013 Israeli scientists claimed discovery of a viable commercially produced alternative fuel to crude oil that would revolutionize energy usage worldwide in less than a decade. Thus on Wednesday, November 13, 2013, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, a team of geologists, chemists and various other scientists from Ben Gurion University unveiled a process that will manufacture an eco-friendly substance able to perform the same functions as oil. This proto-fuel, which was created using a greenhouse gas and a chemical element can be obtained from desalinated seawater.
Dr. Moti Herskowitz, the chemical engineering professor who heads the school’s research department, held a press conference at the Fuel Choices Summit in Tel Aviv. Dr Herskowitz’s as yet un-patented process involves blending carbon dioxide with water and synthetic gas, before passing it through a special reactor to create what Herskowitz calls a “green feed” made up of liquid and gas. This feed will be used as the raw material for the refineries of the future instead of oil. There is no magic here… this is viable,” he said, “and it will be able to produce gasoline, kerosene, jet fuel and diesel.”
Clearly, with a scarcity of oil a constant concern for world leaders, the ingredients for Dr. Herskowitz’s “green feed” would be a game-changer for countries like Japan and Australia, where geographical location and recent history can make them utterly dependent on the good will of other nations like the United States and China.
Hydrogen, which is also available in plentiful, albeit expensive to process, amounts, can also be obtained from water. What we learned in fundamental chemistry classes, that water is comprised of two hydrogen atoms for every oxygen atom, means that energy can be captured by “splitting” the chemical compounds. Meanwhile, carbon dioxide can be “captured” from places where it is generated and broken into component ions and atoms in an eco-friendly process that means less of the gas would be released into the environment. “A truly renewable fuel in terms of the environment,” says Dr. Herskowitz.
While Dr. Herskowitz has established the scientific basis for his process, he believes that its true commercial potential will be realized in a few years. This is because various groups of scientists across the world are working on cheaper and more energy-efficient ways of dividing the elements within water, which is expected to significantly reduce the price of hydrogen derived from water.
“It’s all economics at the end of the day, because you’ve got to be competitive,” said Dr. Herskowitz, who is in the process of establishing a start-up to bring the process to market. “I believe that in five to ten years we’ll be able to be very competitive because of advances with water-splitting technologies.”
Water-splitting has hitherto not been seen as sufficiently efficient to drive a viable fuel production process, but with battery research creating models which so far have proven to be less cost-effective, a collective worldwide research rethink seems to be the order of the day for governments, the oil companies and startups. Atypically, the latest news from Toyota, that its new all-battery model, expected to be released approximately a year from now will cost at least US$50,000. Expecting the average citizen to deal with that kind of sticker shock is ridiculous. Professor Christopher Hardacre, a chemist at Queen’s University Belfast, told the Jewish Chronicle that, above all, energy has to be practical. “The efficient conversion of CO2 into fuel via reaction with H2 is very valuable and has the potential to be a significant development in the replacement of fossil fuels. The process developed by the BGU team is an very exciting prospect.”