Saturday 17 March 2018

Believe it or not, cars ‘could make their own fuel’

YOU would have to check the calendar again this week.

There’s a story doing the rounds, in respectable circles it must be said, that cars could one day create their own fuel out of thin air.

Scientists hope this will lead to a cheap way of making environmentally friendly, carbon-neutral ‘green’ fuel that could be used without major engine redesigns.

According to the reports, a microbe found around the roots of various food plants creates an enzyme which in nature produces ammonia from nitrogen gas.

However, it has now apparently been shown it can also create propane.

That is the fuel so widely used in camping gas stoves.

According to Markus Ribbe, a scientist at the University of California, the enzyme could be tweaked, so that instead of only making the simple molecule of propane, it could create the longer chains that make up petrol.


He says: “Obviously, this could lead to new ways to create synthetic liquid fuels if we can make longer carboncarbon chains.”

The researchers starved the microbe of oxygen and nitrogen from which it made ammonia. They gave it carbon monoxide instead. The microbe automatically started using it to produce short carbon chains, two or three atoms long.

This new ability is a “profound discovery”, according to Jonas Peters, a California Institute of Technology researcher. He is convinced it will have important industrial applications.

But the major implications for the motor industry is that it could be used for car fuel.

As we all know only too well, car engines produce carbon monoxide in their emissions because the fuel is not thoroughly burnt.


If this ‘microbe miracle’ were to work, cars could potentially be driven off their own fumes. And after that it might be possible to draw fuel straight out of the air.

The technology that breaks

down carbon dioxide into

carbon monoxide already

exists and, as we know, the

dioxide bit is widely available

in the atmosphere. Eventually,

cars could be taking carbon

out of the atmosphere as fast

as they put it back in.

Believe it or not?

Well, according to Dr

Ribbe, extracting, growing

and storing sufficient

quantities of the miracle

microbe is extremely difficult.

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