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Saturday 25th March

Audi’s planning to make diesel from thin air

No, really – combining water, renewable energy and carbon dioxide. And possibly witchcraft

Published: 11 Nov 2017

Yes, you read it right: move over biodiesel; Audi’s ready to make go-juice using a hydroelectric plant, some water and carbon dioxide from the air. 

And, appropriately enough, they’re planning to put the pilot facility in the home of all things green – Switzerland. Yes, the country that only suspended its ‘Absolutely no racing, ever again’ rule for Formula E, a race series that doesn’t touch a drop of non-renewable energy. 

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So, you might be wondering, how does it all work? Well, given that the processes are the result of hard-won research and testing, Audi’s keeping fairly schtum about the specifics. Suffice to say that the e-diesel plant will sit onsite at a hydroelectric plant in the land of yodelling and knee-high socks, taking surplus power from the plant (and, presumably, water from the dam). 

The facility will split water into hydrogen and oxygen via electrolysis; the resultant oxygen can either be released into the atmosphere (that’s the plan at the moment) or bottled and used for another purpose. From there, the hydrogen meets with carbon dioxide, sourced from either from the surrounding air or produced from “biogenous waste gases”, which sounds decidedly unseemly and biological. 

Anyhow, a very complicated (or simple, if you’ve an assortment of PhDs) chemical synthesis builds hydrocarbon chains – the building blocks of nearly all flammable fuels. In this particular case, the chains tend to be straight-chain alkanes, generally ranging from nonane to icosane. Or, to translate: diesel. Yup, diesel; produced with renewable energy, sucking excess carbon dioxide from the air and saving various woodland creatures in the process.  Oh, and it’ll be cleaner burning than anything we can pull out of the ground. 

OK, reality check time: as lovely as it is to create a renewable source of fuel that actually reduces the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, Audi still has created what can only be described as diesel. And, after the recent witch hunts, will anyone be willing to use diesel, however cleanly it’s produced? 

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