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Synthetic Fossil-, and E-Fuels: a Silver Bullet for the “Climate Crisis”?

By 28th July 2023No Comments

We are relentlessly assailed by the political élite and mainstream media that Earth is facing an existential  “climate crisis”, to which it is essential that humanity responds.

Some (but by no means all) of the caveats associated with this assumption are catalogued in Appendix 1, but let’s pretend that this apocalyptic scenario is correct; and that we need to drastically cut back Man-made CO2 emissions. We’ll go electric, then: it’s the current flavour of the month, after all.

The obvious way to achieve this is to massively increase our electricity-generation capacity using nuclear power. However, this has to progress: (1) in the face of tooth-and-nail resistance from the irrational, new-Luddite “green” lobby, and (2) at the glacial pace that all UK infrastructure projects – except carpet-bombing house-building campaigns – seem to proceed. That’s a “No!” or “Slow-Go”, for nuclear, then.

There are already mounting concerns about both the scientific credibility and the achievability of the UK government’s mandated internal combustion engine vehicle (ICEV) sales phase-out [Ref.1, 2]; and its ruinously expensive parent “electrify everything” Net Zero strategy [Ref.3].

Modern civilisation is extremely dependent on fossil fuels; both for their energy-generating combustion, and the many downstream chemical derivatives that are essential adjuncts to modern life. What if we could continue to use fossil fuel substitutes, while contemporaneously sidestepping the Man-made CO2 emissions issue?

Well actually, we can [Ref.4]. It’s possible to extract and isolate atmospheric CO2, recombine it with hydrogen in the presence of suitable catalysts, and generate short-, and long-chain hydrocarbons which exactly match the chemical properties of fossil fuels. These can then be used to propel the existing global vehicle fleet without modification to either of them, or the fuelling infrastructure (see Appendix 1).

Then the continuing use of ICEVs – and indeed the survival of the otherwise-slated-for-extinction commercial aviation-, and sea travel industries – merely becomes a carbon-neutral process of re-emitting an identical amount of CO2 through fuel combustion to that extracted to synthesise the fuel in the first place: a virtuous circle.

But let’s be very clear: there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Extracting and isolating atmospheric CO2 is a hugely expensive, energy-intensive exercise. Amongst industrial processes, it is probably second only (but don’t quote me) to extracting, isolating – and safely storing – pure hydrogen [Ref.5]

The industrial scale synthesis alone of fossil fuel substitutes has been estimated to cost anywhere between three and five times as much as the aggregate extraction, purification and distribution costs of existing fossil fuels. But costs are already declining, as sales volumes and economies of scale and ramp up; as substantiated by recent developments in Germany [Ref.6].

On the positive side, this carbon-neutral synthetic hydrocarbons route would firstly obviate the need for the UK’s taxpayers to be soaked for £500 Bn per annum for the next three decades (a cool £15 trillion), to achieve a highly speculative two one thousandths of a degree reduction in global temperatures, courtesy of our UK Net Zero actions. This represents a stupendously cost-ineffective £7,500 trillion per degree C of abatement.

Secondly, we would not need to electrify the entire UK road transport fleet, or massively upgrade our erratic, unstable and unreliable renewables (or maybe I mean “ruinables”) grid capacity.

Instead, the unimpeded operation of the existing, reliable and effective liquid fuel distribution network can continue indefinitely.

Thirdly, relieved of the unsustainably massive burden the total electrification of the UK road transport network represents, all electricity network resources and efforts could be focused on the construction of nuclear energy-based generating capacity.

The aim of this would be to power all static UK power consumption locations by nuclear-generated electricity; and in the medium-, to long-term, all commercial passenger-, and sea-freight also.

Carbon-neutral synthetic fuels (produced using renewables where cost-effective elsewhere in the world, and by using excess UK/ European nuclear capacity) could then be ear-marked for applications for which high energy-density liquid fuels are indisputably essential: road vehicles, (in the interim) sea travel and aviation.

Finally, it’s worth noting that this synthetic hydrocarbon/ e-Fuels approach already has official government approval in Germany [Ref.7].

Why, as usual, is the UK lagging well behind the curve on scientific, technological and climate change adaptation strategy?

Appendix 1:

1. Climate “Crisis”Caveats:

  • Firstly, there is not a single, properly-qualified climate scientist who subscribes to the view that humanity faces imminent runaway climate immolation; and secondly, there is no validated scientific evidence [Ref.8] underpinning such claims.
  • The guilty party allegedly responsible for humanity’s imminent downfall has been unequivocally pinpointed by the IPCC and some aligned “scientists” as Man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. This has allegedly arisen primarily from the steadily increasing combustion of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) since the start of the industrial revolution [Ref.9], to meet the global population’s ever-growing needs for cheap, life-sustaining-, life-lengthening-, and life-enhancing energy.
  • The fact is that less than 3.5% of annual global CO2 emissions are of anthropogenic origin [Ref.10]. Atmospheric chemistry and physics work independently of CO2‘s source; so what will humanity be doing to deal with the other 96.5% of atmospheric CO2 emissions kindly provided by nature if they’re such a problem?
  • Also, all CO2 emissions (Man-made and natural) are rapidly subject to biospheric chemical absorption and re-emission exchange processes [Ref.11].
  • Our current best-estimates of the Man-made percentage contribution to total CO2 emissions are actually decreasing over time. Ever more evidence is accumulating of previously undiscovered natural sources: e.g., sub-aquatic volcanic emissions [Ref.12]. Meanwhile, as the real magnitude of previously roughly-estimated known ones, like those from phytoplankton and the insect world, are progressively more precisely enumerated, the known magnitude of the Carbon Cycle is progressively increasing: downgrading humanity’s influence even further.

2. Synthetic/ e-Fuel Synthesis – Principal Reaction Stoichiometry:

Energy Input+
nCO2 + (3n + 1)H2 = CnH(2n+2) + 2nH2O [Ref.13]

Diesel is composed of about 75% saturated hydrocarbons (primarily paraffins including n, iso, and cycloparaffins), and 25% aromatic hydrocarbons (including naphthalenes and alkylbenzenes). The average chemical formula for common diesel fuel is C12H23, ranging from approx. C10H20 to C15H28. Petrol consists of hydrocarbons with between 5 and 12 carbon atoms per molecule, but then it is blended for various uses. Overall a typical petrol sample is predominantly a mixture of paraffins (alkanes), naphthenes (cycloalkanes), aromatics and olefins (alkenes). The ratios vary based on a variety of factors [Ref.14]. The situation is even more complex for aviation fuels; which are formulated from hydrocarbon blends on a composition/ performance specification basis [Ref.15].


So far no-one seems to have registered that, apart from synthetic fossil fuel, CnH(2n+2), the other major reaction product of the equation above, at the temperatures it takes place, is water vapour.

It is indisputable that there has been an erratically variable c.1.4°C of warming over the last 150 years or so (since we emerged from one of the four coldest periods in the last 10,000 years: the Little Ice Age).

Our current, very limited understanding of atmospheric chemistry and physics is such that it’s unclear what will be the effect of attempting to exchange a reduced atmospheric concentration of the weak Global Warming Gas (GWG), carbon dioxide, for an increase in of the already substantially more atmospherically abundant (about 60 times) and potent (about 7 times) one, water vapour. This proviso applies even moreso to hydrogen combustion as a “clean” power source; although there is strong evidence that the warming effects of both gases are saturated [Ref.16].

Fortunately, one of water’s key properties is that it is the only atmospheric component that can exist as any of its three states: solid, liquid or vapour – or indeed as combinations of them, depending on locally-prevailing atmospheric conditions. All the other components are gaseous under all observed atmospheric conditions. Water, in liquid form, as clouds, has a dramatic effect on climate through global cloud cover changes; which cool (more cloud cover) or warm (less cloud cover) the Earth [Ref.17]. This crucial, variable, climate influence is totally ignored in all IPCC GCM (Global Circulation Model) computer climate simulations; which therefore do not represent even a moderately accurate simulation of reality.


7. (original German version)
14. .

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