Can British Engineers Produce Petrol from Air?

Via the ever-reliable Instapundit, I was awakened from my Friday cubicle-induced stupor by a report in The Telegraph that some blokes may have invented a technology that uses carbon dioxide captured from the atmosphere to create petrol, or fuel if you’re on the downwind side of the pond.

A small company in the north of England has developed the “air capture” technology to create synthetic petrol using only air and electricity.

Experts tonight hailed the astonishing breakthrough as a potential “game-changer” in the battle against climate change and a saviour for the world’s energy crisis.

If true, this would be a game-changer; a technology that represents a leap forward in a current pattern of behavior. In this instance, a technology like the one described here could render obsolete our reliance on unstable and unfriendly oil regimes, overcome our stalled efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and turn politics on its head (never underestimate how wedded politicians and bureaucrats are to the status quo).

Now, if you will indulge my soapbox for a moment please, I want to point out the following passages:

The £1.1m project, in development for the past two years, is being funded by a group of unnamed philanthropists who believe the technology could prove to be a lucrative way of creating renewable energy.

While the technology has the backing of Britain’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers, it has yet to capture the interest of major oil companies. (bold mine)

I want to make three political arguments: first, profit motivation is a powerful incentive for challenging the status quo, and can (and often does) lead to socially desireable outcomes; second, a free and open market-based economy is the only means of overcoming stale, state-protected, dominant industries; and third, the importance of allowing the investing class (the “evil rich”) to speculate in innovative technologies/industries without fear of suffering punitive taxation is essential to our shared desires for a better world.  The state will never be more efficient or effective at supporting new technologies than the free market.


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