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New Synthetic Fuel Technology

By Rizwan Ahmad - 05 May 2013 No Comments
Synthetic fuel, which can be made from natural gas, coal and biomass, has been around for a while now. If produced under the right circumstances, it can burn cleaner than fossil fuels. While it incorporates biomass, such as from corn, sugarcane or switch grass, the fuel has a distinct advantage over biofuels. This is because synthetic fuel can be used directly in normal engines, whereas biofuels need to be mixed with gasoline or requires specially modified engines. Further, because there is an abundance of the constituents of biomass, coal and natural gas, synthetic fuel has a far more sustainable future than commonly used fossil fuels like petrol and diesel.
New Synthetic Fuel Technology
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Scientists at Princeton believe that synthetic fuel could completely replace our current dependency on gasoline. The catch, however, is that the infrastructure to enable a switch in the United States alone would cost over $1.1 trillion, as well as at least 40 years to implement. This is because at least 130 plants would need to be built.

There are, however, new developments being made that could hopefully lower the costs of utilising synthetic fuel. Inspiration for technology of the future has come from an unlikely source from the past, namely, audio cassettes.

A New Catalyst

Synthetic fuels are usually made with the Fischer-Tropsch process, a German innovation that has been around for decades. The case used to be that the process was too expensive when compared with cheap and plentiful petroleum, but of course the decreasing supply and rising price of oil is changing that, prompting a revisit to the Fischer-Tropsch process and synthetic fuel. The problem of expense is because hundreds of tons of cobalt are needed as a catalyst in the Fischer-Tropsch process, which is very expensive.

To remedy this, Total S.A., a major oil and gas company approached researchers from the University of Amsterdam (UvA) to produce a more affordable catalyst that can be prepared on a very large scale, while still performing as well as cobalt.

The UvA team was inspired by the method that companies such as TDK used in the 60’s for manufacturing magnetic tapes for audio cassettes. The recording materials used in these cassettes were polymer-based tapes containing cobalt-doped iron oxide particles.

Now, after a couple of years they seem to have achieved their goal: a cost-effective, dependable and efficient catalyst that can be made in large quantities. They created catalysts that are nanometre-thin cobalt shells on iron oxide particles. Thus far they have proved to be excellent Fischer-Tropsch catalysts, providing exceptional diesel fractions at reduced costs.

With the plenitude of available natural gas, the environmental benefits, and now more economically viable costs, the energy landscape could very well be changed by synthetic fuel.

Queenie Bates is an avid writer and researcher, with a particular interest in the area of sustainability. She tried to stay up to date by researching whitepapers and attending oil conferences.
Rizwan Ahmad
About the Author:
This article is contributed by Queenie Bates and posted by Rizwan Ahmad Author and founder of, He is a tech blogger from India and he loves to share his thoughts by writing articles on this site to the different topics related to technology world,

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