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British scientists 'invent artificial petrol' that could cost just 90p per GALLON (and there's no carbon)

  • Hydrogen-based fuel produces no greenhouse gases so could help nations slash their carbon footprint
  • It is due to be available at the pumps in three to five years
Petrol price relief? Stephen Voller, Chief Executive of Cella Energy said he is confident the new fuel will work in existing cars

Petrol price relief? Stephen Voller, chief executive of Cella Energy said he is confident the new fuel will work in existing cars

Artificial petrol that costs 19p per litre could be on forecourts in as little as three years.

British scientists are refining the recipe for a hydrogen-based fuel that will run in existing cars and engines at the fraction of the cost of conventional petrol.

With hydrogen at its heart rather than carbon, it will not produce any harmful emissions when burnt, making it better for the environment, as well as easier on the wallet.

The first road tests are due next year and, if all goes well, the cut-price ‘petrol’ could be on sale in three to five years.

Professor Stephen Bennington, the project’s lead scientist, said: ‘In some senses, hydrogen is the perfect fuel. It has three times more energy than petrol per unit of weight, and when it burns, it produces nothing but water.

‘Our new hydrogen storage materials offer real potential for running cars, planes and other vehicles that currently use hydrocarbons.’

The fuel is expected to cost around $1.50 a gallon, or 19p a litre. Even with fuel taxes, the forecourt price is likely to be around 60p a litre – less than half the current cost.

That would bring the price of filling a 70-litre Ford Mondeo down to around £42.

Energy from hydrogen can be harnessed by burning the gas or combining it with oxygen in a fuel cell to produce electricity.

But current methods of storing hydrogen are expensive and not very safe.

How it works: Cella Energy is optimistic that drivers will not need to modify their cars in order to use the fuel

How it works: Cella Energy is optimistic that drivers will not need to modify their cars in order to use the fuel

To get round this, scientists from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, near Oxford, University College London and Oxford University have found a way of densely packing hydrogen into tiny beads that can be poured or pumped like a liquid.

Stephen Volker, of Cellar Energy, which is developing the technology, told Gizmag: ‘We have developed micro-beads that can be used in an existing gasoline or petrol vehicle to replace oil-based fuels.

Green energy: A hydrogen fuel bus in London. Unlike existing 'green' fuels the new fuel under development will not require motorists to upgrade their vehicles

Green energy: A hydrogen fuel bus in London. Unlike existing 'green' fuels the new fuel under development will not require motorists to upgrade their vehicles

'Early indications are that the micro-beads can be used in existing vehicles without engine modification. The materials are hydrogen-based, and so when used produce no carbon emissions at the point of use, in a similar way to electric vehicles.’

A tankful of the artificial petrol, which has yet to be given a brand name, is expected to last 300 to 400 miles, in line with conventional fuel.

But AA president Edmund King warned: ‘The fact the hydrogen is cheaper now doesn’t mean it always will be because the Government would soon get its hands on it and increase the tax.’

Future Technology and Aircraft Types

The following discussion is based on a presentation by Ilan Kroo entitled, Reinventing the Airplane: New Concepts for Flight in the 21st Century.

When we think about what may appear in future aircraft designs, we might look at recent history. The look may be frightening. From first appearances, anyway, nothing has happened in the last 40 years!

There are many causes of this apparent stagnation. The first is the enormous economic risk involved. Along with the investment risk, there is a liability risk which is of especially great concern to U.S. manufacturers of small aircraft. One might also argue that the commercial aircraft manufacturers are not doing too badly, so why argue with success and do something new? These issues are discussed in the previous section on the origins of aircraft.

Because of the development of new technologies or processes, or because new roles and missions appear for aircraft, we expect that aircraft will indeed change. Most new aircraft will change in evolutionary ways, but more revolutionary ideas are possible too.

This section will discuss several aspects of future aircraft including the following:

  • Improving the modern airplane
  • New configurations
  • New roles and requirements

Improving the Modern Airplane

Breakthroughs in many fields have provided evolutionary improvements in performance. Although the aircraft configuration looks similar, reductions in cost by nearly a factor of 3 since the 707 have been achieved through improvements in aerodynamics, structures and materials, control systems, and (primarily) propulsion technology. Some of these areas are described in the following sections.

Active Controls

Active flight control can be used in many ways, ranging from the relatively simple angle of attack limiting found on airplanes such as the Boeing 727, to maneuver and gust load control investigated early with L-1011 aircraft, to more recent applications on the Airbus and 777 aircraft for stability augmentation.

Reduced structural loads permit larger spans for a given structural weight and thus a lower induced drag. As we will see, a 10% reduction in maneuver bending load can be translated into a 3% span increase without increasing wing weight. This produces about a 6% reduction in induced drag.

Reduced stability requirements permit smaller tail surfaces or reduced trim loads which often provide both drag and weight reductions.

Such systems may also enable new configuration concepts, although even when applied to conventional designs, improvements in performance are achievable. In addition to performance advantages the use of these systems may be suggested for reasons of reliability, improved safety or ride quality, and reduced pilot workload, although some of the advantages are arguable.

New Airfoil Concepts

Airfoil design has improved dramatically in the past 40 years, from the transonic "peaky" sections used on aircraft in the 60's and 70's to the more aggressive supercritical sections used on today's aircraft. The figure below illustrates some of the rather different airfoil concepts used over the past several decades.

Continuing progress in airfoil design is likely in the next few years, due in part to advances in viscous computational capabilities. One example of an emerging area in airfoil design is the constructive use of separation. The examples below show the divergent trailing edge section developed for the MD-11 and a cross-section of the Aerobie, a flying ring toy that uses this unusual section to enhance the ring's stability.

Flow Near Trailing Edge of DTE Airfoil and Aerobie Cross-Section

Flow Control

Subtle manipulation of aircraft aerodynamics, principally the wing and fuselage boundary layers, can be used to increase performance and provide control. From laminar flow control, which seeks to reduce drag by maintaining extensive runs of laminar flow, to vortex flow control (through blowing or small vortex generators), and more recent concepts using MEMS devices or synthetic jets, the concept of controlling aerodynamic flows by making small changes in the right way is a major area of aerodynamic research. Although some of the more unusual concepts (including active control of turbulence) are far from practical realization, vortex control and hybrid laminar flow control are more likely possibilities.


Structural materials and design concepts are evolving rapidly. Despite the conservative approach taken by commercial airlines, composite materials are finally finding their way into a larger fraction of the aircraft structure. At the moment composite materials are used in empennage primary structure on commercial transports and on the small ATR-72 outer wing boxes, but it is expected that in the next 10-20 years the airlines and the FAA will be more ready to adopt this technology.

New materials and processes are critical for high speed aircraft, UAV's, and military aircraft, but even for subsonic applications concepts such as stitched resin film infusion (RFI) are beginning to make cost-competitive composite applications more believable.


Propulsion is the area in which most evolutionary progress has been made in the last few decades and which will continue to improve the economics of aircraft. Very high efficiency, unbelievably large turbines are continuing to evolve, while low cost small turbine engines may well revolutionize small aircraft design in the next 20 years. Interest in very clean, low noise engines is growing for aircraft ranging from commuters and regional jets to supersonic transports.

Multidisciplinary Optimization

In addition to advances in disciplinary technologies, improved methods for integrating discipline-based design into a better system are being developed. The field of multidisciplinary optimization permits detailed analyses and design methods in several disciplines to be combined to best advantage for the system as a whole.

The figure here shows the problem with sequential optimization of a design in individual disciplines. If the aerodynamics group assumes a certain structural design and optimizes the design with respect to aerodynamic design variables (corresponding to horizontal motion in the conceptual plot shown on the right), then the structures group finds the best design (in the vertical degree of freedom), and this process is repeated, we arrive at a converged solution, but one that is not the best solution. Conventional trade studies in 1 or 2 or several parameters are fine, but when hundreds or thousands of design degrees of freedom are available, the use of more formal optimization methods are necessary.

Although a specific technology may provide a certain drag savings, the advantages may be amplified by exploiting these savings in a re-optimized design. The figure to the right shows how an aircraft was redesigned to incorporate active control technologies. While the reduced static margin provides small performance gains, the re-designed aircraft provides many times that advantage. Some typical estimates for fuel savings associated with "advanced" technologies are given below. Note that these are sometimes optimistic, and cannot be simply added together.

Active Control10%
Laminar Flow10%
Improved Wing10%

New Configuration Concepts

Apart from evolutionary improvements in conventional aircraft, revolutionary changes are possible when the "rules" are changed. This is possible when the configuration concept iteself is changed and when new roles or requirements are introduced.

The following images give some idea of the range of concepts that have been studied over the past few years, some of which are currently being pursued by NASA and industry.

Blended Wing Body

The BWB design is intended to improve airplane efficiency through a major change in the airframe configuration. The thick centerbody accommodates passengers and cargo without the extra wetted area and weight of a fuselage. Orginally designed as a very large aircraft with as many as 800 passengers, versions of the BWB has been designed with as few as 250 passengers and more conventional twin, podded engines.

Joined Wing

The joined wing design was developed principally by Dr. Julian Wolkovitch in the 1980's as an efficient structural arrangement in which the horizontal tail was used as a sturcural support for the main wing as well as a stabilizing surface. It is currently being considered for application to high altitiude long endurance UAVs.

Oblique Flying Wing

One of the most unusual concepts for passenger flight is the oblique wing, studied by Robert T. Jones at NASA from 1945 through the 1990s. Theoretical considerations suggest that the concept is well suited to low drag supersonic flight, while providing a structurally efficient means of achieving variable geometry.

New Roles and Requirements

In addition to new configuration ideas, new roles and requirements for aircrafrt may lead to new aircraft concepts. Some of these are summarized below.

Pacific Rim Travel

As global commerce continues to increase, the need for passenger and cargo transportation grows as well. Many have speculated that growth in pacific rim travel may be the impetus for high speed aircraft development. The figure above suggests how the time required for flight from Los Angeles to Tokyo varies with cruise Mach number. (The somewhat facetious Mach 8 aircraft requires extra time to cool off before passengers can deplane.)

Supersonic transportation (Boeing High Speed Civil Transport Concept)

Ground Effect Cargo Tranport Concept

Vehicles designed for missions other than carrying passengers include military aircraft with new constraints on radar detection (low observables), very high altitude aircraft, such as the Helios solar powered aircraft intended for atmospheric science and earth observation studies, and vehicles such as the Proteus, designed as a communications platform.

Low Observables (B2 Bomber)

Autonomous Air Vehicles (Pathfinder: a prototype for Helios solar UAV)

Halo Autonomous Air Vehicle for Communications Services (an AeroSat)

Finally a new class of air vehicles intended to provide lower cost access to space is under study. The near-term future of such designs depends on the economic health of the commercial space enterprise and it presently appears that these concepts are not likely to be seen soon.

Access to Space


  • Improved understanding and analysis capabilities permit continued improvement in aircraft designs
  • Exploiting new technologies can change the rules of the game, permitting very different solutions
  • New objectives and constraints may require unconventional configurations
  • Future progress requires unprecedented communication among aircraft designers, scientists, and computational specialists

Algae Oil Extraction

Oil extraction from algae is a hotly debated topic currently because this process is one of the more costly processes which can determine the sustainability of algae-based biodiesel.

In terms of the concept, the idea is quite simple: Harvest the algae from its growth medium (using an appropriate separation process), and extract the oil out of it. Extraction can be broadly categorized into two methods:

  1. Mechanical methods

The mechanical methods are further classified into:

  • Expression/Expeller press
  • Ultrasonic-assisted extraction
  1. Chemical methods

The chemical methods are further classified into:

  • Hexane Solvent Method
  • Soxhlet extraction
  • Supercritical fluid Extraction

Each of these methods has drawbacks:

  1. The mechanical press generally requires drying the algae, which is energy intensive
  2. The use of chemical solvents present safety and health issues
  3. Supercritical extraction requires high pressure equipment that is both expensive and energy intensive.

Many manufacturers of algae oil use a combination of mechanical pressing and chemical solvents in extracting oil.

Apart from these, there are some other methods which are not well-known. This includes the following:

Enzymatic extraction - Enzymatic extraction uses enzymes to degrade the cell walls with water acting as the solvent, this makes fractionation of the oil much easier. The costs of this extraction process are estimated to be much greater than hexane extraction.

Osmotic shock - Osmotic Shock is a sudden reduction in osmotic pressure, this can cause cells in a solution to rupture. Osmotic shock is sometimes used to release cellular components, such as oil.


  • Microscopic algae suspended in water are virtually indestructible
    • Cell wall has a high elasticity modulus
    • Even when free water has been removed, wet biomass retains sufficient interstitial water to act as lubricant
  • Rupture of cell wall through mechanical friction and steam explosion is only possible when dry


  1. a.Single-Step Extraction:

The OriginOil’s algae Single-Step oil extraction process is simpler and more efficient than current systems, without requiring chemicals or significant capital expenditure for heavy machinery.

The Single Step Process harvests, concentrates and extracts oil from algae, and separates oil, water and biomass in one step. The process does not use chemicals or heavy machinery and no initial dewatering is required, and separates the oil, water and biomass in less than an hour. The company’s Quantum Fracturing technology combines with electromagnetic pulses and pH modification to break down cell walls and release oil from the algae cells.

OriginOil’s Single-Step Algal Oil Extraction
  1. b. Continuous algal oil extraction system:

Cavitation Technologies Inc. (CTI) has developed a technology that is able to extract oil from algae on a continuous basis utilizing cavitation based extraction. CTI’s Nano reactor is used to create cavitation bubbles in a solvent material, when these bubbles collapse near the cell walls it creates shock waves and liquid jets that cause those cells walls to break and release their contents into the solvent. The company plans to license the technology to algal fuel developers.

  1. c. Extraction using nanotechnology:

Catilin and Iowa State University - Center for Catalysis (ISU-CCAT), members of the National Alliance for Advanced Biofuels and Bioproducts (NAABB), will build on their pioneering algal oil extraction technology using mesoporous nanoparticles to selectively extract and sequester targeted fuel-relevant and high value compounds within the algal lipid mixture. The balance of the algal oil, which contains free fatty acids (FFA) and triglycerides, will be converted to biodieselusing Catilin's commercially available T300 catalyst. This technology is efficient and solid catalyst provides a cost effective conversion route.

Oil extraction from Algae - A gist from the Oilgae Comprehensive Report

In the Comprehensive Oilgae Report, Oil extraction from algae deals with some of the key concepts like current methods of oil extraction, trends and developments in Algae oil extraction, Efforts and solutions, Challenges.

Oil extraction from algae employs the use of different methods which presents its own advantages and disadvantages. Therefore the prime focus is to overcome these challenges which is an important phenomenon in the production of Biofuel from algae.

  • Determining the Most Efficient and Cost Effective Extraction Method - The challenge here is that higher the efficiency of the extraction method, the higher is its cost.
  • Reducing the Energy Requirements for Extraction - Algae oil extraction is quite energy intensive and this is an important challenge to be recognized and addressed.
  • Efforts: Origin Oil’s invention of a method to extract the oil from algae with high energy efficiency that builds on the company’s first patent, Quantum Fracturing™, in which ultrasound from intense fluid fracturing breaks down algae cells and reduces the overall energy required for extraction.

  • High Cell Wall Elasticity - Cell wall and membrane have high elasticity modulus, hence extraction methods need to overcome these.
  • Efforts: A method of intense sonication of liquids can break the cell structure mechanically and improve material transfer. This effect supports the extraction of lipids from algae.

  • Insterstitial Water Decreased Extraction Effectiveness - Even when free water has been removed, wet biomass retains sufficient interstitial water to act as lubricant, thus decreasing the effectiveness of extraction, especially with cost-effective methods such as the expeller press. Efforts: Some efforts are working towards direct fermentation of still-wet algae, thereby overcoming the problem of oil extraction