Carbon, the world environmental headache is going to be a wonder fuel soon. The carbon fuel can be blended or used on its own as gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel. Yes, that’s going to happen very soon. So your old cars may not be obsolete.
Carbon Engineering, a Canadian company, is already making a liquid fuel by sucking carbon dioxide (CO2) out of the atmosphere and combining it with hydrogen from water.
This is an engineering breakthrough on two fronts: A potentially cost-effective way to take CO2 out of the atmosphere to fight climate change and a potentially cost-competitive way to make gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel that doesn’t add any additional CO2 to the atmosphere.
For scientific breakthroughs, the company had to spend as much as $30 million and eight years of engineering to get the process right.
Getting it right also meant keeping the costs below $100 for each ton of CO2 removed from the atmosphere.
Why It Matters?
Every year the world burns enough fossil fuels to add close to 40 billion tonnes of CO2. Still, even at $100 per ton, there aren’t enough CO2 buyers right now. So the company decided to make a carbon-neutral liquid fuel. The captured CO2 is combined with hydrogen, which is made through the electrolysis of water. While the process requires a lot of electricity, the pilot plant in Squamish uses renewable hydropower. The resulting synthetic fuel can be blended or used on its own as gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel.
When it’s burned it emits the same amount of CO2 that went into making it, so it’s effectively carbon neutral. A carbon price is a cost applied to industries that emit carbon pollution.
British Columbia has a carbon price of C$35 a ton, and all of Canada will have a $10 price in September that will rise to C$50 in 2022. The U.S. is facing climate and air pollution costs reaching at least $360 billion annually, according to a 2017 report.
The next step is to have a number of scaled-up plants producing hundreds of thousands of barrels of carbon-free fuel, to drive down costs further. As prices fall, more governments may get on board with the idea of pulling CO2 out of the air.
Bill Gates Is Now Interested
Bill Gates has argued that governments and companies need to invest in a wide range of cutting-edge energy technologies, from solar fuels to more efficient grids, even though it may take many years for them to work at scale.
Air to fuels (or A2F) consists of three main steps. First, CO2 is captured from the air and purified. The facility in Squamish already removes one tonne of CO2 per day from the atmosphere, but previously, this was simply released back into the air as the rest of the process was not developed enough.
Next, clean electricity, such as solar power, is used to split hydrogen from water. In the final step, the CO2 and hydrogen are synthesized into fuel, such as diesel and jet fuel. Fuels produced this way are also cleaner burning than fossil fuels, according to Carbon Engineering.
It offers an alternative to biofuels. Also a compliment to electric vehicles in the effort to displace fossil fuels from transportation.