Fuel Made From Air? It’s Coming, Sooner Than You Might Think


What if we could capture some of the carbon we would otherwise send into the atmosphere and use it to make fuel? It’s an exciting possibility, and there’s a pilot project underway right now to make it happen.

Carbon Engineering, a startup based in Vancouver, is operating a test facility that will form the basis for a new CO2 extraction plant to be constructed in 2017. Financial backers for the venture include Bill Gates and oil sands financier Murray Edwards.

“It’s now possible to take CO2 out of the atmosphere, and use it as a feed stock, with hydrogen, to produce net zero emission fuels,” company chief executive Adrian Corless said in an interview.

Carbon Engineering is one of several companies in the world working on solutions for the carbon emission problem, but it may be the only one able to demonstrate how its process has the potential to provide both environmental impact and – if they can get the price point to around $100 a ton – commercial viability.

Right now, a ton of carbon can cost anywhere from a dollar to $130 in various parts of the world.

“It’s still a pilot-scale plant,” Corless told CBC News. “But it’s very important, because it’s the first time that anyone’s demonstrated a technology that captures CO2 that has the potential to be scaled up to be large enough to be relevant from an environmental or climate point of view.”

The direct air capture process is similar to that of solar cells that can extract hydrogen fuel from water.
Carbon 02

A series of fans take carbon dioxide from the air and combines it with liquid hydrogen from water. The resulting mixture is converted into solid pellets of calcium carbonate that can be heated at between 800 and 900 degrees Celsius to release pure carbon to be used immediately as fuel or stored for use later.

The new plant, when completed, should be able to achieve capacities up to 1,000,000 tons of captured CO2 per year. That would be the environmental equivalent of eliminating the emissions from roughly 250,000 cars.

Carbon Engineering claims it will be able to produce up to 400 liters of gasoline or diesel per day using this method. One of the advantages of their approach is that planes, ships and long-haul trucks will be able to use the fuel without the need to change out existing pumps.

If all goes according to plan, the new CO2-based synthetic fuels should be available for sale by 2018.

“The nice thing about the technology is that there are no real limitations for it to ultimately, in theory, displace all of the existing fossil-based transportation fuels,” Corless said.

Here’s a video that explains the process: