Scientists Take A Massive Step Forward In Converting Air Into Fuel


Carbon Engineering's next step is to build a full-scale plant.

This would be a major advance on the current price of around $600 per tonne. Working with an independent engineering consultancy, Carbon Engineering has extrapolated the cost of building the process out to scale and integrating it with renewable energy.

Technological "fixes" to the carbon emissions driving climate change have always been regarded with some suspicion by scientists.

While it's probably a few more years until we start seeing this technology be used en-masse what Carbon Engineering have done is show that technically as well as theoretically, it is very much possible, and affordable. It captures one tonne of Carbon dioxide on a daily basis. Now, a team of Harvard scientists say they've found a way to do something equally miraculous: transforming Carbon dioxide from the air we breathe into gasoline.

Here's how the "direct air capture" technology works, the researchers said: Giant fans draw air into contact with an aqueous solution that picks out and traps carbon dioxide.

"At Carbon Engineering, we now have the data and engineering to prove that DAC can achieve costs below $100 (U.S.)", he said.

After several processing steps, a purer stream of Carbon dioxide is extracted and the capturing liquid is returned to the air contactor. But in 2011, a review panel of the American Physical Society found that DAC would likely cost about $600 per ton of captured CO2. But it's key to Carbon Engineering's business: It means the company can produce carbon-neutral hydrocarbons.

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The research was led by David Keith, a Harvard Professor and founder of CE, and published by Joule, a leading scientific journal dedicated to ground-breaking energy research. "I hope this changes views about this technology from being this thing which people think is a magic savior, which it isn't, or that it is absurdly expensive, which it isn't, to an industrial technology that is doable and can be developed in a useful way".

The firm estimates it would be able to produce gasoline for about 25% more than using natural petroleum, but is looking for ways to bring the price down.

"What Carbon Engineering is taking to market is first of all carbon neutral fuels, in that sense we are just another emissions-cutting technology, there is no net removal from the atmosphere", he said.

Carbon Engineering, which has about 40 employees and produces about a tonne of carbon dioxide a day from an experimental plant. The finished product would use less land and water than other types of biofuels, fuels created from a living organism such as ethanol or biodiesel. When configured for this goal, the company was able to bring down the costs of pulling carbon from the air.

What if we could directly capture Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turn that into fuel? "The biggest challenge we are facing is, however, that the words agreed on in the Paris agreement must be followed by actions", said Edda. The technical solutions to climate change are already available but national legislations do not provide enough incentive or obligations for them to be applied at a large scale. However, keeping global warming to less than 2 degrees C (the worldwide target to avoid the most risky impacts) will likely require "negative emissions"-some way of taking lots of Carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it permanently, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)".

In an interview with The Atlantic, Keith said he is now looking for additional funding to set up an industrial grade plant that could be up and running by 2021.