Technology

Turning CO2 into fuel

 By Rob Davies

Iceland is at the forefront of the methanol from CO2 production. The technology is called Emission to Liquid and is considered a interesting way to recycle carbon dioxide. Rob Davies explains why (not only) a icelandic renewable energy firm sees big future in turning carbon dioxide into fuel

The rise in carbon dioxide emissions is frequently cited among the most worrying global trends. So it seems almost too good to be true that CO2, the villain of the global warming story, could be recycled into renewable fuel.

But one small Icelandic firm believes it is on the verge of transforming this environmental holy grail into a widespread reality. Carbon Recycling International (CRI), formed in 2006, describes itself as the ‘world leader’ in capturing CO2 and turning it into methanol. This ’emissions-to-liquids’ process, it claims, “is environmentally friendly and do(es) not impact the food chain or land use.”

The father of this technology is Nobel Prize-winner George A. Olah, a professor of chemistry at the University of Southern California. He evangelized about turning CO2 into fuel in his 2006 book “Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy.”

Olah’s theory was that man-made technology could emulate photosynthesis, the process by which plants use solar energy to recycle carbon dioxide and water into new plant life.

The resulting ‘methanol economy,’ as he called it, would “decrease and eventually liberate humankind from its dependence on diminishing oil, natural gas and coal reserves while mitigating global warming.”

Just nine years later, CRI is putting these words into practice at its George Olah Renewable Methanol Plant. Attached to the Svartsengi geothermal power station, it captures most of the facility’s CO2 emissions and turns them into methanol, useful for energy storage and fuel. The process produces more electricity than it uses, and the sole byproduct is oxygen.

Methanol fuel is already used by more exotic vehicles such as monster trucks, speedway motorcycles and drag racers. While it is too corrosive to be used in most ordinary vehicles, it can be blended with petrol to create a greener engine fuel

The plant can produce 2 million liters (528,000 gallons) of renewable methanol a year and has the capacity to reach five million liters (1.3 million gallons). In doing so, this one small plant is expected to reclaim some 5,500 metric tons (6,063 short tons) of CO2 a year from the atmosphere. That’s equivalent to the emissions produced by 3,400 Indians, who have a comparatively low carbon footprint, or 331 Americans, according to 2013 European Commission estimates.

Reproduced around the world, the technology could slash the CO2 emissions of thousands of heavily polluting power plants. In Europe, there could be big savings for firms faced with rising costs for carbon credits under the European Trading Scheme.

Emissions-to-liquids technology could also inspire a generation of near-zero emissions vehicles. CRI plans to roll out commercially available plants with capacity to produce up to 50 million liters (13 million gallons) of methanol per year for export.

Methanol fuel is already used by more exotic vehicles such as monster trucks, speedway motorcycles and drag racers. While it is too corrosive to be used in most ordinary vehicles, it can be blended with petrol to create a greener engine fuel.

And earlier this year, CRI secured a $45.5 million investment from Chinese automotive giant Geely Group, which owns Volvo and the London Taxi Company, maker of London’s iconic black cabs. Geely’s chairman Mr Li Shufu predicted methanol will become a key component in a new generation of passenger and freight vehicles, designed and built to allow ‘zero emissions mobility’.

The ramifications could be huge. As Olah said in 2007: “Nature has shown us its own way to sustain itself in that environment by recycling CO2 into new plant life.”

“Human activities, however, increasingly seem to adversely affect nature’s own way. Scientific advance now allows us to do the opposite: supplement nature with humankind’s own alternative.”

about the author
Rob Davies
Business, travel and news for Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, City AM, Daily Telegraph, The Observer, Spears, Jewish Chronicle among others. https://robdavies.contently.com/