Thursday, January 10, 2008

CO2 + Sunlight = Liquid Fuels

Saw this bit of news over at

Described as "Sunlight to Petrol" or S2P, this project essentially reverses the combustion process, recovering the building blocks of hydrocarbons. This technology has been demonstrated to create methanol and gasoline. On the drawing board this technology can make a host of other liquid fuels as well.

Originally conceived as a way to generate hydrogen the research took another turn recently. Moving from steam as a feedstock (the source for hydrogen) to CO2. The research and development work is being done at the Sandia National Laboratory. Their press release on this technology is available here.

According to the Wired article this is not a new concept. In fact moving CO2 to CO and then forcing hydrogen into the mix to make a hydrocarbon has been around for some time. The technology and process is described below:

The prototype will be about the size and shape of a beer keg. It will contain 14 cobalt ferrite rings, each about one foot in diameter and turning at one revolution per minute. An 88-square meter solar furnace will blast sunlight into the unit, heating the rings to about 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit. At that temperature, cobalt ferrite releases oxygen. When the rings cool to about 2,000 degrees, they're exposed to CO2.

Since the cobalt ferrite is now missing oxygen, it snatches some from the CO2, leaving behind just carbon monoxide -- a building block for making hydrocarbons -- that can then be used to make methanol or gasoline. And with the cobalt ferrite restored to its original state, the device is ready for another cycle.

Fuels like methanol and gasoline are combinations of hydrogen and carbon that are relatively easy to synthesize, Stechel said. Methanol is the easiest, and that's where they will start, but gasoline could also be made.

The team researching this project are looking to field it in connection with coal fired electricity. This is the market these researchers forsee for the technology. The target market being a CO2 scrubbing application that creates a usable off-take of liquid fuels.

Yet another technology that requires CO2 be regulated to be viable in the US. Seems a great deal of smart people are betting on this assumption. I seem to be seeing alot of those these days. Makes you wonder if all these big DOE dependent mucky-mucks know something I don't.

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