Harvard Alchemists Want to Turn Air into Gasoline


Previous research and studies into direct air capture (DAC) have suggested that removing a ton of Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere would cost US$600, which is too expensive to be a feasible solution, Keith said.

"The carbon dioxide generated via direct air capture can be combined with sequestration for carbon removal, or it can enable the production of carbon-neutral hydrocarbons, which is a way to take low-priced carbon-free power sources like solar or wind and channel them into fuels that can be used to decarbonise the transportation sector", said lead author David Keith, founder and chief scientist of Carbon Engineering and professor of applied physics and public policy at Harvard University.

The study implies that falling costs of solar power could produce hydrogen affordably from electrolysis without producing an excessive increase in CO2.

Currently, Carbon Engineering, the company behind the new research, plans to use its captured carbon to synthesize new carbon-neutral fuels.

Those numbers are "real progress", says Chris Field, a climate scientist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. "The question is, what do we do with all this excess CO2 in the atmosphere?" said Noah Deich, executive director and co-founder of the nonprofit Center for Carbon Removal. "This must change quickly if we are to fulfil the Paris agreement", she explained. Climate scientists say countries will need to drop Carbon dioxide emissions to near zero by midcentury and then remove more Carbon dioxide than they emit, if the planet is to avoid a catastrophic 2°C warming.

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.

While scientists have endeavoured to come up with numerous methods for removing CO2, by far and away the most effective process is Direct Air Capture (DAC).

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One of the great benefits of making fuel from air is energy independence, said Oldham.

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.

Carbon Engineering is seeking funding to build a commercial-scale demonstration plant for its process following successful tests at its pilot plant in British Columbia, Canada. It captures one tonne of Carbon dioxide on a daily basis. In the new study, Keith's team estimates the process to be just $94 to $232 per ton.

What's more, the company has developed a process to transform the captured Carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuels such as petrol, diesel and jet fuel. After heating and chemical reactions, the carbon dioxide can be extracted - and used either for making fuel or for storage.

By useful way, Prof David Keith implies the utilization of the extracted Carbon dioxide by turning it into a synthetic liquid fuel when combined with green energy. Such fuels are more expensive than standard gasoline and diesel, so the size and stability of the market for them will depend largely on whether subsidies are in place.

This type of fuel can be produced at a low cost and will not raise the prices to consumers at the pump, and the result will be completely carbon-neutral fuel. Since its components are off the rack, it should be easy to scale up, Oldham said.