One would think that the sheer availability of these materials ought to beg for synthetic creation of hydrocarbon fuels, especially with so much excess carbon from CO2 in the atmosphere.
The challenge of assembling airborne carbon gases into liquid hydrocarbon fuels has remained elusive, with most actual progress coming thanks to intermediate carbon-fixers like algae.
Now a German company called Sunfire says it can take regular water, harvest CO2 from the environment, and make high quality hydrocarbon fuels – gasoline and diesel, mostly.
In reality, simply having these rigs pull raw CO2 from the air is probably not the best solution, as we could have something hoovering up CO2 in a concentrated form, as it’s about to leave conventional power plants.
Could we turn waste CO2 from coal burning into gasoline? Burning that gas would still release the carbon into the atmosphere, but we’d still get more power out of a tonne of coal, which would reduce emissions overall.
Regardless, the rig can collect its precious CO2 from almost any source, and by reacting a source of CO2 with some of its generated H2 gas, the rig reduces the carbon dioxide to carbon monoxide, or CO. By assembling this CO into chains with the rest of the H2 gas, Sunfire can create very specific hydrocarbon molecules.
We need a lot better than just carbon neutrality – we need carbon negativity to really overcome the challenges that lay ahead – but since it’s unrealistic to expect the world to end its addiction to abundant energy, they may be the best solution available.