Scientists making strides in using CO2 for fuel, building materials

PALO ALTO -- Scientists at Stanford University recently announced they have discovered a way to create ethanol at room temperature, using electricity, water and CO2 thanks to the development of a copper catalyst.

The California Institute of Technology is working on the same issue, and may be producing even better results. Although there is a long way to go before this technology becomes commercial, if it does so, it could solve two environmental issues in one go — not only would the fuel displace CO2 from fossil fuels, it would also reduce the amount of land given over to growing fuel rather than food.

Meanwhile, in Germany, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology has produced synthetic fuel using solar power and CO2 from the air. The institute’s INERATEC initiative has created a pilot mobile chemical plant that fits into a shipping container and can be used off the grid to produce 80 liters a day of petrol, diesel and kerosene. This could allow remote communities to produce their own sustainable fuel rather than shipping in diesel for generators and vehicles.

An Australian company is taking another approach, by capturing carbon emissions and turning them into building materials, in a process that mimics natural weathering of rocks by rainfall, but vastly speeded up. The CO2 is captured and reacted with low-grade minerals to create solid carbonates.

Mineral Carbonation International has launched a A$9 million research program at the Newcastle Institute for Energy and Resources in New South Wales to convert CO2 into solid carbonates that can be used in building materials such as concrete, bricks and plasterboard.

“Once proven feasible both economically and environmentally, mineral carbonation plants operating at industrial scale around the world could limit further emissions from big greenhouse gas emitters in cement, steel making and power generation while the world transitions to cleaner forms of energy, to renewables and other zero emission technologies,” the company says.

MCI hopes to produce 20,000 to 50,000 metric tons of ‘green’ concrete by 2020, anticipating strong demand for more sustainable building products.
In Texas, Net Power is building a demonstration power plant that will use the CO2 it produces to drive its own turbines, potentially enabling it to capture its emissions at no cost — vastly improve the efficiency and environmental impacts of gas-fueled power plants.

Many of these projects are a long way from commercialization, but they suggest that treating CO2 as a resource rather than a waste product may be the way to remove it from the atmosphere. -- Mike Scott in Eni Day.

INERATEC has created a pilot mobile chemical plant that fits into a shipping container and can be used off the grid to produce 80 liters a day of petrol, diesel and kerosene.