New Clean Fuels –Different Approaches to Synthetic Liquid Fuels

Two different companies attempting to provide clean energy and reduce carbon emissions are turning to CO2 emissions as a source for their drop-in fuel.  Others, such as Joule, have explored this path, using CO2 from the atmosphere or from industrial exhaust, mixing that with engineered algae, exposing it all to sunlight, and making a synthetic form of gasoline or Diesel fuel.

Both of the new entries, NewCO2Fuels and Global Biofuels, use CO2 and sunlight with different technologies to achieve similar results.

NCF explains its motivation and technique in its introduction.  “NewCO2Fuels is developing an innovative and breakthrough technology providing a revolutionary, cost-effective solution to two global concerns: CO2 emissions and diminishing liquid fuel reserves. Our product uses a proprietary technology that generates liquid fuels by using CO2 emissions and water as feedstock, and high-temperature heat sources such as concentrated solar energy.”

The video shows the basic process, which can base its source “feedstock” on CO2 from gas well drilling, coal extraction, industrial emissions, or other carbon-rich outputs.  Being able to transform the CO2 into clean “drop-in” fuels or directly to electricity enables use of current infrastructures and requires very little in modifying downstream applications to take advantage of the process.

NCF’s ambitions include making synthetic fuels competitive with current market prices while enhancing source plants’ production capacity, lowering operating costs and even producing new products.

New CO2 Fuels' process chart shows multiple feedstock sources, multiple possible applications

New CO2 Fuels’ process chart shows multiple feedstock sources, multiple possible applications

Their process uses concentrated solar energy and “dissociation” of carbon and water to produce intermediate and final products.  “NCF solutions are based on two technologies successfully developed in Israel by Professor Jacob Karni and his team at the Weizmann Institute of Science and proven in laboratory trials. The first technology comprises a way to concentrate solar energy in order to create and transfer heat up to 1200 ºC, while coping with cycles related to solar conditions. The second technology involves a new method of using very high temperatures for the dissociation of carbon dioxide (CO2) to carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen (O2). Simultaneously, the same device can dissociate water (H2O) to hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2). The CO, or the mixture of CO and H2 (called syngas), can then be used as gaseous fuel (e.g., in power plants), or converted to liquid fuel (e.g., methanol or other synthetic fuels), which have the potential to be stored, transported, and used in motor vehicles. The oxygen produced in the process can be used in the combustion of the clean fuel, for example, using advanced-combustion methods, such as oxy-fuel combustion in power plants.”

The Israel-based company is a subsidiary of GreenEarth Energy Limited in Australia, and reported completion of stage 1 testing of its proof-of-concept system for the conversion of CO2 into fuels using solar energy. NewCO2Fuels was founded in 2011 to commercialize a technology developed by Professor Karni.  The demonstrated technology that successfully dissociates “CO2 into CO and oxygen in a heating environment, simulating the industrial waste heat sources that will be used as one of two energy sources in the commercial product. Importantly, the company said, the dissociation rate of the system was increased by a factor of 200 and the cost was reduced by a factor of 34, relative to the original dissociation apparatus demonstrated in 2010 at the laboratories of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.”

In a kind of energetic tail chasing, the resulting synthetic gas can be used as gaseous fuel in power plants, or converted to liquid fuel that can be shipped, stored and used to fill vehicles. Oxygen from the process can aid in “advanced combustion” systems, such as oxy-fuel combustion in power plants.

NCF claims a “40-percent conversion efficiency for the process—the ratio between the solar energy reaching the reflector and the chemical energy stored in the syngas.”

Stage 2 testing will take place during January and February with two primary goals:

  • “Increasing the new dissociation rate by a factor of 4, an 800-fold increase in the dissociating rate from the original; and
  • “Driving the system using a solar-based heat source (100% renewable).”

You can see NCF’s patent application for its process here, and read a paper on the process in the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research.

Besides working with Joule, Audi has formed another partnership with France-based Global Bioenergies to make another variant of e-gasoline.  Green Autoblog reports that, “Audi says making this e-gas ‘does not create competition with food production and farmland,’ nipping that argument in the bud.”

Audi’s new “power-to-gas” facility in Werlte, Germany, operating since last summer, produces hydrogen and synthetic methane made from renewable sources such as water and excess carbon dioxide and using electrolysis to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen.

Audi is in a strategic partnership with global bioenergies.  The automaker is promoting the development of non-fossil fuels with the French biotechnology company

Audi is in a strategic partnership with Global Bioenergies. The automaker is promoting the development of non-fossil fuels with the French biotechnology company

Werlte will first make synthetic natural gas, which Audi has delivered since last fall.  Production so far can support 1,500 Audi A3 G-tron cars for more than 9,000 miles each.

Audi already operates a working synfuel plant in Hobbs, New Mexico with its partner Joule. Hobbs is also home to the Soaring Society of America, which undoubtedly appreciates the thermals generated by the intense sunlight.

Intense sunlight, amplified by concentrating solar cells that also collect otherwise waste heat, is a necessary part of either system, or at least necessary to reduce fossil fuel input in making the clean syngas.  As these processes become more tuned in and efficient, we may be able to store and use current sunlight, and stop burning the remaining “last hours of ancient sunlight,” as Thom Hartmann calls the fossil fuels which we currently rely on for our energy needs.

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