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Scientists find cheap way to convert Carbon dioxide into gasoline

11 June 2018

IMAGINE DRIVING UP to your local gas station and being able to choose between regular, premium, or carbon-free gasoline.

Carbon Engineering, a British Columbia-based company that has the financial backing of Bill Gates, has released a peer-reviewed study that demonstrates how the company's technology is capable of capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at a cost of less than $100 per ton.

"This isn't going to save the world from the impacts of climate change, but it's going to be a big step on the path to a low-carbon economy", said David Keith, a Harvard Professor of Applied Physics and founder of Carbon Engineering.

"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 a professor of applied physics and public policy at Harvard University.

A Canadian company, backed by Bill Gates, says it has reached an important threshold in developing technology that can remove Carbon dioxide from the air.

Carbon Engineering have been running a pilot plant since 2015, and now harvest about a ton of carbon a day. The company used existing industrial processes to scale up and reduce costs.

In 2011, a pair of influential papers all but sounded the death knell for direct air capture, concluding that the approach would cost almost an order of magnitude more than capturing the greenhouse gas from power-plant stacks.

In 2011, the American Physical Society published a research showing that the costs to remove Carbon dioxide from the air would be $600.

Capturing the Carbon dioxide and storing it geologically is a great opportunity. The gas traps intense solar heat into our atmosphere and drives the pressing concern of climate change, something that can have a devastating effect not only on human life but also on flora and fauna on our planet.

"This isn't a PowerPoint presentation", said Steve Oldham of Carbon Engineering.

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According to Crabtree, there are three ethanol operations in the USA that are already capturing their Carbon dioxide and storing it geologically. The resulting synthetic fuel they came up with can be blended or used as it is as gasoline, diesel or jet fuel.

But Carbon Engineering claim to have dramatically slashed this, bringing it down to $100 per ton and making the whole process far more economical.

As for the price, previous attempts to do just this have stalled since it could cost up to $1000 to filter a metric ton of carbon dioxide. In 2015, Carbon Engineering launched its first pilot plant for capturing CO2 in British Columbia in Canada.

"We would not be in business if carbon pricing did not exist".

"Direct air capture technology offers a highly-scalable pathway to removing carbon from the atmosphere".

Carbon Engineering's fuel qualifies as a high-grade renewable fuel under the Environmental Protection Agency's renewable fuel mandate, allowing it to fetch premium prices. After each step, the Carbon dioxide gets cleaner and the substance reacting with the Carbon dioxide is returned to where it belongs: the air contractor.

"We will need a trillion-dollar industry to [keep warming below 2 degrees C]".

The fuel can now be produced at a cost that would not raise the prices to consumers at the pump, he said, and "as with anything, if you build lots of something the cost will come down". The company is also looking to license their technology.

"This isn't some new clever piece of science or weird chemical we synthesized in some fancy lab", Keith said in an interview. And a license to their tech. "This must change quickly if we are to fulfil the Paris agreement", she explained.

Scientists find cheap way to convert Carbon dioxide into gasoline