Greenhouse Gas Converted into Fuel?

It’s a fact of life at this moment in history: humans produce CO2. A lot of it. And this is a problem. Since so many carbon emissions are produced in the cause of transportation, wouldn’t the logical solution to the greenhouse gas problem be to find a way to turn CO2 into fuel? That’s what researchers at the University of Oxford seem to think–although it’s clear that any real solution is still a long way off.

The most promising approach to this ambitious goal appears to lie with methanol,  a versatile feedstock that can be made into all kinds of fuels, produced by adding CO2 to hydrogen, then injecting energy from sunlight. This, however, runs into the currently energy-intensive process of producing hydrogen–so researchers at Oxford are working on a way to bypass the need for hydrogen by working directly with methane, a substance produced by hydrogen and CO2 halfway through the methanol-producing process (as well as by cows, incidentally), by adding biomethane to the CO2 currently being dumped into the atmosphere every day by coal-fired power stations.

methanol-fuel

image via University of Oxford

There are several bugs in the program yet to be worked out, though, chiefly involving ways to get around the impurities in smoke-stack emissions, including NOx, or nitrous oxide. But solutions are underway, including an ambitious plan to use nanoscale-structured magnetic catalysts to use NOx in the process of producing methanol.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.