U.S. researchers have demonstrated a technology that uses the sun’s heat to convert carbon dioxide and water into the building blocks of traditional fuels, a reverse combustion process that may emerge as a practical alternative to sequestration of CO2 emissions from power plants. The prototype “Sunshine to Petrol” system, developed by Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, uses concentrated solar energy to trigger a thermo-chemical reaction in an iron-rich composite located inside a two-sided cylindrical chamber. The iron oxide is designed to lose an oxygen molecule when exposed to 1,500 degree C heat, and then retrieve an oxygen molecule when it is cooled down, essentially converting an incoming supply of CO2 into an outgoing stream of carbon monoxide. Additionally, when researchers pump water into the chamber rather than CO2, the machine produces hydrogen. Combining those retrieved gases — hydrogen and carbon monoxide — they are able to create syngas, which can be used as a fuel. While researchers say the technology likely will not be ready for market for 15 to 20 years, it could one day become a practical way to recycle CO2. “It’s a productive utilization of CO2 that you might capture from a coal plant, a brewery, and similar concentrated sources,” said James Miller, a Sandia chemical engineer.
This piece originally appeared on Yale Environment 360.
but it still means burning a fuel to power cars, generators etc. I think it is a lot more important to switch to a form of power that does not involve the possible emmission (because we won't be able to convert all the C02) of greenhouse gasses. And besides, once the syngas is formed and used there will just be another round of C02 to recapture.
Agree with Joe. Why not use the solar power directly?
For energy storage? I'm sure there are other technologies that won't take 15-20 years to mature.
File under 'interesting distraction'
As with anything we can't expect one "alternative fuel source" to power the world of tomorrow (or today for that matter), but this development does provide a relatively low energy way of generating syngas that can then be converted to synthetic fuels via Fischer Tropsch that can be used via the existing infrastructure to power cars etc; or can be used for generating solely hydrogen (as mentioned) that can power either mobile or static fuel cells (located in factories and feeding electricity into the grid).
I wouldn't be so quick to say "File under 'interesting distraction'" as this is a low energy method (most aren't) for generating alternative fuels that can be used with existing infrastructures (electicity grid and fuel stations)