Demonstrating a CO2 Recycler

By Tyler Hamilton in Technology Review, November 23 2009

Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have successfully demonstrated a prototype machine that uses the sun's energy to convert water and carbon dioxide into the molecular building blocks that make up transportation fuels. The "Sunshine to Petrol" system could ultimately prove a practical way to recycle CO₂ from power and industrial plants into gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, assuming the process can become at least twice as efficient as natural photosynthesis.

Until recently, the system had only been validated in a laboratory in small batches. A hand-built demonstration machine was successfully tested this fall. "This is a first-of-its-kind prototype we're evaluating," says Sandia researcher Rich Diver, inventor of the device.

"In the short term we see this as an alternative to sequestration," says James Miller, a chemical engineer with Sandia's advanced materials laboratory. Instead of just pumping CO2 underground for permanent storage, Miller says, the sun's abundant energy can be used to achieve "reverse combustion" that essentially turns carbon dioxide back into a fuel. "It's a productive utilization of CO2 that you might capture from a coal plant, a brewery, and similar concentrated sources."

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