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Will e-diesel be the fuel of the future?

Will e-diesel be the fuel of the future?


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By Padraig Belton

And what is even more surprising, this diesel could be the definitive solution to stop climate change.

The BBC contacted some companies in Germany and Canada that are dedicated to capturing CO2 from the atmosphere, and then commercializing it.

Specifically, the German company Sunfire produced its first batches of this carbon dioxide clean diesel in April.

And the German Minister of Education and Research, Johanna Wanka, celebrated by filling her tank with a few liters of the new e-diesel.

In addition, the Canadian firm Carbon Engineering has just developed a pilot project to absorb one to two tons of carbon dioxide daily, transforming it into 500 liters of diesel.

The process requires electricity, but if these companies use renewable energy, then they can produce a carbon-neutral diesel.

In other words: when your car burns this fuel, only the CO2 that was obtained in the first place returns to the atmosphere.

Fossil fuels - coal, oil, and natural gas - add more levels of CO2 to the atmosphere.

And stopping the growth of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions has become critically important due to the threats posed by climate change.

The concentration of CO2 in the air reached 400 parts per million during 2012 and 2013, the highest figure since scientific measurements began.

Between July 2014 and June 2015, the warmest stage was recorded, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the United States.

Elemental chemistry

The chemical process to make fuel from CO2 is not particularly complicated: you have to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen, add the hydrogen to CO2 to make carbon monoxide and water, and then add more hydrogen to build hydrocarbon chains.

This last step is also known as the Fischer-Tropsch process and dates back to the 1920s.

What is new, however, are technologies that capture CO2 directly from the air and are now becoming affordable enough to be viable.

"The biggest technological challenges so far have been manufacturing the high-temperature furnaces," Adrian Corless, CEO of Carbon Engineering, told the BBC.

Corless assures that "there is still a month of hard work to achieve to obtain furnaces of the level that the company needs".

Fizzy drinks

But besides fuel, there are other ways that captured CO2 can be sold.

The Swiss company Climeworks, which belonged to a local university, is preparing its first commercial project to sell captured CO2 to a nearby greenhouse.

Climeworks sees sourcing soft drink bottles in Africa, Japan and hard-to-reach islands as a long-term business, setting up locally to compete with transportation costs.

"The costs of compressing, liquefying and shipping CO2 are up to 10 times higher in these types of places," Dominique Kronenberg, Climeworks' chief operating officer, explained to the BBC.

It is certainly easier to remove CO2 from the exhaust pipes of fossil fuel burning plants than to capture it directly from the air, since gas and coal exhaust pipes contain 3% and 15% CO2 respectively.

Air, by contrast, contains around 400 parts per million of CO2.

So why bother?

"This is not about purifying boiler or coal exhaust gases. These have a lot of sulfur and other molecules that could be difficult to completely purify," says Kronenberg.

The price of gasoline

But will e-diesel be able to compete with fossil fuel prices?

Sunfire estimates that ele-diesel could be sold in Europe for a price of between € 1 and € 1.5 per liter (between US $ 1.11 and US $ 1.67).

However, a critical part depends on government policies.

The price of fuel could actually be much lower and be limited to just 30% of what we pay today. The rest of the costs are made up of taxes and profit margins for the retailer.

"We assume that surely some of these taxes will not apply to the renewable fuels that we produce," explains Kronenberg, perhaps with more hope than expectation.

In the United States and the United Kingdom there are government initiatives to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, through the use of less polluting means of transport.

But it is the expenses for electricity that could make ele-diesel or not marketable, since its creation process requires a lot of energy.

"You can turn electricity into fuel for your vehicle and get about 13% efficiency," Dr. Paul Fennell, professor of clean energy at Imperial College London, told the BBC.

"But if we take electricity and charge an electric vehicle with it, then that level of efficiency increases to 80%," he adds.

Zero carbon emissions

However, as Corless assures, "In the last two or three years, the cost of renewable electricity has fallen dramatically - especially that of solar energy."

And another point in favor of e-diesel is that there are hundreds of millions of diesel vehicles that are already in circulation, so at least this ecological fuel could help ease the transition to carbon-neutral transport, while we wait for an infrastructure to be built to recharge electricity or hydrogen.

Climeworks and Carbon Engineering say that with their modular power they will be able to achieve larger projects easily.

Meanwhile, the United States Naval Research Laboratory has already shown interest in using diesel for its ships.

So you never know, your car might start running on air-based fuel sooner than you think.

BBC


Video: Hydrogen - the Fuel of the Future? (June 2022).


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