>>CO2 to fuel, by the numbers
July 16, 2008, 3:29 pm
Filed under: Biofuel

In the next issue of SOLAR TODAY we’ll run a roundup of recent work on growing biodiesel in algae ponds. One strategy for forcing faster algae growth is to build algae ponds alongside coal-burning power plants and bubble the CO2 emissions into the goo. An Israeli company has already built a pilot plant to do this.

US coal-fired power plants produce 2 billion tons of CO2 annually. Sequestering that much gas isn’t really an option. But if you could convert it all into liquid fuel, it would solve all our transportation problems. If the chemistry were perfectly efficient, that 2 billion tons would in theory produce 222 billion gallons of liquid hydrocarbon fuel — gasoline or diesel or jet fuel or butanol or what-have-you. The by-products are largely oxygen and hydrogen gases, which have their own uses, plus biomass if you use algae to make the conversion.

Because the US now consumes about 145 billion gallons of gasoline annually, this process could in theory make us fully independent of imported oil.

DoE’s Sandia Lab, DARPA and the European ELCAT are working on non-organic chemical conversion of CO2 to liquid fuel (the Department of Defense is keenly interested in making jet fuel out of waste gas). When done without benefit of photosynthesis, the conversion requires a lot of heat (presumably from a solar concentrator or waste heat from an electric generating plant) and a lot of fresh water.

The big question in my mind is how to keep mosquitoes from breeding in all those ponds.


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