So, How Long Until Production?

I guess there is hope for Texas after all. A group of chemists and engineers from the University of Texas, have devised a way to use concentrated light, heat, and high pressure to, in a one step process, convert carbon dioxide and water directly into liquid hydrocarbon fuel.

The obvious immediate impact would be using carbon we already do not need in the atmosphere, to create fuel. However it would seem to me that using this new fuel would put the carbon dioxide right back into the atmosphere. But, hopefully there would be a small net gain. Even if it is a break even proposition it should long term, reduce carbon content in the atmosphere. It has to, right? If you are taking away the carbon already there, then putting it right back, has to be better than not taking any away at all. The process also supposedly has oxygen as a by product!

They don’t get into specifics with the numbers, it would be nice to have a figure to see if this process is actually beneficial, once you consider the entire production process from start to finish. It said in the article they use titanium dioxide (TD) as a main ingredient. I know they manufacture that not far from where I live. It has to be mined and processed before it becomes well, TD. So there is a lot of dozers, trucks, forklifts, and furnaces involved. I also know they use chlorine gas in large amounts as well. (I worked for an on site contractor at Dupont, where they make TD for a few months a while back. I was waiting out the winter so I could get back in the water as a diver.) Anyway it is a huge operation manufacturing TD. And the carbon footprint from manufacture of TD alone will be very large.

As I was saying the carbon footprint for the entire production of this new liquid hydrocarbon fuel has to be considered before it is really a viable alternative. According to the article another plus is there would be no need for infastructure changes, because we already live in a liquid hydrocarbon society. So that would be huge.

If, and this is a big if, this new fuel passes the sniff test for viability, it has the potential to make quite an imact on our carbon problem. At any rate it could slow our carbon output some as we try to forestall our own demise from our excesses. This conjecture assumes the oil companies don’t buy up the rights to the new tech so they can conveniently “lose” it.





12 thoughts on “So, How Long Until Production?

  1. Making hydrocarbons out of atmospheric Co2 is a great idea. Even though it doesn’t permanently remove the Co2, it can at least help us stop churning out more of it as we burn fossil fuel.

    My question is: Where are we getting the energy to create the heat and pressure to make the fuel? Their proposal system uses solar, so we would be using this fuel as a way to store solar energy. Is this the most efficient way to do that? If storing solar energy in batteries, or as hydrogen, or other ways is more efficient or cost effective than the new technology, it would be hard to get people to change. Perhaps this process could be powered by wind, or geothermal, or wave energy, that could expand its usefulness.

    If the Titanium Dioxide is a catalyst, it would not be used up, so once the production system has what it needs it would not require a continuing supply. But the article was saying that they were looking for a better catalyst anyway.


    • More questions right now than answers I fear. You make some great points.

      …and I caught that part about how they might be looking at another catalyst, but what ever that may be will still suffer from the same efficiency connundrum at some level.


  2. “Whereas the efficiency of the current system is not commercially
    viable, it is far from optimized and it opens a promising new path
    by which such solar processes may be realized.”

    One step at a time…

    The problem with other equivalent systems is that the energy needed to accomplish the final product often (almost always except in the case of electricity) is greater and produces more greenhouse gases than the reduced emissions accounts for from the final product itself. In other words, no savings. That this process uses solar for its energy needs is a step in the right direction, but, as you point out, has to include the total costs… like the mining and processing of the titanium that is carbon fuel dependent.


  3. Let’s be clear, the amount of energy required will be more than we will get back from the fuel … but it would beat the hell out of digging up new fossil fuels and burning them. This is a spectacular discovery pursued because of basic theory that may forestall increases in CO2 in the atmosphere. I hope somebody gets behind this and pushes real hard!


    • That was my thinking too. Using existing Co2 to fabricate fuel has to be better than the old standard of just wantonly pumping more and more into the system.

      I’m not gonna do it, I’m not gonna do it, Im not gonna

      That’s what she said!

      I’m sorry Steve, I have teenage boys, and half of my blog buddies are like hanging with the guys on the middle school playground. 🙂


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