(graphic: Carbon Sciences)
Mon 20 Oct 2008 – California-based Carbon Sciences claims it has achieved a breakthrough in developing a highly scalable biocatalytic process that can be used to transform CO2 emitted from fossil fuel power plants into transportation fuels, including jet fuel. The company believes it will be able to demonstrate the technology within the next several months and has plans to license the process to oil refineries and large CO2 emitters.
Natural crude oil is made of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular structures in addition to other organic compounds. Through a range of petroleum refining processes, crude oil is refined into individual products such as petrol, diesel, jet fuel and other products. Additionally, describes Carbon Sciences, these fuels can also be produced through a chemical process called Catalytic Reforming where crude oil distillates are reformed into fuel. Catalytic Reforming, it says, is a well-known process that is a part of existing oil refinery operations.
The company says its technology uses CO2 in a highly scalable and proprietary biocatalytic process to produce low-level hydrocarbons that are almost identical to the feedstock used by Catalytic Reforming units to make fuel. Therefore, instead of using crude oil as a feedstock, the technology can be employed to provide the refinery industry with a renewable feedstock made from CO2 emissions.
“Unlike other CO2-to-fuel approaches, Carbon Sciences’ technology does not use molecular hydrogen (H2) because the creation and reaction of H2 is very energy intensive,” comments Dr Naveed Aslam, the company’s Chief Technology Advisor and inventor of the technology. “Rather, the company’s approach is based on a low energy biocatalytic hydrolysis process where water molecules (H2O) are split into hydrogen atoms (H) and hydroxide ions (OH) using a biocatalyst. The hydrogen atoms are immediately used in the production of hydrocarbons and the free electrons in OH are used to power the various biocatalytic processes.
“Our technology is not based on photosynthetic plants where sunlight is used to drive biofuel production reactions, such as in algae. Instead, it is based on natural organic chemistry processes that occur in all living organisms where carbon atoms, extracted from CO2, and hydrogen atoms extracted from H2O, are combined to create hydrocarbon molecules using biocatalysts and small amounts of energy. Our innovative technology allows this process to occur on a very large industrial scale through advance nano-engineering of the biocatalysts and highly efficient process design.”
Derek McLeish, Carbon Sciences’ CEO, says that because the technology utilizes the existing fuel production and distribution infrastructure, it can be adopted more rapidly than other renewable energy technologies.
“Since announcing this technology,” he says, “we have been inundated by inquiries of interest from academia and industry. Because many aspects of our technology are trade secrets, we are not free to discuss all the details. However, based on our research to date, we believe that we will be able to demonstrate our technology within the next several months with a prototype that can convert a stream of CO2 into an immediately flammable liquid fuel.”
Michael North, Professor of Organic Chemistry at the UK’s Newcastle University, who is looking at transforming CO2 into useful chemical compounds, says he believes Carbon Sciences’ technology sounds feasible.
“They will need to address issues about how long the biocatalysts are active for before they need replacing. If they only work for a day then you are going through tons and tons of biocatalyst for each ton of CO2,” he told CNN. “Biocatalyst life-span and poisoning – by things like nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide and other impurities – will be the issues determining how feasible and cost-effective it is.”
Carbon Sciences quotes US Energy Information Administration projections that worldwide energy consumption will increase by 50% over the period 2006 to 2030. This translates to a requirement of over 112 million barrels of crude oil per day, up from the current 90 million barrels per day, from which the transportation sector consumes over 100 million gallons of fuel per hour.
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