Friday, 6 December 2013
Liquid Fuel from CO2 and a Volcano
In an attempt to reduce carbon emissions as much as possible, creative companies around the world are coming up with innovative solutions for alternative fuels. One of the latest innovations comes by way of an Icelandic company known as Carbon Recycling International (CRI).
CRI's latest project was to design and build a plant adjacent to an existing geothermal power plant in southern Iceland. That power plant has been generating electricity by using the energy from the region's volcanic landscape. CRI might have been inspired by local residents who have been using the hot water discharged by the power plant for a health spa since the mid-1970s.
The CRI project aims to do something similar in terms of recycling some of the waste generated by the power plant. The only difference is that they are not interested in hot water; they are interested in carbon dioxide. They have figured out a way to convert that carbon dioxide into methanol for use as a liquid fuel.
Methanol is created from carbon dioxide by combining it with hydrogen, copper oxide and a reliable energy source. It is easier to recycle waste CO2 from a geothermal power plant than a fossil fuel plant because the emissions are easier to capture and separate. The Icelandic site is perfect for the process because CRI can harness the local volcanic energy.
From a carbon footprint standard, making methanol widely available on the commercial market would have a measurable impact on greenhouse gas emissions. It is a cleaner fuel that can be used for any number of purposes, including manufacturing. There's only one problem: producing methanol requires extremely cheap electrical power if it is to be profitable.
Iceland is an obvious choice for this type of methanol production because electricity costs so little there. Companies like CRI can purchase electricity for about a third of what it costs across much of Europe. In places where electricity cost more, something else needs to be done to encourage companies to spend the money.
In the meantime, CRI will continue to develop its Icelandic plant by harnessing geothermal energy to create methanol. Company officials say that, while the plant is not yet profitable, it will be when it is fully operational sometime next year. Right now, the company is still ironing out whatever minor problems remain.
CRI is to be congratulated for their efforts in Iceland however, the question of where to go from here remains. Despite the fact that they are planning to build additional plants around Europe, it's not likely large-scale methanol production will be commercially available in the near future. There just isn't enough cheap electrical power available to make it viable.
Right now, the focus needs to be on better management of current renewable power sources in order to achieve maximum benefits from them. Until such time as renewable energy can compete with fossil fuels, we must approach alternative fuel sources as a supplement rather than a replacement.