Written for the University of Michigan’s One Cool Thing mobile app (01/04/15)
Turning H2O and CO2 into hydrocarbons
Sure, it sounds like wizardry, but a machine developed by the German cleantech company Sunfire implements a process that is pure science. Water is first turned into steam, where the oxygen and hydrogen are split into solid oxide electrolyser cells. Next the hydrogen is utilized to lower CO2 to carbon monoxide where the Fischer-Tropsch process is introduced in order to combine the hydrogen and carbon monoxide into hydrocarbons, the basis for petroleum fuels. The entire process, while costly, boasts 70 percent energy efficiency and produces one barrel of fuel per day, according to Gizmodo. Producing a ton of fuel also recycles 3.2 tons of CO2. In order to meet the United States’ demand for fuel (an average of 18 million barrels used per day) this machine has a long way to go. However Sunfire claims this initial rig as a model for transition to the industrial scale, and thus a first step in separating ourselves from the use of fossil fuels.