CO2 soon the recycled fuel with a biocatalyst?
Carbon dioxide, long identified as the main culprit of global warming, could make a new virtue if a small American company succeeded his bet to turn it into gasoline.
At first glance, the company seems as crazy as that of the medieval alchemist Nicolas Flamel, except that it is no longer a question of transforming lead into gold, but the polluting agent into clean energy.
While the Obama administration has made the fight against global warming and the search for clean energies a priority, the company Carbon Sciences, which patented its discoveries, hopes to surf the mobilization of politicians and opinion to become the first to succeed in this bet.
This small company in Santa Barbara, California, says it is ready to build a first pilot plant on an operational scale, which could start producing a next-generation biofuel by the end of 2010.
Its operational director Byron Elton explained that all that remained was to find a partner to launch the project.
“Our partner can be anyone who produces a lot of CO2: a coal-fired power plant, a cement plant, a refinery…” he said during a meeting in New York.
If a partnership is sealed within nine months, this new type of biofuel could start being produced by the end of 2010, says Elton, while acknowledging that the timeline "could be a bit ambitious." The technology developed by Carbon Sciences uses microorganisms, which it calls “bio-catalysts”. (Note from econologie.com: would it be micro algae?)
First of all, the carbon dioxide must be “destabilized” by mixing it with water. Then the microorganisms, protected by specially developed polymer shells, are responsible for recomposing hydrogen and carbon to produce hydrocarbons.
The mechanism is the same as that implemented in nature, during the genesis of hydrocarbons. But in the Carbon Sciences process, "the biocatalysts are protected and reused, so that gasoline can be produced at a" very, very competitive "cost price.
Other companies are in this field
Carbon Sciences, a listed company employing only 8 people, claims to be the most advanced in this research, but it is not the only one to explore this avenue.
Investor-researcher Craig Venter, whose team was the first to announce having successfully decoded the human genome in 2000, announced in February 2008 that he thought he would succeed in producing biofuel within 18 months " fourth generation ”, that is to say not on an agricultural basis like ethanol, but based on carbon dioxide.
Today the J. Craig Venter Institute mainly praises advances using algae to break down and recompose CO2 into hydrocarbons.
These initiatives are arousing great interest among US officials. They are all the more popular in the United States as the country obtains half of its electricity from coal-fired power stations, which emit enormous carbon dioxide, the ecological cost of which is therefore criticized.
“The question is not whether we use coal, but how we use it,” influential Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan said earlier this month.
He said that $ 3,4 billion had been budgeted for this purpose in the economic recovery plan voted at the start of the year. A windfall that Carbon Sciences would like to take advantage of, according to Byron Elton.