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 energy a priority, the company Carbon Sciences, which patented its discoveries, hopes to ride the mobilization of policies and opinion for 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 new generation biofuel by the end of 2010.
Its operational director Byron Elton explained that all he had to do was find a partner to launch the project.
"Our partner can be anyone who produces a lot of CO2: a coal-fired power station, a cement plant, a refinery ..." he said during a meeting in New York.
If a partnership were sealed within nine months, this new type of biofuel could start being produced by the end of 2010, says Elton, while acknowledging that the timetable "could be a little ambitious". The technology developed by carbon Sciences uses microorganisms, which it calls "bio-catalysts". (Note from econologie.com: would it be micro algae?)
First you have to "destabilize" the carbon dioxide by mixing it with water. Then the micro-organisms, protected by specially developed polymer shells, are responsible for recomposing hydrogen and carbon to produce hydrocarbons.
The mechanism is the same as that used 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 on this ground
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 that he had successfully decoded the human genome in 2000, announced in February 2008 that he expected to succeed in the space of 18 months producing biofuel " fourth generation ”, that is to say not on an agricultural basis such as ethanol, but based on carbon dioxide.
Today, the J. Craig Venter Institute boasts mainly of advances using algae to decompose and recompose CO2 into hydrocarbons.
These initiatives have aroused great interest among American officials. They are all the more popular in the United States as the country draws half of its electricity from coal-fired power plants, huge emitters of carbon dioxide, the ecological cost of which is decried as such.
"The question is not whether we use coal, but how we use it," said influential Democratic Senator Byron Dorgan earlier this month.
He said that $ 3,4 billion had been budgeted for this purpose in the economic recovery plan voted earlier this year. A windfall that Carbon Sciences would like to take advantage of, according to Byron Elton.