A cleaner energy source: carbon capture - Cafeqa

A cleaner energy source: carbon capture

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Scientists are trying new things using “green methanol.” In the not-too-distant future, it may power not just industries but also vehicles and ships. But can there ever be a day when turning CO2 into a clean fuel can replace gasoline?

For this team of researchers, sustainable transportation solutions may be more accessible than we believe in a society that is frantically looking for ways to combat climate change. That is more than simply a metaphor, either.

A firm in Lindau, Germany is turning air into environmentally friendly gasoline. The city is located in a fairy tale setting with enormous valleys and lakes.

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“We believe that CO₂ is not just waste, but can be a resource for all kinds of products,” noted Johannes Prock, a chemist and chief technologist of the Austrian tech firm Obrist Group, which has been involved in automotive systems for many years. For their part, they convert carbon dioxide into what is referred to as “green methanol,” a chemical that many sectors see as a more environmentally friendly substitute for fossil fuels.

Prock and his colleagues do this by using “direct air capture,” or DAC, a method that removes atmospheric CO2 and converts it into a usable form for industrial use.

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Technically speaking, this has been available for over a decade, but never on such a massive scale or for such reasons; yet, the idea still sounds like something out of a science fiction book. “The technology works well on a small scale,” DW said, “but the real technical difficulty is to build big facilities and ensure the process remains efficient.”

Could green methanol work?


Perhaps getting adequate funding will be the biggest obstacle. Studying this technique at Spain’s University of Rovira i Virgili, biochemical engineer Anna Mas Herrador claims that “the most significant obstacle to large-scale implementation of DAC is the high cost involved.”

It may be accelerated with the help of current research and assistance. Solar photovoltaics and batteries are two more examples of low-carbon technology that have shown significant price reductions recently. According to Mas Herrador, who spoke with DW, this is also anticipated to occur soon with DAC.

Prock and his colleagues are now putting modified Teslas through their paces as hybrids. On the streets of Lindau, they are testing hybrid vehicles that combine a smaller electric battery with a methanol engine.

A large and cumbersome battery is a common component in electric cars. “The production costs are cut in half with our hybrid models,” said Frank Obrist, CEO and founder of Obrist Group. “The idea is to provide vehicles of this type for €25,000 ($26,984) for the average citizen.”

Accelerating the development of renewable energy sources and electric vehicles
Permitting synthetic e-fuels for road transport would jeopardize the whole decarbonization endeavor, according to independent environmental expert Carlos Bravo Villa.

“The decarbonization of transport is a major challenge, and there is no room for inefficient use of electricity,” DW said.

A substantial increase in the generation of renewable energy would be necessary to increase the use of e-fuels in road transport, according to a report released in 2023 by Transport and Environment together with other European climate groups. To do that, a large number of additional renewable energy facilities would need to be constructed.

If you put renewable electricity directly into a car battery, you get up to five times more energy efficiency than if you use that electricity to produce green fuel,” Villa pointed out.

On the other hand, a small number of people could have access to electric cars (EVs). They are still too costly, according to the Obrist Group, but these hybrid versions help hasten the shift to greener vehicles. We will not be able to convert the whole automobile industry to electric vehicles. “There must be an alternative, greener way to address this problem,” Prock said.

There may be a turning point, despite the fact that sales of electric cars have been increasing continuously over the last several years. Despite forecasting worldwide sales of 16.7 million devices for 2024, economic consultant BloombergNEF predicts a downturn in the industry. Following dismal sales numbers for the third consecutive quarter, Tesla said in April that it will speed up the release of more affordable models.

Bravo Villa thinks it’s critical to keep the emphasis on electric automobiles. “Hybrid cars, not even using this methanol, do not make any sense, and even less so at the moment, with the accelerated evolution of battery technology, which will continue to improve in the short term,” according to him. “In parallel, the deployment of the necessary public charging infrastructure is already underway.”

Expanding the use of the technology worldwide


Even though vehicles get most of the attention, green methanol might be useful in other fields as well. That “it can also be used as a raw material for the chemical industry and as fuel for ships” was something that Prock brought up.

“It would be an excellent option for maritime transport, where the possibilities of using batteries like those in cars are still very limited,” Bravo Villa added, taking it a step further in this regard.

In a similar vein, DAC technology may be important throughout.

“It has promising potential, as it offers the ability to capture CO2 directly from the air, regardless of geographical location,” according to Mas Herrador. “It can be complementary to other climate change mitigation measures, such as emission reductions and the use of renewable energies.”

A final resolution remains elusive as the sun sets over Lindau. Sustainable transportation may be within reach in the not-too-distant future, but getting there will need more than just air.

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