Fuel is in the air: Scalable direct air capture
Steve Oldham wants to breathe change into the transportation industry, without changing anything. He and his team at Carbon Engineering have been working on a way to decarbonize transportation without turning the current infrastructure upside down. And it might be easy to convince the general public, since they’ll get to keep their cars.
It works perfectly well
Most vehicles on the road, on the rails and in the air right now run on fossil fuel. And even though moves towards vehicle electrification are being made, the massive cost of infrastructure overhaul means that we still have a long way to go. Also, consider this: there are over 1.3 billion cars in the world right now, and it’s estimated that replacing them all with EVs would cost car owners over $30 trillion.
In the meantime, people will continue to drive where they need to drive and fill up their tanks without a second thought about gas station infrastructure. So instead of decarbonizing the whole transportation system, “why don’t we just decarbonize the fuel?” asks Carbon Engineering’s Steve Oldham, like it’s just that simple. But according to him, it is. And it seems almost too good to be true.
“Why don’t we just decarbonize the fuel?”
– Steve Oldham
CEO, Carbon Engineering
Air in, liquid fuel out
Carbon Engineering takes the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) in the air we currently breathe and turns it into synthetic liquid fuel that contains the same properties as the fossil fuels currently used by cars, buses, trucks and even planes — all without any engine alteration.
While there’s more CO2 in the air than there should be, there still isn’t a lot, so in order to turn atmospheric CO2 into fuel, it needs to be captured, purified and compressed through a process called “direct air capture” (DAC). It is then combined with hydrogen to make synthetic liquid fuel. And because it’s liquid, it can be distributed by way of existing gas station infrastructure all over the world.
“We already have a solution to bring fuel to people,” says Steve.
Let’s clear the air
A single commercial-scale plant using this technology can be scaled up to capture one million tons of CO2 a year, or in other words, the equivalent of the annual emissions of 250,000 average cars.
Mix it in
Following mandatory government regulations, fossil fuel companies blend biofuels into their product in order to lower its carbon content. But biofuel means using land to make fuel, not food.
“So we have to make a choice: do we make food or do we make fuel?” asks Steve. And even then, “you can only blend part of biofuel to make the engine work — it’s not the case with our fuel,” he adds, highlighting that this could be a sustainable solution.