Shell-backed startup creates fuel from carbon dioxide and fake sunlight

A startup company backed by energy giant Shell has developed a method to turn carbon dioxide into fuel by adding fake sunlight.

US company Dimensional Energy has developed an “artificial photosynthesis” process with a photoreactor that converts carbon dioxide, using sunlight and water, into synthetic fuels and gases like methanol.

The company was created at Cornell University, in the US, and aims to turn the former waste CO2 into a new profit stream with the HI-LIGHT solar-thermocatalytic “reverse combustion” technology.

“We want to create a carbon dioxide refinery on an industrial scale,” Jason Salfi, Dimensional Energy’s chief executive, said.

To date, the technology has won a 2017 NASA design contest, with the company receiving funding from the US National Science Foundation and Shell’s GameChanger start-up program.

David Erickson, a co-founder of the company and professor at Cornell University, said the process uses carbon dioxide as a feedstock to create gas using artificial photosynthesis.

“In industrial uses, we can capture carbon dioxide from commercial entities before it leaks into the atmosphere. We put it into our reactor, add hydrogen and sunlight. All of this goes into our machine and comes out as a useful fuel,” Professor Erickson said.

“The resulting methanol can be used for transportation, energy, heating and cooking with gas stoves. Since it was formed from a process that removed carbon from the atmosphere, it’s neutral – we can use it guilt free.”

The process was designed as a step beyond typical carbon dioxide emissions mitigation such as carbon capture and storage.

“By not viewing fossil fuels and feedstocks through a circular economy lens, we estimate these companies miss an opportunity for approximately $US50 billion per year in potential profit from hydrocarbons, including methanol, that could be made with waste CO2,” the company stated.

Fellow founder of Dimensional, Tobias Hanrath, said it can help tackle climate change.

“The ubiquitous process of combustion has gotten humanity in trouble,” Professor Hanrath said.

“We’re seeking to develop a reverse combustion process – artificial photosynthesis – where you make carbon dioxide an input and, from that, create a value-added product.”

Dimensional Energy is aiming to produce a larger scale reactor, building a pilot plant with an already identified – but as yet unnamed – partner in 2020.

This is not the first unique carbon dioxide reduction program.

In Iceland, one of the world’s largest geothermal power plants began capturing carbon emissions and turning them into stone.

The operation, a joint venture between Climeworks and Reykjavik Energy, is an evolution of the world’s first commercial carbon capture facility – the Direct Air Capture plant which opened in Switzerland in June last year and is also run by Climeworks.


Extracted from The Sydney Morning Herald

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