Carbon Capture and Utilization newsJuly 19, 2012
CO2 is the greenhouse gas that garners the most attention because human economic activity produces so much of it. A few years ago, Nobel Prize winning economist George Olah (with co-authors Alain Goeppert and G.K. Surya Prakash) wrote Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy. Methanol is an easily produced fuel that can serve as either a mixture with or a high octane substitute for gasoline. Methanol can be produced from a number of sources – coal, natural gas or biomass. Or, as Olah, et al, pointed out – from CO2 itself. Yes, it is conceivable that we could capture CO2 from industrial sources and create liquid fuel with only oxygen as a byproduct. Eventually, we might even be able to economically pull CO2 directly out of the atmosphere to create methanol. That day is long off, but the world’s first commercial plant for the production of renewable methanol (RM) from CO2 has been in operation for over six months. The George Olah Renewable Methanol Plant began operation late last year in Svartsengi, Iceland, where carbon emissions from Svartsengi’s geothermal power plant are captured and converted to RM, which will be mixed with gasoline and supply approximately 2.5% of the demands of the Icelandic market. Although the George Olah Plant is a fully commercial facility, it will also serve as a laboratory to work out the economics of RM production in order to make it as efficient as possible.
I have written before that successful, economic carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) would be a climate and energy policy gamechanger; that is even more true of carbon capture and utilization (CCU). The possibility that the virtually inexhaustible global reserves of coal could be used to cleanly generate both electricity and liquid fuel would literally change the nature of energy economics.