Carbon capture and sequestration has been a point of debate during the climate crisis. On one hand, proponents argue that this is the only way we can reduce atmospheric carbon and warming temperatures. Others believe that this technology is as yet too undeveloped, too difficult and expensive to scale, and with unknown long-term consequences. Yet the CCS (carbon capture and storage) idea has led to a better, perhaps ideal solution. This week, the University of Cambridge researchers announced that they have developed a solar-powered technology to turn atmospheric carbon and plastic into syngas, a sustainable fuel.
Previously, technology used to turn CO2 into fuel also produced undesirable hydrogen as a byproduct. Although many parties including World Economic Forum touts hydrogen gas as a sustainable option, it’s variously described as “blue,” “gray,” and “green.” Alternatively, capturing and storing carbon underground is difficult and highly energy-intensive.
With this innovative—dare we say revolutionary—technology, Professor Erwin Reisner and his team were inspired by both CCS technology and photosynthesis. “CCS is a technology that’s popular with the fossil fuel industry as a way to reduce carbon emissions while continuing oil and gas exploration,” said Professor Reisner, stressing how CCS and the fossil fuel industries have gone hand in hand to keep up their profits. At first, he envisions his CO2-converting technology will utilize the output of the existing fossil fuel plants. “But ultimately, we need to cut fossil fuels out of the equation entirely and capture CO2 from the air,” he said.
One of the most innovative aspects of this new technology is that it uses atmospheric CO2 and not just pure, concentrated CO2 from a cylinder. Plus, it is powered by solar energy, artificial “leaves,” and plastic waste, leaving only sustainable fuel and glycolic acid (a compound that’s frequently used in skincare). The scien
“We’re not just interested in decarbonization, but de-fossilisation—we need to completely eliminate fossil fuels in order to create a truly circular economy,” said Professor Reisner. We can’t agree more!
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Photo: Matthias Heyde via Unsplash