‘Breakthrough’ technology to deliver clean fuel from sunlight and CO2

Funding has been granted to develop a new reactor that can produce fuel using sunlight and carbon dioxide, potentially transforming global energy production and reducing the effects of climate change.

Led by Edinburgh-based Heriot-Watt University, an international team of scientists have been granted £1.2m to increase the efficiency of ‘photo-catalytic reduction’, the process that uses solar energy to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into fuels such as methane and methanol.

Excess carbon produced when the fuel is used can be converted into energy again, providing a closed loop system.

If successful, up to 700 million tonnes of carbon emissions could be saved each year, significantly more than total UK annual emissions, which DECC estimates at around 500 million tonnes.

Existing photo-catalytic reduction processes do not produce enough fuel to make them financially viable, but through the funding it is hoped that conversion rates that can be scaled up to a commercial process, paving the way for a radical transformation in the global energy industry.

Project leader Mercedes Maroto-Valer said: “By developing this novel reactor and processes, we could unlock a hugely significant source of carbon-neutral fuel. We are working on creating a technology that will turn this into a genuine game-changer, turning a climate-changing gas into a climate-saving fuel.”

The team will work closely with an advisory board of representatives from the energy industry, who can help ensure the technology can be integrated with existing infrastructure.

E.ON representative on the advisory board Robin Irons said: “This research is a fantastic opportunity to bring a potentially hugely valuable technology to market. Industry will be working hand-in-hand with the international team of academics, making this a truly global project designed to deliver a globally significant breakthrough.”

The idea of creating synthetic petrol using only air and electricity has often been mooted in the past.

Last October British company Air Fuel Synthesis (AFS) claimed to become the first in the world to demonstrate CO2 air capture technology as a viable industrial project.  

Conor McGlone

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