‘Recycling CO2, obtaining fuel from the air’

Recycling bottles and paper for a cleaner environment is relatively easy to do. If only it were as easy to find a useful way of recycling the harmful CO2 that we are currently emitting in the air in large volumes.  We still have a long way to go, but it is worth investing in research, according to researchers of the University of Sheffield and the Energy research Centre of the Netherlands. In time it could become interesting to have cars drive on transport fuel produced from captured CO2, instead of storing that CO2 underground.

Source: National Geographic.com

This is what Heleen de Coninck, programme leader international energy and climate policy at Policy Studies, thinks:

The above-mentioned study, to which Daan Jansen, Hans Reith and I contributed, raises a number of questions that cannot be answered easily. Does recycling of CO2 really constitute an alternative to geological storage in the underground? Some people are fully convinced; they claim that we are currently missing out on opportunities for recycling CO2. Others claim that the potential is so small that it is not even worthwhile researching.

It sounds quite convincing when a chemist explains that CO2 is an inert molecule that does not react easily, and therefore cannot be recycled. On the other hand, CO2 is used as feedstock in some industries and chemical processes are conceivable that could eventually turn it into fuel. However, getting fuel straight from the air, as suggested by National Geographic, sounds like chemical nonsense to me: CO2 is incombustible. As for the topics of mineralisation and algae cultivation, our report explains that not much can be said about them right now: the potential and costs depend on uncertain yet conceivable technology breakthroughs.

All in all: Personally, I am not convinced that CO2 recycling constitutes a promise, but I am not convinced of the opposite either. Perhaps that is the best attitude a researcher can adopt. We are in an excellent position to conduct independent analyses in the field of CO2 recycling – and they are needed badly!