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Soon you can fill your car with 'petrol made from CO2'

Scientists are inching closer to produce a new fuel from carbon dioxide and sunlight which they claim will help meet world's energy needs and minimise carbon emissions.

world Updated: Jul 04, 2010 17:51 IST

Scientists are inching closer to produce a new fuel from carbon dioxide and sunlight which they claim will help meet world's energy needs and minimise carbon emissions.

A team at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is developing the technique which will produce "synthetic liquid fuels" in solar-powered reactors.

Experiments have also shown that the reactors can absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) and turn it into carbon monoxide. The same reactors can also be used to turn water into hydrogen and oxygen.

The two can then be reacted together with a catalyst to form hydrocarbon fuels, in a technique known as the "Fischer-Tropsch" process.

According to the researchers, fuels made in this way are sufficiently similar to those currently used in cars, and major redesigns of engines and refuelling stations is not necessary, New Scientist reported.

This innovative fuel production techniques could inch motor vehicles towards carbon neutrality, it said.

Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution of Washington at Stanford University, California, said that creating usable fuel from solar energy is a promising way of keeping the world's energy demands satisfied while minimising carbon emissions.

"This area holds out the promise for technologies that can produce large amounts of carbon-neutral power at affordable prices, which can be used where and when that power is needed," he said.

"It is one of the few technology areas that could truly revolutionise our energy future."

The Sandia team has created a machine called the "Counter Rotating Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator (CR5)", which captures carbon dioxide from power plant exhaust fumes.

In future, however, they hope to use CO2 extracted directly from the air, although they are not developing their own carbon-capture technique to do so.

"That is a huge challenge in itself, and we opted to focus on one hard problem at a time," says James Miller, a combustion chemist at Sandia.