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Will cars ever run on carbon dioxide, or is that marketing hype?

CO2 fuel right around the corner?
How CO2 is converted to fuel.
How CO2 is converted to fuel.

So are CO2-fueled vehicles in our immediate future? Yes. And no. It depends on whom you ask. Those who are developing CO2 fuels claim the technology has existed for years, and the result is a much cleaner, more eco-friendly fuel than petroleum.

According to Byron Elton, President and COO of Carbon Sciences, his company hhas developed a breakthrough technology that can take CO2 and use it along with methane and a catalyst to create a synthetic gas (syngas) in a process known as gas-to-liquid or GTL. The resulting syngas can, and has, been used to create clean diesel fuels. Elton says that after diesel will come jet fuels and even a CO2 fuel that will power existing gasoline engines. No need for retrofitting or costly conversions.

While GTL technology has been around for decades — Elton notes that the Fischer–Tropsch process, a key component of GTL technology where carbon monoxide and hydrogen are combined to produce a petroleum substitute, was used to fuel the war effort during WWII — it hasn’t been competitive with, or superior to, crude oil. Elton says that has changed.

He adds, “Carbon Science’s technology can not only give us a viable, clean alternative to fossil fuels, but it can also help significantly reduce the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere.” While it will take some time to get it to market, Elton says diesel fuels made from CO2 will be available relatively quickly. And he points to a proposed joint $10 billion project between the state of Louisiana and South African energy company, Sasol, to build a huge GTL plant near Lake Charles, LA as proof that this alternative fuel has been embraced and is coming fast.

So should we start tearing down gas stations and demand the construction of CO2 stations? Not so fast, says those on the opposite side of the fence. They say that while you absolutely can make clean fuel from CO2, the end result is much costlier and less efficient than fossil fuels. So all we are doing is trading bad for less bad. Or alternative bad.