CO2 neutral fuels
Dutch Institute for Fundamental Energy Research DIFFER PO Box 6336, 5600 HH Eindhoven, The Netherlands
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Published online: 2 October 2018
CO2 is a valuable resource, life on Earth depends on it. Rather than wasting it to the atmosphere, or burying it underground, CO2 can be combined with water and turned into valuable chemicals and fuels, the process being powered by renewable electricity. Renewable electricity generated by wind and photovoltaics (PV) is making big strides, but is limited by ill-matched supply and demand. In addition, electricity only makes up 20% to 30% of total energy demand. Domestic heating, high temperature/pressure Industrial processes and mobility/transportation gobble up the rest. Mobility and transportation prove particularly difficult to decarbonise. Aviation is a case in point. Battery-powered aircraft are unlikely to become feasible by 2050. Hydrogen has too low an energy density and is haunted by safety issues. Current policy, therefore, is directed at bio fuels. One problem, there is not enough of it. The Fuel vs. Food vs. Flora trilemma of bio-based fuel is unlikely to gain public acceptance. By converting renewable electricity into fuel, power to molecules (P2M), two birds are killed with one stone: providing fuel for long haul transportation and enabling long-term, large-scale energy storage to cover the seasonal mismatch between supply and demand of renewable electricity. Feedstock consists of air-captured carbon or nitrogen and water. Chemically combined, it creates a liquid fuel with greatly enhanced energy density, such as kerosene or ammonia, or gaseous fuel like methane which can replace natural gas in the existing gas network. Direct air capture of CO2 is currently being commercialised. The conversion technology of water and CO2 by electrolysis has recently been extended to novel plasma technology, the sub ject of this paper. For CO2 splitting by plasmolysis, the reduced electric field has been identified as the key parameter explaining and improving the energy efficiency. Energy efficiency by plasmolysis is similar to that of electrolysis, but offers advantages in energy density, upscaling and switching in response to intermittent power with no use of scarce material. A simple model explains the inverse relation between energy efficiency and particle conversion and relates input microwave power to CO2 gas density, plasma dimension and ionisation degree, allowing design parameters for a 100 kW pilot reactor to be specified. Recycling CO2 in combination with P2M is a game-changing technology to meet overall CO2 emission reduction targets. It takes advantage of existing, inexpensive infrastructure for energy storage, transport and distribution. Existing internal combustion engine technology can be maintained where necessary. Close coupled to a remote solar array or an off-shore wind farm it offers a solution to decentralised renewable fuel production at the renewable electricity source.
© The Authors, published by EDP Sciences, 2018
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