Prometheus CEO outlines tech advances that could make CO2-to-fuels renewable gasoline and jet price-competitive with fossil fuels
30 January 2020
In a commentary in the journal Joule, Rob McGinnis, founder and and CEO of Prometheus, a company that is developing technology to remove carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into fuels, discusses the technology advances that could lead to the potential price-competitiveness of renewable gasoline and jet with fossil fuels.
Recent breakthroughs in separations and catalysis, along with long-trend reductions in solar and wind electricity costs, have significantly increased the potential for cost-competitive renewable fuels from direct air capture (DAC) of CO2. This is an important development because there is little time available to reduce CO2 emissions sufficiently to avoid the worst effects of climate change. Transportation fuels contribute a significant portion of current CO2 emissions, accounting for 23% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and up to 40% of GHGs in developed economies, offering significant opportunities for emissions reduction from the decarbonization of such fuels.
Electrification of the global vehicle fleet, which now totals over 1 billion cars and trucks, or conversion of vehicles to use novel fuels like hydrogen, cannot proceed quickly enough to address the climate crisis. Replacing fossil-fuel gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels would be able to proceed at a much faster pace, because it does not require the replacement or retrofit of the existing vehicle fleet. In order for this fuel replacement to occur, however, renewable fuels must offer the same or better performance than fossil fuels at the same or lower price.—Rob McGinnis
McGinnis highlights three technical advances that he believes will make this possible.
Aqueous CO2 electrolysis with base-metal catalysts. The conversion of CO2 to fuels in these inexpensive water-based systems has shown high faradic efficiencies for reduction of CO2 to C2 fuel products such as ethanol. Previously, the reduction of CO2 to CO for syngas for use in Fischer-Tropsch was considered promising; however, he noted, these processes are energy and capital intensive, and require massive scale to become practical.
The effective upgrading of alcohols to gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels. This upgrading requires an inexpensive catalysis step (oligomerization and dehydration), which is exothermic and compact, operating at moderate temperatures and pressures.
The separation of ethanol and other fuel products from water. A previous obstacle to the aqueous CO2 electrolysis pathway has been the difficulty of separating ethanol and other alcohols from water. Separation of these fule products from water can now be achieved by nanotechnology-based separation, operated at room temperature and pressure.
These advances together allow for inexpensive systems that can make true gasoline, diesel, and jet fuels from atmospheric CO2. These systems can run at room temperature and atmospheric pressure using only electricity rather than the mix of electricity and fossil fuels (such as methane for process heat) typically required by previous approaches. One practical advantage of non-thermal processes using only renewable electricity is that they can be turned on and off quickly to match intermittent supplies of renewable power. This is much better suited to the availability of renewable energy sources than thermal processes that must run 24/7 for stable operation.—Rob McGinnis
McGinnis projects that by putting all of these advances together, it will be possible to offer renewable gasoline from direct air capture CO2-to-fuels processes within the next two years that is price competitive with fossil gasoline. Once demonstrated, the main challenge will be in achieving speed to scale.
In order to replace all fossil gasoline in the United States, assuming 66% resource availability and a 60% conversion efficiency, an additional 1.4 TW of combined solar and wind capacity for the United States alone will be required.—Rob McGinnis
Rob McGinnis (2020) “CO2-to-Fuels Renewable Gasoline and Jet Fuel Can Soon Be Price Competitive with Fossil Fuels,” Joule doi: 10.1016/j.joule.2020.01.002
"within the next two years that is price competitive with fossil gasoline."
Who are you kidding ?
Sounds like he is trying to raise money for his company.
I very much doubt he'll have it going in 2 years.
Posted by: mahonj | 30 January 2020 at 04:39 AM
For context, as of 2017:
'Photovoltaics (PV) generated about 1 percent of the total electricity produced globally in 2015 but also represented about 20 percent of new installation. The International Solar Alliance has set a target of having at least 3 terawatts -- or 3,000 gigawatts (GW) -- of additional solar power capacity by 2030, up from the current installed capacity of 71 GW. But even the most optimistic projections have under-represented the actual deployment of PV over the last decade, and the GA-SERI paper discusses a realistic trajectory to install 5-10 terawatts of PV capacity by 2030.'
So 71GW worldwide up to 1,400GW just for the US is quite a growth rate required.
Posted by: Davemart | 30 January 2020 at 07:49 AM
At $2/W installed that will cost $2.8 TRILLION, plus the cost of the CO2 capture and conversion systems... and that only replaces gasoline, not heating fuel or electric generating fuel or industrial process heat. Further, 66% "resource availability" is ridiculously high even for wind; for solar 20% is highly optimistic.
At an n-of-a-kind price of perhaps $15 billion per, $2.8 trillion would buy about 190 Vogtle expansion projects. That would add 190 * 2230 MW = about 424 GW of new electric generation. That would fully decarbonize the electric grid and provide the ~190 GW required to fully electrify all ground transport. I suppose you could use CO2-derived fuels for the edge cases.
It will take at least 20 years to build out such an ambitious system. Pretty much the world's entire vehicle fleet will be replaced in the next 20 years. Far from being "too slow", electrification is the PRIMARY means required for decarbonization.
"Delusional" doesn't come close to describing these "green" schemes. They are insane.
Posted by: Engineer-Poet | 30 January 2020 at 10:13 AM
We have plenty of CO2 from power plants.
Posted by: SJC_1 | 30 January 2020 at 10:47 AM
Yes, SJC... and that CO2 comes from FOSSIL FUELS, which are the PROBLEM, not any part of any solution.
Stop being "that guy".
Posted by: Engineer-Poet | 30 January 2020 at 11:42 AM
Stop being an insulting nut bag.
Use bio CO2.
Posted by: SJC_1 | 30 January 2020 at 04:58 PM
There are loads of sources of CO2, both fossil and Bio, which aren't going away any time soon.
IMO, it doesn't matter whether you convert fossil or Bio CO2 - CO2 is CO2, irrespective of the source.
However, the notion of replacing all gasoline with this stuff is crazy - It will be much easier to replace ICE cars with EVs as they become available.
The place for synthetic chemical fuels will surely be in jet fuel, where there is no obvious replacement.
You can electrify road and rail transport to varying degrees (as is happening now), and keep the synthetic fuels for aircraft.
(You can use nat gas in ships once the problem of methane slip is solved.)
Posted by: mahonj | 31 January 2020 at 01:12 AM
Compare the total supply of bio-CO2 to the quantity of CO2 required to replace gasoline. Determine if this is even remotely feasible.
This is a take-home test, use as much time as you need.
I'll be nicer if you'll be smarter. (IOW, stop being that guy.)
Posted by: Engineer-Poet | 31 January 2020 at 11:09 AM