BMW i Ventures invests in Prometheus Fuels; CO2 air-capture and conversion to carbon-neutral gasoline
BMW i Ventures has invested in Prometheus Fuels (earlier post), a company removing CO2 from the air and turning it into zero-net carbon gasoline that it will sell at gas stations, at a price that competes with fossil fuels, starting as early as this year.
The ability to create gasoline from air, cost competitively with fossil fuels, is a game changer. The average car stays on the road for over eight years; meaning that even if the whole world switched to buying 100% electric cars tomorrow, it would still take almost a decade for today’s internal combustion engines to be off the road. Clearly we aren’t switching to 100% electric vehicles tomorrow, so that’s not fast enough. By creating carbon-neutral gasoline from CO2 captured from the air, Prometheus Fuels allows the climate impact of today’s internal combustion engines to be massively reduced immediately.—Greg Smithies, Partner, BMW i Ventures
Later this year, when Prometheus Fuels begins selling its carbon-neutral gasoline at retail pumps, consumers will, for the first time, have the option to purchase gasoline that doesn’t add c O2to the atmosphere, at a price that competes with fossil fuels. Replacing all fuels made from oil and gas with zero-net-carbon fuels could reduce approximately 25% of global carbon emissions, making this one of the largest levers that modern society has in the fight against climate change.
Founded by Rob McGinnis, a Yale Engineering PhD with multiple successful startups under his belt, Prometheus launched from Y Combinator in early 2019. The company’s mission is to eliminate the need for fossil fuels by removing CO2 from the air and turning it into gasoline, jet fuel and diesel that can immediately be used in standard vehicles with no modifications.
In a commentary in the journal Joule, published in January, McGinnis outlined the technology advances that could lead to the potential price-competitiveness of renewable gasoline and jet with fossil fuels.
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.
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.
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