Synthetic Fuel Production from Direct Air Capture (DAC) technologies

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September 22, 2022


Synthetic Biology


Synthetic Fuel Production from Direct Air Capture (DAC) technologies

Synthetic fuel or ‘synfuel’ is a broad term used to describe a liquid fuel that is not produced from naturally occurring crude oil. Its production involves a process called Fisher-Tropsch that helps in converting hydrocarbons into syngas. Apart from deriving the fuel from coal, natural gas, renewable biomass, and others, synfuels can also be made from capturing carbon dioxide (CO2) or carbon monoxide (CO) from the air. The carbon emissions from this fuel are estimated to be 51 percent less than its counterpart. Direct air capture (DAC) is one of the most used technologies for extracting CO2 or other carbon compounds directly from the ambient air.

A recent study observed the effects of CO2 extraction on the global economies and found that the removal of 5 Gt/yCO2 (gigaton of CO2 per year) would cost about $500 billion, which, at present, is 0.6 percent of the global GDP. According to a recent report, the global emission of CO2 is predicted to be between 52 to 58 Gt/yCO2 by 2030. The report suggests that if the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are not brought down drastically, then global warming will surpass the level of 2°C by 2050.

As of now, DAC is not seen as an alternative to other traditional technologies such as CSS (carbon capture and storage) for the reduction of carbon footprint. There are many factors such as cost that are impeding the growth of this technology in the carbon-neutral fuel sector. The average cost for net-zero CO2 removal for solid sorbent-based DAC approach ranges between $89 to $877 per tCO2 and solvent-based approach between $156 to $506 per tCO2. However, the recent studies and reports reaffirm that one of the leading factors that can accentuate its growth is to scale up its deployment at a much higher rate.

Market overview of synthetic fuel production

Headquartered in British Columbia, Carbon Engineering Ltd. is a manufacturer of synthetic fuel that will begin its first large-scale commercial plant construction in 2022. The company will branch out across Europe, Canada, the UK, and the US, and by 2030 they plan to manufacture the synfuels using DAC technology all across the world. The company will also build regulated underground storage reserves to store the captured CO2. The geological formations below the Earth are a great way to dispose off any unused or waste CO2 that raises the planet’s surface temperature.

The geological storage sites, if properly managed, can store CO2 for millions of years without harming the climate. The company aims to capture one million tonnes of carbon dioxide from the air every year. The targeted production capacity is projected to be at 100 million litres of fuel each year and is expected to create a demand of up to 25,000 tonnes of green hydrogen annually across Canada. The company believes that by 2050, DAC facilities will be playing a vital role in achieving net-zero carbon emissions from fuels.

At present, there are nineteen small-scale operational DAC plants in Europe, the US, and Canada. In Hellisheidi, Iceland, Climewoks, and CarbFix are currently building an industrial carbon capture and storage plant named ‘Orca.’ Orca is being built to capture CO2 from the air, and geothermal fluids. After capturing and blending the CO2 received from all sources, it will be stored in underground reserves in basalt rock formations. The unused CO2 will turn into rock through mineralization. The companies also plan to build a CO2 mineral storage plant on a nearby site. Orca can remove 4,000 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.

Microsoft along with energy-sector companies namely Chevron Corporation, Schlumberger New Energy, and others, are jointly building a plant that will convert agricultural waste biomass into renewable synthesis gas. With the help of direct air capture technology, this gas will be used to make synthetic fuel. The plant is installed in Mendota, California, and will provide electricity to 65,000 households in the state by 2025. The plant will generate 300,000 tonnes of CO2 annually, and the captured carbon dioxide will be stored in nearby underground geological formations. The completed facility is predicted to remove emissions such as nitrous oxide, CO, CO2, and other particulates produced by about 2000,000 tonnes of agricultural biomass waste annually.

What’s next

At the moment, the DAC technology is still expensive and has hurdles to overcome to reduce carbon emissions from the atmosphere. Thus, while this technology paves its way into the net-zero emission synthetic fuel sector, it is atmost a sustainable supplement that works in the favour of the environment. All the recent findings, reports, and studies have concluded that the world needs to adapt swiftly to the climate changes caused by carbon emissions and that large chunks of carbon dioxide have to be removed from the atmosphere. The direct air capture technology holds the potential to remove gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

The ability to strengthen carbon capture from fuel emissions using DAC outweighs the challenges of developing the technology. Finding and developing new absorbents, catalysts, and energy sources to develop high-quality fuel is next in line for the DAC industry.

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