The Vision A modified nuclear reactor that produces 17,000 barrels of gasoline a day—enough to fuel 54,000 Honda Civics.
The Plan Air contains hydrogen and carbon, the building blocks of gasoline. So why not turn it into fuel? That’s the thinking behind a plan from scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory to transform carbon dioxide into a renewable resource using nuclear plants. As air enters a reactor’s cooling tower, it filters through a potassium carbonate solution, which captures 95 percent of the carbon dioxide and forms a bicarbonate solution: baking soda, more or less.
From there, an electrolytic cell turns the bicarbonate into 100 percent CO2. As for the hydrogen, the nuclear reactor is already generating electricity, and some of it can power electrolyzers that strip hydrogen from water. Finally, catalytic processes combine the hydrogen and carbon into methane, gasoline or jet fuel, all without toxic emissions. The researchers estimate that to produce 8,600 tons of CO2 per day, enough for those 17,000 barrels of gas, it would take six cooling towers and as many as 90 cells.
Potential Uh-Ohs The plan needs gas prices to continue to rise, since the new gas would cost $4 a gallon at the pump. If oil prices fall, the plan dies.
ETA The Los Alamos scientists plan to debut a prototype of the electrolytic cells next year, with a commercial version ready by 2013.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.