Icelandic Geothermal Power Makes Synthetic Fuel More Economical

Synthetic fuels could serve as viable replacements for common fuels, if only they could be made more economical.

Carbon Recycling International (CRI) may have found a way to do just that by combining a number of technologies over a very special part of the earth. Iceland, the land of fire and ice, is an interesting combination of glaciers and volcanic activity, including more than two dozen active volcanoes, as well as geysers, hot springs, and mud pools. Geothermal energy is big business in Iceland, heating about 85% of homes there. Volcanic activity is also closely associated with carbon dioxide emissions, which makes it a special consideration is making synthetic fuels.

Conventional fuels, such as propane or gasoline, are hydrocarbon chains of varying lengths, which have been distilled from even longer hydrocarbon chains in crude petroleum. Synthetic fuels are still hydrocarbon chains, but aren’t distilled from petroleum, instead being synthesized from different sources of hydrogen and carbon. Carbon capture technology has been employed in coal-burning plants, for example, to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that finally makes it to the atmosphere. Using this carbon dioxide to make fuel, however, has proven to be difficult, in that it takes more energy to capture, separate, and synthesize fuel from these sources.

Using the carbon dioxide and energy from the same source, in this case a geothermal power plant, powered by a volcano-powered hot spring or thermal vent, for example, has two benefits. First, the carbon dioxide is less contaminated with other gases. Second, the heat energy from the volcano itself powers the reaction, combining volcanic carbon dioxide emissions with hydrogen, generated by electrolysis, resulting in methanol. Methanol, in turn, can be used in making various products, including plywood or paints, or can even be used as a feedstock for synthetic fuel production. CRI brands it’s synthetic methanol, Vulcanol.

Image ©  Stuck in Customs CC BY-NC-SA

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