Sunlight and water can fuel cars and trucks
THE Fischer– Tropsch process is infamous for aiding the Nazi war effort and enabling Sasol to print money by turning coal into fuel since 1950.
Now a group of scientists at the University of Texas has refied a photothermochemical process for driving the alkane reverse combustion ( ARC) reaction to produce the C1 to C13 hydrocarbons in a single operation unit.
“If the process was driven by the sun to provide both photons and heat, a solar photothermo- chemical alkane reverse combustion ( Sparc) process could be achieved in one step.
“If the Sparc reaction could be optimised to predominantly produce liquid hydrocarbons, and these products were derived from atmospheric CO2, a sustainable and carbon- neutral liquid fuel cycle could be realised,” their report states.
In other words, they want to use focused sunlight from parabolic mirrors to turn the overabundance of carbon- dioxide mixed with water into an inexpensive hydrocarbon fuel, using the intense heat and ensuing high pressure from the sun, The group of biochemists and mechanical engineers was led by Brian Dennis, UTA professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and co- principal investigator of the project.
Dennis said their process uses both light and heat to synthesise liquid hydrocarbons in a single stage reactor from carbon dioxide and water. Frederick MacDonnell, UTA interim chair of chemistry and biochemistry and co- principal investigator of the project said their process also has an important advantage over battery or gaseous- hydrogen powered vehicle technologies.
“Many of the hydrocarbon products from our reaction are exactly what we use in cars, trucks and planes, so there would be no need to change the current fuel distribution system,” said MacDonnell, adding their next step is to develop a photo- catalyst better matched to the solar spectrum. “Then we could more effectively use the entire spectrum of incident light to work towards the overall goal of a sustainable solar liquid fuel.”