Global team aim for game-changing clean fuel made from CO2

700 million tonnes carbon could be offset each year

An international team of scientists is to develop a new reactor that can produce fuel using sunlight and carbon dioxide, paving the way for a game-changing transformation in the global energy industry.

The experts, led by Heriot-Watt, have been granted £1.2 million to increase the efficiency of €˜photo-catalytic reduction', the process that uses solar energy to convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into fuel, like methane and methanol. Any carbon produced when the fuel is used can then be converted into energy again, giving a closed loop system.

It has been estimated that this process, if successful at a commercial scale, could offset up to 700 million tonnes of CO2 each year, significantly more than total UK annual emissions which DECC (the UK Government) estimates at around 500 million tonnes.

Existing photo-catalytic reduction processes do not produce enough fuel to make them financially viable. This project will develop new, highly efficient photo-reactors, with conversion rates that can be scaled up to a commercial process - potentially transforming energy production and climate change mitigation.

Global team of academics and energy industry

Professor Mercedes Maroto-Valer, Director of the Centre for Innovation on CCS and the first holder of the Robert M Buchan Chair in Sustainable Energy Engineering at Heriot-Watt University, will lead the work in the UK and the team includes engineers and chemists based in Taiwan, US, Canada and China.  

Professor Maroto-Valer said, "By developing this novel reactor and processes, we could unlock a hugely significant source of carbon-neutral fuel. We are working on creating a technology that will turn this into a genuine game-changer, turning a climate-changing gas into a climate-saving fuel. We will have the input of leading industry players throughout this research, ensuring that the technology we develop can be used with existing infrastructure."

Professor Maroto-Valer and her team are working closely with an advisory board of representatives from the energy industry, who will help guide prototype development and ensure that it can be deployed and integrated with existing infrastructure.  

Dr Robin Irons from E.ON's Innovation Centre for CCS who represents E.ON on the advisory board said, "This research is a fantastic opportunity to bring a potentially hugely valuable technology to market. Industry will be working hand-in-hand with the international team of academics, making this a truly global project designed to deliver a globally significant breakthrough."

The funding is part of a select stream from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), designed to support research leaders tackling key engineering challenges and to provide a team around them to deliver their research vision.  

Professor David Delpy, Chief Executive of the EPSRC said, "Supporting and developing leaders who can deliver answers to the world's major engineering challenges is one of our priorities. The work Professor Maroto-Valer's research team are carrying out has the potential to provide enormous worldwide benefits and opportunities."