Researchers Develop Machine To Recycle Carbon Dioxide Into Fuel


Sandia National LaboratoriesU.S. researchers have demonstrated a technology that uses the sun’s heat to convert carbon dioxide and water into the building blocks of traditional fuels, a reverse combustion process that may emerge as a practical alternative to sequestration of CO2 emissions from power plants.

The prototype “Sunshine to Petrol” system, developed by Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, uses concentrated solar energy to trigger a thermo-chemical reaction in an iron-rich composite located inside a two-sided cylindrical chamber.

The iron oxide is designed to lose an oxygen molecule when exposed to 1,500 degree C heat, and then retrieve an oxygen molecule when it is cooled down, essentially converting an incoming supply of CO2 into an outgoing stream of carbon monoxide.

Additionally, when researchers pump water into the chamber rather than CO2, the machine produces hydrogen. Combining those retrieved gases — hydrogen and carbon monoxide — they are able to create syngas, which can be used as a fuel.

While researchers say the technology likely will not be ready for market for 15 to 20 years, it could one day become a practical way to recycle CO2.

“It’s a productive utilization of CO2 that you might capture from a coal plant, a brewery, and similar concentrated sources,” said James Miller, a Sandia chemical engineer.

Article appearing courtesy of Yale Environment 360

[photo credit: Sandia National Labs]


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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.


  1. I believe that amount of exhaust CO2 gas by syngas combustion is same as amount of captured CO2.

    Otherwise, if companies find positive economy, we would have global cooling.

  2. I similar blog/article posted at MIT Review suggests that the fuel should be used for tranportation. For once, this is one tranportation fuel that we should avoid. Instead use this to close the carbon loop at coal and NG fired plants. To the degree we can make this both efficient and economic, one way to reduce fossil fuel use would be to totally close the carbon loop. While this technology may never get to 100%, even a 10% efficiency would be the equivalent of permanently removing 1% of CO2 emissions from the atmosphere.

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