How does carbon engineering work

Pilot plants are running: This is how diesel is made from “air”

It sounds like magic: making fuel from water and CO, which you simply filter out of the air. In Squamish near Vancouver, the Canadian company Carbon Engineering recently started up a pilot plant that does just that. In Dresden, too, fuel is already being produced from carbon dioxide.

Pilot plant of the Dresden company Sunfire: This is where fuel is tapped, which is made from carbon dioxide that is filtered from the air.

Photo: Sunfire

Only a few companies worldwide are concerned with the goal of reducing CO2 to use from the air as a raw material for the production of fuels and chemical raw materials. Techniques. In addition to carbon engineering, the Global Thermostat in the USA and the two companies Climeworks in Switzerland, a spin-off of the ETH Zurich, are together with Sunfire in Dresden. What all these young companies have in common is that they have financiers who not only have large funds but also have a respectable name.

Bill Gates, Audi and Bilfinger believe in technology

Microsoft founder Bill Gates is one of the investors in Carbon Engineering. Global Thermostat is financed by an American utility company. And behind Climeworks and Sunfire are well-known companies such as the car manufacturer Audi, the construction company Bilfinger, the energy company Vattenfall and Deutsche Lufthansa, the universities of Zurich, Stuttgart and Bayreuth as well as research institutes such as the Jülich Research Center and the Fraunhofer Society for the Promotion of Applied Research. This list shows that there is great confidence in the potential to CO2 to filter them out of the air and process them profitably into fuels.

A pilot plant in Canada for the production of fuels from CO2, which is obtained from the air, started up a few days ago by the company Carbon Engineering. Microsoft founder Bill Gates is also an investor in the company. The large fan that draws air into the system can be clearly seen.

Source: Carbon Engineering

In the pilot plants in Canada, the USA, Zurich and Dresden, fans suck in the air, from which the carbon dioxide is filtered out. This happens because the air in Carbon Engineering sinks onto perforated plastic sheets, where the gas comes into contact with a liquid that contains the CO2 records. The latter then goes through a bath in a chemical solution, the composition of which is not specified.

The CO2 is in the form of pellets after drying and can even be stored. If these pellets are heated to 800 to 900 ° C, they give off pure carbon that can be processed into fuel. The fuel obtained from the carbon can be tailored to any purpose, says the CEO of Carbon Engineering, Adrian Corless. The production of fuel for airplanes, cars and any other engine is possible.

Large-scale plant in Canada is scheduled to start in 2018

The pilot plant in Canada, which has been in operation for a few days, generates one ton of CO per day2.The pellets produced in this way can be used to produce between 200 and 400 liters of diesel or petrol every day. The pilot plant cost 9 million Canadian dollars, a good 6 million euros. The first large-scale plant is to be built in 2017. According to current planning, the costs are around € 134 million.

This is how the Swiss company Climeworks envisions larger systems that generate fuel from air, CO2 and water.

Source: Climeworks

For Carbon Engineering and the other companies that deal with such techniques, it is crucial when the process becomes economically viable on an industrial scale. Carbon Engineering is considering selling the fuel to neighboring California, whose government has strict laws to prevent CO2-Wants to reduce emissions.

Climeworks and Sunfire jointly developed a test system in Dresden. There Audi and Federal Research Minister Johanna Wanka produced the first five liters of diesel from CO in April2 filled into an Audi A8. “The synthetic diesel on CO2-Based on a great success of our sustainability research. If we succeed in CO2 broadly deployed as a raw material, we make a decisive contribution to climate protection and resource efficiency and pave the way to a “green economy”, said Wanka.

The plant is operated by the Dresden energy technology company Sunfire. The system works on the power-to-liquid principle and uses green electricity to produce the diesel. The filter technology developed by Climeworks in Zurich has been installed since June to reduce CO2 from the air as a raw material. The efficiency of the Dresden plant is almost 70%. This is extremely high and gives hope that it will soon be used on a large scale.

The technology itself is already comparatively old. The so-called Fischer-Tropsch synthesis was developed in 1925 at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Coal Research in Mülheim an der Ruhr. But the efficiency has been so low up to now that profitable use was not foreseeable.


A contribution by:

  • Axel Mörer-Funk

  • Peter Odrich

    Peter Odrich studied business administration with a focus on transport companies. After 28 years as a business editor for a German national daily newspaper with long activities in East Asia, he returned to his native Great Britain. Since then he has reported freelance for newspapers and technical information services in various countries. Transport issues, metals and East Asian issues are in the foreground.