Air To Fuels

“Air to fuels” is a technology that directly synthesizes transportation fuels – such as gasoline, diesel, or Jet-A – from only atmospheric CO2 and hydrogen split from water, and powered by clean electricity.

Direct to Fuels Infographic
Above: Air to Fuels involves capturing CO2 from the atmosphere, producing green hydrogen with low-carbon electricity, and reacting the two to form liquid transportation fuels such as gasoline, diesel, or Jet-A. Such fuels can be closed carbon cycle and can displace the need for crude oil.

Air to fuels (A2F) is our term for combining our direct air capture technology with water electrolysis and fuels synthesis to produce liquid hydrocarbon fuels. This process combines several quickly-evolving technologies, and has three major steps. First, our DAC process captures and purifies CO2 from atmospheric air. Second, clean electricity (such as solar PV) is used to electrolyze water and generate hydrogen. Third, the CO2 and hydrogen are thermo-catalytically reacted to produce syngas, and reacted again to produce hydrocarbons. In principle, a wide variety of hydrocarbons can be generated, but our focus is predominantly on diesel and jet fuel.

A2F gives an ability to harness low-carbon electricity such as solar PV, and material inputs of water and air, to generate fuels that are compatible with today’s infrastructure and engines, and which can displace crude oil. A2F forms an important complement to electric vehicles in the quest to deliver carbon-neutral 21st century transportation. While short haul transportation is amenable to electrification, longer haul transport, as well as marine and air travel, require the high energy density of liquid fuels (liquid fuels like diesel have an energy density 30x greater than today’s best batteries). A2F offers a way to deliver these fuels, while avoiding the infrastructure turn-over of hydrogen fuel cells, and avoiding the land use and food security problems associated with biofuels.

A2F has several intrinsic advantages to offer in eliminating fossil carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation sector. Air to fuels can use solar PV, where costs have fallen by a factor of 3 in recent years, and can accommodate the intermittent nature of this power source. A2F can produce fuels with 100x less land use footprint and less water use than biofuels, and thus doesn’t suffer the fundamental limits to scaling associated with biofuels. Further, A2F fuels are drop in compatible with today’s infrastructure and engines, and can even be blended with traditional fossil fuels to allow progressive emissions reductions by gradual fuel switching, without a blend wall. Further, CE’s engineering, with data from leading Electrolyzer and Fuel Synthesis developers, show that A2F can produce fuels for less than $1.00 /L once scaled up.

A2F can deliver fuels that have an ultra-low life-cycle carbon intensity (if the direct air capture (DAC) component uses a natural gas stream for thermal heat), or that are fully carbon neutral (if the DAC component is also electrically driven). This is because upon combustion in a vehicle or airplane, fuels synthesized from atmospheric CO2 simply return their carbon back to the atmosphere.  Also, A2F fuels are cleaner burning than fossil fuels, with no sulfur and low particulates, meaning they not only reduce GHG emissions, but reduce air pollution too.

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