Reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas and finding alternative fuel source are two of the top priorities of the energy industry. A recent study, conducted by researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the University of Toronto (UofT), proposed a unique solution that might hit the two birds with one stone, using existing infrastructures and available technologies.
In reference to the term "crowdsourcing", the joint research termed their invention "crowd oil", a synthetic hydrocarbons fuel generated using CO2 and water vapor collected at the vents of air conditioning and ventilation system.
Petroleum, or crude oil, comes from the deceased prehistoric organisms that have been trapped beneath the Earth's geological formations and subject to heat and pressure for eons. The continuous mining and consumption of fossilized fuels material lead to our current climate problem.
In contrast, the production of "crowd oil" is carbon neutral, because it does not involve pulling carbon deep underground. Instead, it recycles the carbon already in the atmosphere, creating the so-called "carbon sinks". And due to the fast urban expansion, central ventilation systems are commonly used in high rise buildings and large industrial warehouses, which gave the researchers inspiration for the decentralized production of "crowd oil".
The main chemical process involves the generation of hydrogen gas from the electrolysis of water. Hydrogen reacts with captured CO2 using Fischer-Tropsch catalysis, resulting in long-chain hydrocarbon molecules that resemble petroleum-based fuel products. As suggested in their study, the reaction can be powered by heat from the air conditioners and supplemented by electricity.
The researchers noted that we are just a step away from implementing the "crowd oil" idea, since technologies that are used to capture atmospheric CO2, generate hydrogen gas from water, and produce hydrocarbon from CO2 and hydrogen gas catalytically have already been commercialized. And retrofitting the air conditioning and ventilation system for fuel production have also been proven feasible.
In a press release, Dr. Roland Dittmeyer, the lead of the study and a professor from the Institute for Micro Process Engineering (IMVT) at KIT said: "We want to use the synergies between ventilation and air-conditioning technology on the one hand, and energy and heating technology on the other, to reduce the costs and energy losses in synthesis. In addition, 'crowd oil' could mobilize many new actors for the energy transition. Private photovoltaic systems have shown how well this can work."
Their research is published in the journal Nature.
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