A method of using carbon dioxide, water, and electricity to create butanol has been devised and tested in the laboratory. It is estimated that at current rates; this method can provide electricity at a cost of 80¢ per gallon.
Butanol is a 4-carbon alcohol that can be burned in an unmodified gasoline engine. It has an energy content of 110,000 BTU/gallon verses gasolines 115,000 BTU/gallon but because the uniform molecular size allows more complete combustion and because it has a road octane of 94, (premium gasoline is usually 91 or 92), it actually provides better mileage than gasoline in most gasoline vehicles.
Originally, butanol was produced in an ABE fermentation process in which sugar is fermented into a combination of acetone, butanol, and ethanol; butanol being only 1-2% of that product. After 1954 when the US lost access to cheap Cuban sugar, butanol was produced from petroleum. More recently, a couple of new fermentation processes capable of producing 2.5 gallons of butanol per bushel of corn combined with the high cost of crude oil has pushed the economics back in favor of bioproduction.
However, this new method promises to reduce the costs to 80¢ per gallon while using CO2 as a feedstock and eliminating competition with food production. Like bioproduction, since CO2 is used in the production, this would produce a carbon neutral fuel.
This can really provide an elegant solution to our energy problems because it could provide carbon sequestration from existing coal plants, now you’ve got something to do useful with that CO2 instead of dumping it into the air, at the same time it can provide a market for the peak power produced by renewable sources like wind power making it economical to use wind for a much larger percentage of the base load since peak power produced by overbuilding will have a market.
And, if that weren’t enough, it cuts emissions of hydrocarbons from cars by approximately 94% verses gasoline, cuts carbon monoxide emissions to the point where they’re not even measurable, and cuts nitrous oxides by about 37%.
If we use all the available CO2 from coal plants or displace enough coal with renewables that the CO2 generated by coal plants no longer suffices, we could use various systems that absorb carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, chemical or biological.
If this is real; and right now there is a real dearth of information, but if it does turn out to be real, and we could somehow get it past oil company controlled congress, this could be a major energy and environmental breakthrough.