Climate change is real. A report that was published in 2018 by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel, stated that we need to cut our global carbon emission by 45 per cent by 2030 in order to reach net zero emissions by 2050. In light of the same, major automakers around the world are preparing themselves to take on the challenges that the future might throw at them.

However, in an era when fossil-fuels power the necessities of the daily life for billions of people globally, the wholesale reinvention of the transport system and infrastructure demands a level of cooperation for which modern man has rarely shown the capacity. As a glimmer of hope to tackle the issue, Canadian clean-energy firm, Carbon Engineering has devised a method to use carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make fuels that power vehicles on the road.

The science behind Carbon Engineering’s (CE) technology revolves around the Fischer-Tropsch reaction, a process that combines carbon monoxide (converted from carbon dioxide by a synthetic-gas generator) with hydrogen under pressure, using a metal catalyst such as cobalt or iron to create a liquid hydrocarbon.

CE's technology combines carbon monoxide and hydrogen under pressure, using a metal catalyst such as cobalt or iron to create a liquid hydrocarbon.

A pilot plant that was set up by the company in Squamish, British Columbia, has been making small amounts of liquid fuel from carbon dioxide pulled from the air since a year. From what we were told about the technology, the process begins by sucking in air into devices designed to extract CO2. On the other side of the process, the hydrogen component of the Fischer-Tropsch reaction is created through the electrolysis of water, which separates the hydrogen atoms from H2O molecules by applying an electric current to water.

Geoff Holmes, a business development officer with the company explains how the reaction can be manipulated to create different fuel grades – from heavy waxes to gasoline – without the organic impurities found in conventional fossil fuels. The company plans to scale up the production to industrial levels which would mean that the fuel would offer viable advantages over other energy sources.

The CO₂ and hydrogen are thermo-catalytically reacted to produce syngas, and reacted again to produce hydrocarbons.

Since the air-to-fuel conversion ends up in liquid form, it can theoretically be transported and sold through existing infrastructure. In addition to this, CE also aims to sell its product directly to refiners, and the company claims that the synthesized fuels add 70 to 90 per cent less net carbon to the atmosphere than fossil fuels do.

At the moment, the missing ingredient isn’t water, carbon or electricity. It’s money. The only downside of the potent technology is the cost of operation that will, in turn, cost the fuel to about $4 per US gallon – compared to the current $2.23 average price for a gallon in North America. In the past year, the automotive industry has shown a steady and persistent shift towards alternate powertrains in light of exhausting resources of fossil fuels.

A few of the major automakers around the world have announced partnerships to jointly work on the development of electric cars in recent times. The most recent one was the partnership of BMW and Daimler to develop a platform on which electric cars could be built in the future.