Gallery: Breakthrough Science: Turning CO2 into Fuels


Carbon Sciences recently announced a technological breakthrough that is capable of transforming CO2 emissions into fuel. The development utilizes a highly scalable bio-catalytic process to economically convert one of the most omnipresent causes of global warming, CO2, into the basic building blocks of most fuels used to drive transportation and industry today. This new technology could make a tremendous impact upon the 28 billion metric tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere each year by closing the carbon loop and recycling emissions into useful forms of energy.

Those of you familiar with the physical properties of CO2 molecules know that it takes a lot of energy to break them apart and produce hydrocarbons that can be used for fuel. Carbon Sciences is developing a revolutionary new process that utilizes principles of chemical and bioengineering to achieve the feat:

“The key to our CO2-to-Fuel approach lies in a proprietary multi-step biocatalytic process. Instead of using expensive inorganic catalysts . . . the Carbon Sciences process uses inexpensive, renewable biomolecules to catalyze certain chemical reactions required to transform CO2 into basic hydrocarbon building blocks.”

Since the process occurs at low temperature and low pressure, it stands to be highly energy-efficient, and Carbon Sciences has developed plans for a CO2-Fuel transformation plant that takes CO2 from a large emitter, such as a power plant, and produces usable fuels as the output.

We’re not crazy about the concept of encouraging people to gas-up in the future, and we maintain that clean and renewable forms of energy must be developed, but this new technology does offer the potential to increase energy-efficiency while closing the loop on carbon emissions and preventing their release into the atmosphere.

For those interested in finding out more about the science behind the transformation, check out the Carbon Sciences website.

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  1. tedman August 30, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    “the energy has to come from somewhere”, seems to be what most are saying here. I’m not a scientist. Can’t the energy come from the chemical process using the proprietary catalyst? What is wrong with that?

  2. sidinsd July 21, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Many of you may not be old enough to remember this, but can you say \”Cold Fusion\”?

  3. common sense January 3, 2010 at 6:18 am

    To all,

    Good to see the passion. I’m reading a lot of comments that sosund like mine when someone first asked me about this company. Bottom line, if the technology could be made to work, the world’s energy problems are solved forever, because what’s proposed is a perpetual motion machine. 1) Start with carbon based fuel source with high oxidative enrgy content. 2) Extract the energy through combustion and produce fully oxidized waste (CO2). 3) Then magically restore high oxidative potential without having to restore energy.

    I understand we would all like for this to be feasible. So you take a person who speaks well has some degrees who estabishes a company with primarily himself as the one well paid employee. Mix in a bucket of technobabble, and a video that says a lot without addressing the key issue, which is energy balance, and you have modern day snakeoil. Fools gold.

    As an engineer I chuckle. You guys got a lot of passion. Add in a little common sense.

  4. mshulman256 March 9, 2009 at 9:50 am

    Mr. carbonsolutions,

    Actually, there is no misinformation in these posts – at least, not in the posts that talk about the first law of Thermodynamics and the conservation of energy. Any system that turns CO2 into fuel, whether algae, or ethanol from corn, or the purported Carbon Sciences process, uses carbon as a kind of rechargeable battery. You put energy in at one end, and take it out (minus some overhead) at the other end. The energy has to come from somewhere – solar, wind (which is ultimately another kind of solar), nuclear (as your post pointed out – thanks!). Presumably the only reason for using energy powerplant effluent is because the percentage of CO2 is higher. That may help the efficiency of the process, but that’s only a guess. As Tundrayeti points out, this is basically a varient on the algae companies.

  5. carbonsolutions February 21, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    The misinformation on these posts is astounding. The process inovolves bio-catalysis. This has nothing to do with photosynthesis. Biocatalysis is what happens over millenia when organic matter turns into petroleum. these guys are simply speeding up that process through the use of a series of enzymes. The enzymes do the work for you–they produce energy through biology–that’s why you don’t have to do this at high temperature. So the energy you need is to purify enough enzyme to make this worthwhile. you could theoretically get that energy from carbon neutral sources (i.e. nuclear), thereby making the process worthwhile.

  6. curious December 5, 2008 at 10:16 am

    Has anyone heard of Mantra Energy Group?

    The site is pushing for a process which converts CO2 into formic acid.


  7. curbina October 16, 2008 at 12:29 pm

    For what is worth, about my previous comment, that I hope gets trough the moderation step, I work and have a small share of a company that actually produces microalgae biomass at industrial scale, so I might know what I am talking about when I say that biofuel from algae is a pipe dream for the time being.

    The cheapest biomass obtained from microalgae costs US$3/kg only if cultured in heterotrophic conditions (so, that is without considering the cost of the carbon source). In photobioreactors, the best cost known to man at industrial scale is US$7/kg. WIth an oil content of 30%, I’ll let you do the math to see if oil from algae is economic feasible. I have not any doubt that is technically feasible, but we are still stuck with our market system that defines what gets done and what is not.

    Therefore I officialy pronounce the claims of this company, as the moment of this writing, and in sight of no further evidence from their part, to be utter marketing nonsensical gibberish.

  8. curbina October 16, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    The huge claims of this company, which is in practical terms saying that it has figured out an artificial way to do what photosyntetic organisms do using solar energy, on itself should be a warning about the probable dishonest approach of this company. I have seen this pattern of huge claims backed with 0 evidence of economic feasibility in every algae biofuel company to date, and this one does not even try to mask their 0 evidence of technical feasibility.

    I was expecting to see a technical description involving photosyntetic organisms, as from the beginning I suspected yet another fuel from algae shoddy claim, and I was even more dissapointed to find an utter nonsensical babble that, if I were charged with the task of translating into something understandable, should read that they have found a way to mimic metabolic pathways to produce highly reduced forms of carbon. As other comments have stated, where is the energy source for that? Even chemosinthetic extremophiles that survive by reducing Sulfur, need a thermal rich environment as source of energy.

    You’ll have to excuse us, but this company is trying to sell a pure and huge load of BS.


  9. scotth October 15, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Philip, try writing a coherent thought.

    I get the general impression that you think someone legitimately pointing out that an idea literally defies the laws of physics just makes them a nay-sayer and anti-environment loser.

    Let me clarify. I think it is pretty damn important to get our carbon emissions under control. In fact, judging by your displayed lack of thought clarity, I probably understand the importance far more than you.

    Here’s the deal. Jokers like Carbon Science are positively hurting the envirnment and the ‘green movement’. The do this by:
    1) Scamming dollars for worthless, bogus, ideas that could otherwise be spent on useful ideas and technologies.
    2) Making the ‘green movement’ look like a bunch mindless morons and hurting its credibility.

    Get this….. I don’t want theives draining off money that could be used to do some real good. Now, go take a science class.

  10. Tundrayeti October 15, 2008 at 9:24 am

    Hello all.

    I’ve done a little more research and actually read the much overhyped article that caused interest in this company to start with…

    After all is said and done, I think they are just another algae company… with the “intermediate carbon compounds” being algae oil and sludge…

    Algae does work – using the energy from sunlight. It hasn’t yet been shown to be feasible for under a thousand dollars PER GALLON… but hey! It’s a popular gimmick these days, so they’ll probably get more funding.

    Anyhow, I just thought I’d fill everyone in… The missing energy SEEMS to be sunlight. But since algae-derived-fuel is currently costing thousands per gallon and doesn’t look possible to ever cost less than ~25-50/gallon, they probably just didn’t want to call themselves algae.

  11. philip travers October 14, 2008 at 7:35 pm

    Lots of talk here about being a scam or somehow failing to address the matter of reuse emissions through vehicle exhaust pipe.Pretty well, either sour grapes,petty fogging or a lack of imagination,or unwillingness to accept a solution like this actually will encourage the use of combinations of earth friendly technologies.There is no good reason the outcome of this cannot be clean fuels,using a bio fuel base to deliver that,or on-board means.It immediately makes carbon dioxide a accessible value in terms of dollars ,thus cannot be considered waste,and adds to all the arguments about the stewardship of resources including land and water management of high conservation values.If you are not rogue elements and have the required honesty as researchers,it seems odd critics here don\’t understand intelligence and how it applies itself.One of the reasons I heard in support of the Internet was that science would be more accessible.I mean,I have any number of science and related subject books,which I read along side magazines of such and science sites on the Net.And applied science has always been helped by technologists,and the simple process of honesty doesn\’t require a skill other than that.And this site doesn\’t seem to want to condemn its critics or other power related supporters…and what is already here is as Green in orientation as those who would criticise!

  12. Mr Bean October 14, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    Anyone wanna buy a perpetual motion machine? Going cheap….

    Seriously though, why would someone suggest burning fossil fuels in a conventional plant,
    producing energy and CO2, then use twice the energy to convert CO2 back to fuel?

    Maybe the green and fossil fuel power plant part is misleading. Perhaps the real objective
    is to use nuclear power to produce fuel from other CO2 sources?

  13. Wootah October 14, 2008 at 2:32 pm


    You ask me if I read the about page, but i don’t think you actually read my post. Let me highlight what I said:
    “I went through the about page of“. If you read it in context you would have realized that i was referring to what they post on their page for initiatives to promote green living, which has NOTHING to do with the about page of carbon sciences.

    In the event of any sort of scam, the scammers are going to produce a list of credentials to secure funds.
    Interestingly enough, I decided to do a little research on one of the ‘listed’ Ph.D.s, Michael Wrysta. Using Google only produces hits similar to this post. I then hit up SciFinder Scholar to look for any academic, scientific, or technical publications which he might have been a part of.

    0 hits. Go ahead and invest in them. As many posters noted here, there are certain thermodynamic laws that cannot be broken, and the(carbon sciences) website is so scarce on information, any serious investor should really think twice before getting involved. And again I would like to re-emphasize that should pick up a writer with some background in chemistry or physics.

  14. Tundrayeti October 14, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Wow. No specifics, no cost estimates, no mention of energy inputs required, nothing. Just FREE FUEL FROM CO2!!!

    For those of you that are interested in ACTUAL work that is not a fraud, we\\\’ve been working on a viable means of USING RENEWABLE ENERGY to convert CO2 and H2O into fuels.

    You\\\’ll find that all of the numbers are included, cost estimates are provided, and the chemical processes, reactions, and catalysts are detailed so that those who have the background can actually check up on us (hundreds of scientists and chemical engineers have done so and found no errors.)

    So, you can get excited about what is clearly fraud concerning Carbon Sciences… or you can look at some real work that is being done to solve the energy and environmental crisis.

    Inhabitat should do a little more research before jumping on something that is clearly hype.

  15. PattiMichelle October 14, 2008 at 10:21 am

    The main difference is that petroleum fossil fuel energy has been essentially FREE (used to be cheaper than bottled water!!!) whereas this, and all future approaches, costs megabucks – and will have a huge impact on all future economic development.

  16. scotth October 14, 2008 at 10:17 am

    This is utterly a fraud. It doesn\’t matter what the principals experience or education is. The physics is plain.

    To turn a low energy molecule (CO2 or H2O or whatever) into a high energy molecule (fuel any sort) REQUIRES a net input of energy AT LEAST equal to the energy that would be released when burning the fuel.

    To do otherwise is to create a perpetual motion machine (of the first kind).

    Plants do what is claimed as efficiently as we can imagine doing it at the moment. But, without sunshine (energy input) they can\’t do a thing.

    Repeating…. this a FRAUD FRAUD FRAUD. and anyone with a degree in chemistry or any branch of physics would absolutely know it.

  17. afxgrin October 14, 2008 at 9:02 am

    Wootah – WTF man?? Did you even read the About page?!? 2 of the executive officers are rather experienced chemical engineers with PHDs, and another one holds a PHD in material sciences.

    “Dr. Gadewar’s international accolades include receiving the American Institute of Chemical Engineer’s Ted Peterson Award, and Computers and Chemical Engineering’s Best Paper of the Year Award.”

    “Dr. Wyrsta holds a PhD in Materials from the University of California at Santa Barbara.”

    “Dr. Aslam received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Punjab University, Lahore, Pakistan and his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida.”

    Sounds like they’re people that know what they’re doing when it comes to reactor design.

  18. afxgrin October 14, 2008 at 8:59 am

    Wootah – either you can\’t read, or you\’re deliberately spreading misinformation. Right from Carbon Science\’s about page:

    \”Dr. Aslam received his B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Punjab University, Lahore, Pakistan and his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida.\”

    \”Dr. Wyrsta holds a PhD in Materials from the University of California at Santa Barbara.\”

    \”Dr. Gadewar\’s international accolades include receiving the American Institute of Chemical Engineer\’s Ted Peterson Award, and Computers and Chemical Engineering\’s Best Paper of the Year Award.\”

    WTF dude? It sounds like these people actually have quite a bit of experience in reactor design. Now what\’s your excuse?

  19. Steve Baker October 14, 2008 at 4:31 am

    You can’t cheat the first law of thermodynamics.

    So this process (at best) takes a heck of a lot of energy plus some CO2 and makes some kind of a fuel which you then burn to release all of the CO2 and some of the energy that you put in. This (a) wastes some energy and (b) takes the concentrated CO2 out of a smoke stack (where you had at least some chance of capturing and sequestering it) and transfers it into the tailpipes of a gazillion cars where you have no chance of capturing it. Worse still – because you wasted some energy in the process – your nasty coal-fired power station is now running even less efficiently than it was before – so even more CO2 is going into the atmosphere than without this process.

    This is a disaster whichever way you read it. Better to use the electricity directly to charge the batteries on a plug-in hybrid and cut out the middle-man.

    These pathetic efforts of the so-called “Clean Coal” lobby to sweep their nasty CO2 emissions under the rug and hope nobody notices them are getting tiresome. Do they really imagine that we can’t spot this kind of pathetic trick? They want to pick up their carbon credits for doing this kind of thing – and let motorists emit the CO2 on their behalf. That doesn’t help the environment one little bit – and in fact, the inefficiency that’s inevitably going to come along with this process is going to accellerate global warming – not fix it.

    This is awful.

  20. bziegler October 14, 2008 at 3:43 am

    Carbon Recycling International was founded 2006 in Iceland, and Nobel prize winning chemist George Olah, from UCLA serves on their board. Don’t know why Inhabitat would not mention that others more successfully are doing the same thing, currently. Is this lobbying or infomercial? Bart

  21. tree October 13, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    Trees are kind of efficient at turning C02 into carbon and oxygen…

  22. ganv October 13, 2008 at 9:59 pm

    This is just standard wishful thinking. We burn hydrocarbons to form C02 specifically because it releases a lot of energy. Since we can’t violate energy conservation, we can’t go the other way without putting at least that much energy back in. No matter how efficient you are, you can’t create a fuel with more energy content than you put back in. There just is not any “bio-catalytic process” that violates conservation of energy.

  23. Entropist October 13, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    How is this \”closing the loop on carbon emissions\”? To me, it looks like it just delays them until after the product fuel is burned.

  24. Wootah October 13, 2008 at 7:34 pm

    Reading through Carbon Sciences webpage, I am fairly convinced that this is a scam. No technical detail is given, and anyone who is interested in investing in such a company should really do a lot of research before putting money forward. As the above poster noted, cheap organic bio-molecules that convert CO2 to fuel are those that are used in photosynthesis.

    I went through the about page of, and there isn’t a single person on the team that appears to have any background in chemistry or physics. I endorse your efforts to help people live green, but linking to sites that will steal money from those trying to invest in green tech only slows the green movement, robbing actual green companies of investment funds that would make a difference.

  25. Djinn October 13, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    An interesting idea, but i have to agree with Corban. Also, it should be noted, that until the fossil fuel plants, and industrial plants are using fuel either produced from this method or from another non-fossil fuel way, this method won’t even delay global warming, merely reduce our dependence on foreign fuel. i.e. as long as we’re taking fuel out of the ground to put into the air (or directly into one of these plants) we’re still adding carbon to the atmosphere (because it will be put their when burned in other applications). As such, it’s more of an economic solution than a green solution.

  26. Corban October 13, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Where does the energy for the reaction come from? I think Algae Oil is a more sound alternative. Sunlight + Algae + CO2 -> 2 Algae. Repeat until tank is full, then distill algae lipids into 91 octane fuel.

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