By Michael Kanellos
Carbon Sciences (OTC:CABN)–which wants to turn carbon dioxide into consumer products-says it has completed a prototype manufacturing system that shows how it can convert carbon dioxide, captured from a smokestack, into liquid fuels.
Technically, Carbon Science uses biocatalysts–i.e. enzymes and other naturally occurring catalysts–into methanol, a liquid fuel. The fuel can later be upgraded through chemical processing into gasoline, butanol or other higher value fuels.
For the past few years, the company has touted a system that can convert captured CO2 into calcium carbonates, white mineral powders that can be stored easily or transformed into things like baking powder or raw material for the paper industry. The company has a demo system in a white van: solar panels gather energy to run the chemical reaction.
We like the fuel idea, but here are the reservations:
1. There are a whole host of start-ups trying to exploit bacteria to turn trash into fuel. A great idea, but it’s mostly still in development. You don’t see a lot of mass produced bug fuel yet. One of the key problems lay in genetically engineering microbes that can produce large volumes of materials (fuels or enzymes) economically before they die. Ethanol companies, for instance, are trying to get yeast to tolerate high volumes of alcohol content.
2. Carbon dioxide is a low energy molecule. Converting it into something useful isn’t easy. How much input energy is required will be a big issue. Many other companies, labs and universities (Sandia National Lab, are trying this too. The fact that no one is on the verge of commercialization underscores that it’s a real problem. Take a look at the Counter Rotating Receiver Reactor Recuperator Device from Sandia. Some serious science needs to be worked out.
3. It’s a little troubling that Carbon Sciences uses conventional catalysts for its CO2 to carbonates and biocatalysts for this process. That means they are crossing scientific disciplines.