February 18, 2008 Carbon capture and storage has been touted as a method for slashing carbon emissions in power plants – now researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology say it can be used to combat one of the most widespread greenhouse gas offenders: the automobile. Georgia Tech has outlined a concept system where carbon is isolated from fossil fuels, disposed of at a refueling station, and eventually recycled into new fuel. Not only is the closed-loop cycle carbon emission free, it is also renewable and efficient.

Nearly two-thirds of global carbon emissions are created by smaller polluters, including automobiles. The Georgia Tech concept car uses an onboard fuel processor to separate the hydrogen and carbon elements in liquid hydrocarbon fuels. The hydrogen then powers the engine, while the carbon is stored on board.

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Carbon capturing eliminates the problem of carbon emissions, but is still left with the task of carbon disposal – which, in keeping with the concept, should ideally be both cost-effective and environmentally friendly. Scientists have suggested that carbon could be injected into underground geological formations, where it would potentially remain for millions of years. Dissolving the carbon deep under the ocean is another possibility, though this has the potential to increase ocean acidity and kill ocean organisms.

The researchers at Georgia Tech hope that a yet-to-be-developed method for synthesizing liquid fuel from carbon and water will be the final step in a truly renewable and clean energy cycle. They have already succeeded in creating a fuel processor capable of separating the carbon and hydrogen in liquid fuel - the CO2/H2 Active Membrane Piston, or CHAMP, reactor.

“Presently, we have an unsustainable carbon-based economy with several severe limitations, including a limited supply of fossil fuels, high cost and carbon dioxide pollution,” said Andrei Fedorov, associate professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech and a lead researcher on the project. “We wanted to create a practical and sustainable energy strategy for automobiles that could solve each of those limitations, eventually using renewable energy sources and in an environmentally conscious way.”

Carbon capture technology is a unique method of combating climate change – it uses the harmful material itself as a further source of power. The “having your cake and eating it too” principle is very appealing to the power industry, which has begun to incorporate carbon catching systems into power plants.

The Georgia Tech research was published in Energy Conversion and Management. The research was funded by NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense NDSEG Fellowship Program and Georgia Tech’s CEO (Creating Energy Options) Program.