8 June 2010

An alliance of industry, academic and government organizations has been formed to commercialize technologies that will utilize concentrated solar energy to convert waste carbon dioxide into diesel fuel.

The alliance members include Sandia National Laboratories, Renewable Energy Institute International (REII), Pacific Renewable Fuels, Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne, Quanta Services, Desert Research Institute and Clean Energy Systems. In addition, commercial partners have signed on to advance work on the first round of commercial plants. The project team has received $1.7 million in the first phase of funding from the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL).

It is envisioned that the solar reforming technology platform will be colocated next to industrial facilities that have waste CO2 streams such as coal power plants, natural gas processing facilities, ethanol plants, cement production facilities and other stationary sources of CO2. The alliance members believe that the best way to accomplish CO2 reduction goals is to utilize CO2 as a carbon feedstock for the production of valuable products, such as diesel fuel.

Sandia began working on solar reforming technologies more than 20 years ago. In 2007, Sandia unveiled the “Sunshine to Petrol” project, where a prototype device used solar energy to break a carbon-oxygen bond in carbon dioxide to form carbon monoxide and oxygen. The CO could be then used as a building block to synthesize liquid transportation fuels. In the current project, a similar approach is being pursued to reduce CO2 into CO in the Sandia solar reactor. Diesel fuel will be then obtained via synthesis gas using the CO and a hydrocarbon such as methane. The gas-to-liquid technology will be provided by Pacific Renewable Fuels.

A solar reforming system is currently being demonstrated in Sacramento, CA, and demonstrations will continue both at Sandia’s facilities in New Mexico and at a power plant project site in Bakersfield, CA. Planning for the first round of commercial plants is under way at several locations in the USA. The project team anticipates that deployment of the first commercial plants can begin in 2013.

Total CO2 emissions in the United States have increased 17% from 1990 levels and, left unchecked, will continue to grow at about 1% per year. To address the challenge of climate change, the United States has set targets to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Source: Sandia (Press release | Sunshine to Petrol project)