An old fuel is being reinvented with carbon-capture technology and could be the key to cleaning up internal combustion engines.
Drivers may soon be able to buy cars powered by volcanoes, with two car makers pursuing technology which could potentially delay the death of the internal combustion engine.
The founder and CEO of Swedish supercar company Koenigsegg told business news outlet Bloomberg the firm was investigating sustainably-sourced methanol to power its vehicles, just days after Chinese auto giant Geely announced it was also pushing ahead with methanol cars.
As methanol is a simple alcohol made from combining hydrogen and carbon, Icelandic company Carbon Recycling International built a plant that captures CO2 from a semi-active volcano – emissions that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere – and uses it to create the fuel it calls Vulcanol.
While the methanol cars are still outputting CO2 emissions, the fuel could be made carbon neutral if sustainably-harvest hydrogen was also used in its production. The idea is the CO2 captured from the volcano merely passes through the engine of a car first, rather than being immediately released into the atmosphere by the volcano.
Earlier this week, news outlet Reuters reported Geely – which owns Swedish brands Volvo and Polestar – was testing methanol-powered taxis in parts of China, and is currently developing trucks which are powered by the biofuel. Geely invested US$45.5 million (AU$59M) in Carbon Recycling International back in 2015.
However, methanol-powered cars are nothing new. The high octane fuel has been used by drag racers for decades, with the fastest-accelerating cars in the world driven on a mixture of methanol.
“We will keep exploring methanol vehicle technologies,” Geely chairman Li Shufu said. “Of course it might fail in the end, but currently we are still working on it.”
Christian von Koenigsegg agrees the idea has merit: “So there is this technology from Iceland – it was invented there – where they [capture] the CO2 emittance from semi-active volcanoes and convert that into methanol,” he said in the Bloomberg interview.
“And if you take that methanol and you power the plants that do the conversion of other fuels and then power the ship that transports those fuels to Europe or the US or Asia, wherever it goes, you put the fuel completely CO2-neutral into the vehicle.”
But Koenigsegg continues to pursue electrification, hiring a former Tesla executive to spearhead battery technologies.
“We’re not stuck in traditional combustion technology,” von Koenigsegg said, “the technology we develop there is really next-generation beyond anything else I’ve seen out in the marketplace, and also next-generation electrification, and combining these technologies in an interesting way to make our product stand out and be as competitive as we can with as little environmental footprint as possible.”
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