For an Israeli start-up, one answer to global warming is blowing in the wind. The company called NewCO2Fuels, or NCF, has been developing its own version of a technology that allows heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions to be captured and recycled back into useable fuel.
It sounds complicated—and it is—but the company's founders say it holds real potential in the fight against global warming.
Such capture technologies have gained increased attention as countries seek alternative methods of cutting back on greenhouse gas emissions, the main culprit in global warming.
Around 140 world leaders have gathered this week for highly anticipated talks in Paris with the aim of spearheading a climate pact and heading off a disastrous rise in global temperatures in the coming years.
"Our concept is to take the residue from the production of CO2 along with heat produced in industries and turn them into profit," chief executive David Banitt said of the company located in Rehovot, south of Tel Aviv.
"We cannot only wield the stick and make polluters pay. You also have to hold out the carrot and allow them to see commercial potential."
The company is attempting to position itself in a new market offering what has come to be known as carbon capture, utilisation and storage technologies.
A global race has been underway to develop such industrial-scale solutions.
NCF hopes to begin offering its technology commercially before 2018 and estimates the global market at a potential $24 billion annually.
"We have to find a proactive solution, and that is where we come in," Banitt told AFP.
Hi-tech recycling machine
Marie Renner, climate economics researcher at the University of Paris-Dauphine, said there was major enthusiasm over capture and storage technology around 2008-2010, but the economic crisis and collapse in prices of carbon-based fuels dampened interest.
She said the NCF technology appeared to be aimed at producing clean-burning fuel and she hoped other companies would keep the focus on what is good for the environment if such solutions become widespread.
"We have to ask if placing value on CO2 to produce fuel will derail the capture-and-storage plan's philosophy—of its primary role—which is to slow climate change," Renner said.
On a top floor of a building at Rehovot's Weizmann Institute of Science, the NCF team has been carrying out work on its prototype involving a solar power plant capable of producing something called syngas from CO2, water and heat.
The syngas can then be used to create synthetic fuels.
A field of solar panels surrounds the building along with a mirror to heat the reactor to more than 1,000 degrees Celsius (1,0832 Fahrenheit).
Within the reactor, the CO2 and water is used to produce the syngas, said Uzi Aharoni, the company's head of operations.
The idea is for the technology to be used by plants that emit heat and CO2, such as steel or coal gasification plants.
The CO2 would be captured instead of being sent into the atmosphere, then transformed back into fuel—a hi-tech recycling machine.
In its final form, syngas that fits into a one-cubic-metre tank is equivalent to the photosynthesis energy of 300 trees.
"We are transforming these constraints into opportunities," said the 63-year-old Banitt, who calls himself an environmentalist, "but not fanatic".
"Treating CO2 and transforming it into a product does not necessarily involve costs, but can instead generate revenue and profits."
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