The consumption of petroleum by the transportation sector in the United States is roughly
equivalent to petroleum imports into the country, which have totaled over 12 million
barrels a day every year since 2004. This reliance on foreign oil is a strategic
vulnerability for the economy and national security. Further, the effect of unmitigated
CO2 releases on the global climate is a growing concern both here and abroad.
Independence from problematic oil producers can be achieved to a great degree through
the utilization of non-conventional hydrocarbon resources such as coal, oil-shale and tarsands.
However, tapping into and converting these resources into liquid fuels exacerbates
green house gas (GHG) emissions as they are carbon rich, but hydrogen deficient.
Revolutionary thinking about energy and fuels must be adopted. We must recognize that
hydrocarbon fuels are ideal energy carriers, but not primary energy sources.
The energy stored in a chemical fuel is released for utilization by oxidation. In the case
of hydrogen fuel the chemical product is water; in the case of a hydrocarbon fuel, water
and carbon dioxide are produced. The hydrogen economy envisions a cycle in which H2O
is re-energized by splitting water into H2 and O2, by electrolysis for example. We
envision a hydrocarbon analogy in which both carbon dioxide and water are re-energized
through the application of a persistent energy source (e.g. solar or nuclear). This is of
course essentially what the process of photosynthesis accomplishes, albeit with a
relatively low sunlight-to-hydrocarbon efficiency. The goal of this project then was the
creation of a direct and efficient process for the solar or nuclear driven thermochemical
conversion of CO2 to CO (and O2), one of the basic building blocks of synthetic fuels.
This process would potentially provide the basis for an alternate hydrocarbon economy
that is carbon neutral, provides a pathway to energy independence, and is compatible
with much of the existing fuel infrastructure.