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CASE STUDIES:

Combating Climate Change with Carbon-Neutral “Sea Fuel”
X, The Moonshot Factory

 

X, the Alphabet company, wanted to reduce carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere by developing a new type of liquid fuel using only seawater and renewable electricity. X collaborated with PARC on Project Foghorn to build the system prototype.

Challenge

Produce a carbon-neutral liquid fuel

Transportation generates 14% of global greenhouse emissions. Nearly 97% of these emissions come directly from combustion of fossil fuels in cars and airplanes. X wanted to find out if a new type of “sea fuel” could successfully provide the same advantages of fuels today, without the carbon dioxide emissions.

Why PARC?

Deep expertise in energy and electrochemical systems

PARC’s cleantech innovation program focuses on delivering scalable, cost-effective solutions that draw on multi-disciplinary competencies, covering fields from energy storage to efficiency to renewable energy to clean water. For Project Foghorn, X reached out to PARC to help build the end-to-end prototype of the “sea fuel” system, using electrochemical processes.

Solution

A prototype that successfully turns seawater into fuel

In 2014, X and PARC began building working prototype. Using new chemical processes, the prototype effectively extracted carbon dioxide from sea water and produced hydrogen via electrolysis using renewable energy sources. Inside a catalytic reactor, hydrogen was reacted with carbon dioxide, to successfully make the sea fuel. X and PARC continued to develop new prototypes addressing technical issues, for example improving ways to preserve the system’s membranes from salt water mineral deposits, and continued to think about the system’s scale and cost – the important second part of the investigation.

Results

Publishing research to help further exploration

After two years of work, X concluded that at the current and projected cost of hydrogen, and without carbon subsidies, sea fuel would be uneconomical. While X learned that they could probably build a sea fuel production system that yielded $15 per gasoline gallon equivalent (gge) in the next few years, the hydrogen production process would need to advance significantly before sea fuel could become cost competitive with gasoline. The team published their research, including the end-to-end prototype of the system. The publications outlined the critical path items to reducing system costs, and documented the system in detail so it can be taken off the shelf if markets or technology shifts enough to provide favorable economics. The goal is to help other scientists, engineers and inventors continue explorations that could one day make carbon-neutral fuel a widespread reality.

 

 
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client profile

X, The Moonshot Factory

Partner: X, The Moonshot Factory

Industry: Energy

Objective: Develop a carbon-neutral liquid fuel alternative

Solution: Electrochemical processes to create hydrocarbons from seawater

PARC Focus Area: Microsystems and Smart Devices

 

 

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Markus Larsson
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