Three major challenges — grid stability, domestic oil limitations, and climate change — could all be addressed simultaneously by using off-peak electrical energy to recycle CO2 into liquid fuels (such as gasoline, jet fuel, and diesel). Simulations have shown that recent innovations should make it practical to reduce CO2 to CO at over 66% of theoretical efficiency limits. When combined with other process advances, it would then be possible to synthesize most hydrocarbons and alcohols from point-source CO2 and clean off-peak grid energy (wind or nuclear) at system efficiencies in the range of 51–61%. Energy storage density in renewable, carbon-neutral kerosene is 44 MJ/kg, compared to ∼0.4 MJ/kg for Li-ion batteries. This process begins by electrolyzing water using clean energy to get the hydrogen required by the Reverse Water Gas Shift (RWGS) reactor and by a novel Renewable Fischer Tropsch Synthesis (RFTS) process. Off-peak grid energy averaged only $13/MWhr in the Minnesota hub in 2009. At such prices, the synthesized liquid fuels (“WindFuels”) should compete even when petroleum is only $50/bbl. Considerable effort over the past decade has been put into exploring high-temperature (HT) paths toward the production of renewable syngas (H2 + CO) that could lead to sustainable synthesis of liquid fuels; but competitive fuel production from these HT thermo-chemical routes still appears to be decades away. An alternative path — the RWGS reaction — utilizes much less aggressive conditions and should be much more practical. With low-cost hydrogen becoming available from off-peak wind and nuclear, efficient reduction of CO2 to CO becomes viable at moderate temperatures (750–1000 K) via the RWGS reaction. Challenges arise because of equilibrium limits imposed by the reaction thermodynamics below 800 K and because of competing methanation and coking reactions above 800 K to 1000 K, depending on the catalysts. Several promising sets of conditions and catalysts are being evaluated. To drive the reaction to the right, a multi-stage process is required with efficient separation processes. This in turn depends on advances in cost-effective gas-to-gas recuperators for relatively low pressures to limit parasitic methanation reactions. Another challenge may be passivation of the recuperator surfaces to minimize hydrogenation of the CO during the heat recovery. Preliminary simulations indicate reduction of CO2 to CO with about 2.2 MJ/kg-CO should be practical at commercial scale.

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