Intelligent Energy

Fuel efficient cars: What a waste

Fuel efficient cars: What a waste

Posting in Cities

An Icelandic company is teaming with Reykjavik's municipal waste authority to turn household rubbish into a fuel efficient gasoline additive.

Carbon Recycling International converts CO2 from the neaby HS Orka geothermal power plant into renewable methanol in Svartsengi, Iceland. It hopes to do the same with Reykjavik's municipal waste. Renewable methanol improves the efficiency of gasoline.

An Icelandic company is teaming with Reykjavik's municipal waste authority to make a renewable fuel additive that would improve the efficiency of gasoline-powered vehicles.

Reykjavik based Carbon Recycling International and the city's waste agency, SORPA, have launched a feasibility study and hope to operate a plant by 2015 making renewable methanol from household waste that normally goes to landfill.

CRI already manufactures renewable methanol by capturing and converting  CO2 from Icelandic geothermal power production. Although geothermal is generally regarded as a CO2-free alternative to CO2-spewing fossil fuels, small amounts of CO2 emerge from the geothermal steam that rises in Iceland, where geothermal generates about a quarter of the country's electricity.

CRI provides its methanol fuel additive to Icelandic gasoline company N1, and aims to export it to European customers.

"Low blends of methanol and gasoline are suitable for all gasoline powered cars," CRI said in a press release announcing the waste study. "Higher blends are suitable for flex fuel vehicles, which are already in circulation in Iceland."

SORPA currently produces methane - natural gas - from landfill. "SORPA is constantly searching for better methods to recycle materials from the waste stream for the benefit of society, in particular, waste which is expensive to recycle, such as plastics," SORPA managing director Bjorn Hafsteinn Halldorsson said in the release. "CRI's method of making liquid automotive fuel from waste also nicely complements our existing production of fuel methane from the landfill."

CRI noted that the conversion technology "atomizes common household waste at heat exceeding the melting point of aluminum." That sounds fairly energy intensive, even if aluminum melts at 660 degrees C, a low temperature compared to some industrial processes.  Hopefully the net life cycle benefit of more efficient gasoline would outweigh the environmental hit of producing the stuff.

When I spoke with CRI CEO K.C. Tran last year about his geothermal CO2 conversion, he told me that the CO2 emissions reduction from methanol-blended gasoline is 30 percent, even taking into account methanol production. The waste conversion would presumably have a similar performance.

Fuel efficiency would vary, though, depending on the amount of methanol blended into gasoline, an amount which is subject to country regulations.

The methanol is "renewable" because it absorbs carbon during production, Tran noted.

Tran is a disciple of the "methanol economy," an idea posited by Nobel prize winning chemist George Olah in which methanol, rather than the more highly publicized hydrogen or ethanol, could replace fossil fuels. Unlike hydrogen, methanol can be transported and distributed via existing gasoline infrastructure. CRI's geothermal-connected plant in Svartsengi, Iceland goes by the name the George Olah Renewable Methanol Plant.

Photo from Carbon Recycling International

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure