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The Automaker Powering Its Cars With Volcanos

A car that sports upward of 1,000 horsepower and speeds of up to 300 miles per hour is difficult to square with sustainability. Such cars are normally major gas guzzlers. But not Swedish Koeniggseg. The company, which makes about 30 cars annually that sell for a couple of million each, recently hired a former Tesla executive to help it transform into a mass car manufacturer—a mass car manufacturer of vehicles that use the emissions of volcanoes as a way to moderate their carbon footprint.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Koeniggseg's new chief industrialization officer Evan Horetsky explained the volcano emission idea simply. 

"So there is this technology from Iceland, it was invented there, where they cap the CO2 emittance from semi-active volcanoes and convert that into methanol," Horetsky said. "And if you take that methanol and you power the plants that do the conversion of other fuels and then power the ship that transports those fuels to Europe or the U.S. or Asia, wherever it goes, you put the fuel completely CO2-neutral into the vehicle."

The developer of this technology is an Icelandic firm, Carbon Recycling. In 2013, the MIT Technology Review wrote about the company's technology that turned carbon dioxide emissions from a geothermal plant into methanol—a raw material for a number of productions, including plywood and paints, but also a fuel.

In the article, the author Kevin Bulis noted that Carbon Recycling had the advantage of having access to cheaper CO2 than the one that, for instance, coal power plants emit. The difference in cost comes from the process that leads to the emission. In the geothermal plant, the CO2 is the product of the decomposition of carbonate rocks near a volcano. In a coal power plant, carbon dioxide is one of the components of so-called flue gas – the product of burning coal.

Therefore, at a geothermal plant, the stream of CO2 is a lot more concentrated and a lot purer. This makes its use easier and therefore cheaper. In a coal power plant, you need to first separate the CO2 from the other constituents of flue gas and then process it into methanol, which makes the process a lot more expensive.

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Expensive or not, according to a Verge article from last year, Koeniggseg's Gemera hybrid runs on "renewable alcohol fuel." The publication called the Gemera "the world's most wickedly weird hybrid," noting its three electric motors and a three-cylinder, internal combustion engine that runs on methanol.

Koeniggseg itself calls the Gemera's internal combustion engine the Tiny Friendly Giant, and boasts that it has a 15-20 percent lower fuel consumption than a typical four-cylinder engine, lower cold-start emissions, and, perhaps most impressive of all, says that this engine actually cleans the air.

"When running the TFG on renewable alcohol fuels – there are virtually no particulates produced and in many "normal" environments the TFG consumes and burns more particles from the surrounding air than it produces, thereby actually cleaning the air," the company says in the description of its TFG engine. "Using the best alternatives of alcohols there is even the chance for net-zero or CO2 negative emissions."

It sounds somewhat paradoxical, and the company admits it. Yet the engine that runs on alcohol is very much a real thing and, per Keniggseg's plans, will become a much more common thing as the company ramps up its vehicle production. Whether the methanol these future Koeniggsegs will use will come from volcano-related CO2 emissions, however, remains to be seen. You need a handy nearby volcano for this. Yet, there are other ways to get negative emissions from a car, according to Horetsky.

"Depending on the environment you're in, you can kind of clean up the particles in the atmosphere while you're using the engine," he told Bloomberg. "So you can be very much environmentally conscious doing that. It's just a fun aspect of renewable fuels that are not talked so much about, but there are many, many other technologies that are coming up."

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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