US billionaire Elon Musk pledges $ 100 million to those who show him the best way to capture CO2.
The Tesla founder and space pioneer announced details of the competition on the short message service Twitter for the coming week.
With his tender, Musk addresses one of the most important, as yet unsolved problems of climate protection.
So it is considered impossible to completely prevent the emission of the combustion product carbon dioxide.
In many areas of the economy, such as cement production or agriculture, there are hardly any practicable or affordable methods to bring CO2 emissions to zero.
Most countries have therefore only committed themselves to the goal of “net zero” with the planned decarbonization: CO2 emissions will therefore continue to exist, but the quantities emitted will be brought back from the atmosphere.
Several approaches are being researched.
On the one hand, the CO2, which may have already been filtered off at the chimney, could be pressed into underground storage facilities, where it is transformed into lime or a similar substance over time.
This double approach of filtering and storage is called carbon capture and storage, or CCS for short.
Musk specifically demands "technology"
Another approach is to use other chemicals to convert the combustion product CO2 into a substance that no longer has any greenhouse potential.
The concept of filtering and making usable is also known as carbon capture and utilization (CCU).
The best known approach is to produce an energy source such as methanol from CO2 and hydrogen.
If this synthetic fuel is burned in engines, only the amount of CO2 is released that was previously extracted from the atmosphere: a climate-neutral cycle that does not contribute to global warming.
Research efforts in both fields are already very diverse worldwide.
It is currently unclear what special demands the founder Elon Musk places on the best CO2 filter technology.
Fulfilling your expectations may not be as easy as some jokers hope it will be.
For example, in response to Musk's appeal, student Josh Shahryar simply posted a photo of a tree on Twitter: “Here you have it.
Where are my 100 million? "
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Simply pointing out the value of natural photosynthesis should of course not be in the spirit of the inventor, after all, Musk expressly demands “technology”.
Even further developments of the so-called Sabatier reactor do not convince the billionaire.
In the 19th century, the French Nobel Prize winner Paul Sabatier developed a sum formula (CO2 + 4 H2 = CH4 + 2 H2O) according to which carbon dioxide and hydrogen can be converted into water and methane, commonly known as natural gas.
This “methanation” underlies all approaches to convert CO2 into gaseous or liquid fuels.
Because electricity is required to generate the necessary hydrogen in electrolysis systems, the production of such synthetic fuels is also summarized under the heading “Power-to-Liquid”, or PtL for short.
CO2 capture failed in Germany
Musk rejected the suggestion of improved methanation á la Sabatier on Twitter - and at the same time revealed why he is now so interested in the use of CO2: He is apparently looking for a climate-neutral fuel for the rockets of his space company Space X.
The Sabatier process is “a good way towards completely renewable rocket energy and thus solves part of the problem,” Musk told the anonymous idea generator on Twitter: “But to solidify at room temperature, it needs longer hydrocarbon chains than CH4 . "
Musk announced his prize money under the heading "carbon capture".
But he seems to be more concerned with processing CO2 than with the best capture process.
If it is only about filtering CO2 from the atmosphere, German researchers would not be in the best starting position anyway: Approaches to testing CCS technology were politically buried early in Germany at the request of the protagonists of the energy transition.
The CO2 capture was interpreted exclusively as a life-prolonging measure for coal-fired power plants.
In fact, it was energy companies like RWE and Vattenfall that tested CO2 capture and storage at selected power plant locations in Germany almost 15 years ago.
In particular, lobbyists for renewable energies turned against the attempt to make coal and gas-fired power plants climate-neutral in this way, because the plants were seen as competition to the politically preferred small-scale, decentralized energy generation (“citizen energy”).
Although CO2 is neither flammable nor toxic, the CCS opponents succeeded in bringing the combustion product conceptually close to poisonous, hazardous or even nuclear waste in the public perception.
Numerous municipalities and citizens' initiatives then fought against the establishment of a carbon dioxide storage facility in their region with catchphrases such as "landfill", "repository" or "CO2 toilet".
Under public pressure, the federal government passed a “Carbon Dioxide Storage Act”, or KSpG for short, in 2012, which only allows CO2 capture to a very limited extent and practically only for research purposes. In addition, the federal states were granted the right to a complete CCS ban.
Neighboring countries such as Norway and the Netherlands are now actively promoting the establishment of CO2 storage facilities under the seabed.
One of the leading developers of CO2 capture today is the Swiss company Climeworks, which manufactures devices for direct air capture.
In the meantime, however, numerous German institutes and companies are also active in harnessing CO2.
Among other things, it is about the production of synthetic, climate-neutral fuel.
The federal government wants to set quotas for the admixture of synthetic kerosene in air traffic from 2026.
Some companies, such as Covestro, are also developing methods for chemically binding CO2 into plastics.
A breakthrough that would allow CO2 to be bound economically and energetically profitably in the required magnitudes is still pending.