Scientists are developing a novel technology that may economically convert fossil fuels and biomass into useful products, including electricity, without emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Engineers at The Ohio State University in the US devised a process that transforms shale gas into products such as methanol and gasoline - all while consuming carbon dioxide.
The process can also be applied to coal and biomass to produce useful products, researchers wrote in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.
Under certain conditions, the technology consumes all the carbon dioxide it produces plus additional carbon dioxide from an outside source, they said.
The researchers have also found a way to greatly extend the lifetime of the particles that enable the chemical reaction to transform coal or other fuels to electricity and useful products over a length of time that is useful for commercial operation.
The same team has discovered and patented a way with the potential to lower the capital costs in producing a fuel gas called synthesis gas, or "syngas," by about 50 per cent over the traditional technology.
The technology, known as chemical looping, uses metal oxide particles in high-pressure reactors to "burn" fossil fuels and biomass without the presence of oxygen in the air. The metal oxide provides the oxygen for the reaction.
Chemical looping is capable of acting as a stopgap technology that can provide clean electricity until renewable energies such as solar and wind become both widely available and affordable, the researchers said.
"Renewables are the future. We need a bridge that allows us to create clean energy until we get there - something affordable we can use for the next 30 years or more, while wind and solar power become the prevailing technologies," said Liang-Shih Fan, who led the project.
The engineers also developed chemical looping for production of syngas, which in turn provides the building blocks for a host of other useful products including ammonia, plastics or even carbon fibres.
The technology provides a potential industrial use for carbon dioxide as a raw material for producing useful, everyday products, researchers said.