Are CO2 and electric cars the future?

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By Leon Gettler

Carbon emission levels could be reduced if, wait for it, CO2 were used to power cars. That’s right, carbon dioxide to power cars! The Guardian reports that the use of CO2 as a fuel could greatly reduce the environmental impact of cars. The great part about the idea is that because of industrialization and global warming, there’s heaps of this stuff in the atmosphere.

True, it might sound far fetched but The Guardian says all we need is an efficient way to extract CO2 from air and convert it into fuel. It says this can be done by removing one of the oxygen molecules, turning it into CO, which could then be turned into petrol. And that will take a lot of work.

The other problem is how to suck it out of the air. One idea is to build “spray towers” which would draw air into the towers, then spray it with a fine mist of an alkali solution. This would form droplets of sodium carbonate, which ultimately would be collected as CO2. A company based in California, Carbon Sciences Inc., is developing a process designed to convert CO2 emitted by a power plant into fuel, but the difficulty lies in how to extract CO2 from the air itself.

CO2 powered cars might have to become another solution with the Royal Academy of Engineering in England warning that electric cars on their own will not have much impact reducing carbon emissions as coal and burning gas drive most electricity consumption.

It’s something to think about as Australia moves close to green cars with the country’s firstpublic on-street electric car charging station opening in Sydney this week. It’s a good start but we’re going to need more to make electric cars a viable part of the market.

If nothing else, the warning from Britain suggests we are going to need many more solutions to the problem. That means electric cars, CO2 cars and hybrids as well as renewable energy technology for businesses and households. And that will require extensive government, we can’t expect the market to fix it.

The problem in Australia is that there is not much investment in electric cars. There are no listed car companies in Australia. There are clean-technology service providers such as Better Place which is now conducting the trials of battery-charging and switching, but these are unlisted which means they don’t attract much investment.

By way of contrast, a leading producer of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, A123 Systems, listed on New York's Nasdaq exchange last year and it attracted eager investors. Similarly, American investor Warren Buffett spent $US230 million buying a 10 per cent stake in BYD, a Chinese-listed company and maker of electric cars and lithium-ion batteries. Unfortunately, there are no Australian companies offering these sorts of opportunities.

The only way Australian investors can invest in the electric car industry would be by backing miners, like Galaxy Resources and Reed Resourceswhich produce the lithium that goes into lithium batteries for those cars.

But a lack of investment opportunities in electric and green cars means they will only get up with government support.