The return of Electrofuels: Amazon, Mitsubishi, AP Ventures invest in Infinium’s bid to make fuels from CO2, water

It starts as a hydrogen play, splitting water to make green hydrogen — so, cleaner than many other technologies using hydrogen made from natural gas

What is it?
The Infinium Electrofuels process converts renewable power into green hydrogen, then uses this green hydrogen and waste carbon dioxide to produce net-zero carbon fuels. These fuels may be used in today’s plane, ship and truck fleets without changes in infrastructure.

Nearly a quarter of global carbon emissions stem from the transportation sector, posing a significant challenge in industry efforts to reduce emissions. New business mandates that include corporate climate commitments and ESG investing are increasing the demand for low-carbon transportation alternatives. Other solutions, such as electrification, carbon offsets, carbon capture and hydrogen fuel cell technology are part of the solution but do not fully address transportation’s carbon reduction needs.

Why a big deal?
It starts as a hydrogen play, splitting water to make green hydrogen — so, cleaner than many other technologies using hydrogen made from natural gas.

How does it work?
Well, think of it this way, chemists:

13 CO2 + 14 H2O —> C13H28 +  20 O2

C13H28, that’s tridecane, a diesel fuel molecule of average size. The trick of course is finding the right organisms or catalysts that can make that transformation. Our friend, the photosynthetic plant, does it slightly differently:

6 CO2 + 6 H2O —> C6H12O6 +  6 O2

C6H12O6, that’s glucose — table sugar to you and I — and plants use that for energy, and they respirate oxygen and we thank them for it. But they don’t make hydrocarbons, though occasionally they will store excess energy as fat, a triglyceride, which can be converted into a hydrocarbon using a hydrotreater. Which is why plant oils make biodiesel — but, now you have a very loooooong process to grow triglyceride oils and extract them from harvested plants, a five-step process (grow, harvest, crush, extract, hydrotreat) that helps us to understand why advanced biofuels can be costly.

Can organisms make hydrocarbons from CO2 and water? Yes, some cyanobacteria do it, although in small quantities. So, electrofuels has been all about changing the biology of organic catalysis or rethinking inorganic catalysts to help CO2 do something except just sit there preparing to be inhaled by plants. Unfortunately, CO2 needs uppers more than exhausted WWII pilots on their fifth dogfight of the day, it’s at the lazy bottom of the thermodynamic hill.

What do we know about Infinium’s’ tech? We have three steps.
1. Renewable power & water produce hydrogen using electrolysis

2. Hydrogen & carbon dioxide are converted to syngas in the Infinium reactor using the proprietary CO2Cat catalyst

3. Syngas is fed through a proprietary synthesis step that directly produces high value fuels

Let’s unpack that, because there’s some novel tech claims to pay attention to here. Now, water-splitting to make green hydrogen is pretty established technology — though splitting salt water would be more novel, but there’s no sense that we have anything earth shattering. By the way, you need about 1.25 gallons of water to make a gallon of hydrocarbon fuel — and when you combust the fuel, it makes water again, so the water gets displaced but is not “destroyed”.

The big step is the Infinium reactor — the claim is that it makes syngas from hydrogen and CO2. Yes, you can react hydrogen and carbon dioxide (to make water and methane), and you can heat biomass to make carbon monoxide and hydrogen (syngas), but reacting CO2 and hydrogen to make syngas takes a little doing, you have to strip an oxygen atom off of CO2, something CO2 does not like to do. Still, people are worming on this. Here’s some work reported last year using a palladium catalyst (yes, the same stuff that Iron Man used, originally, and it ain’t cheap). And, here’s some work on reducing CO2 to carbon monoxide at Stanford, though you end up with lighter molecules like propane and ethane. Here’s a cheaper material — zinc oxide catalysis, based on work at the University of New South Wales.

So, there are routes to using CO2 as a feed for syngas. Efficiency, yield and stability are major factors for fuels creation, as we have to make something cheap which means a robust process that can operate at bigger scales than pharma or materials.

The third step, syngas to fuels. Velocys has pioneered a microchannel Fischer-Tropsch process that allows for conversion of syngas to renewable diesel and jet, cheaply, at the smaller scales suited to biomass than giant petroleum refineries using the historic F/T process. So, we know that you can do this, and Velocys has operated successfully at commercial scale. Infinium’s tech to accomplish this? We don’t know much yet.

Progress towards scale
OK, so this is a Series A investment, so think proof of concept and not much scale, as yet. Ultimately, the company says that it ally with strategic partners to build Electrofuels production plants, focusing first in markets where low-cost renewable power generation coincide with large CO2 volumes. Ports come to mind, cement plants, ethanol plants with nearby wind farms.

Reaction from the stakeholders
“We’re thrilled to be working with Amazon and MHI to demonstrate the commercial impact of our technology.” Said Robert Schuetzle, CEO of Infinium. “Backing from the largest hydrogen-focused venture capital firm, AP Ventures, as well as support from Neuman & Esser, an international compressor solutions provider with headquarters in Germany and the Grantham Environmental Trust is a huge vote of confidence for the promise of electrofuels and our technology’s ability to scale in order to meet today’s urgent climate challenges. We expect that current projects under development will be the first broad-scale utilization of electrofuels by commercial vehicles, harmonizing hydrogen utilization and waste carbon capture.”

“Amazon created The Climate Pledge Fund to support the development of technologies and services that will enable Amazon and other companies to reach the goals of the Paris Agreement 10 years early—achieving net-zero carbon by 2040,” said Kara Hurst, Vice President of Worldwide Sustainability at Amazon. “Infinium’s electrofuels solution has real potential to help decarbonize transport that carries heavier loads and travels long distances, including air and freight, as well as heavy trucks.”

“AP Ventures is pleased to have led this funding round for Infinium’s breakthrough electrofuel production technology. We are delighted to welcome Infinium to our existing portfolio of hydrogen related technology companies. We look forward to sharing AP Venture’s experience, expertise and network within the global hydrogen economy to deploy Infinium’s commercial systems and create further value for the company”, says Andrew Hinkly, Managing Partner, AP Ventures.

“In order to mitigate climate change and realize a sustainable future of clean energy, we need new technology solutions. Infinium’s market readiness and scalability makes it stand out from other alternative fuel providers,” said Andrew Hinkly, Managing Partner at AP Ventures.

“It is increasingly important to continue our efforts towards developing solutions that drive global carbon neutrality goals,” said Yoshihiro Shiraiwa, Chief Executive Officer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries America. “We are confident in the progress we will make together with this group of industry leaders.”

Source: Biofuels Digest, 2021-03-01.