Wouldn't it be nice if we could make fuel out of thin air? Maybe we can.

In the latest attempt to recycle carbon dioxide, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., claim they've got it all figured out … if only they can make their prototype device work.

The Counter Rotating Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator device (known as CR5 for short) is designed to use concentrated solar power to turn CO2 and water into the building blocks for a combustible liquid fuel.

In theory, this can be done by using the device to break a carbon-oxygen bond in the carbon dioxide and adding water to form carbon monoxide, hydrogen and oxygen in just two steps. Researchers also think they have found a way to turn carbon monoxide into fuel.

The chemistry works, claim the researchers, but they said they still have to put it all together "in one continuous working device," and the technology won't make it to market for at least another 15 years.

If the researchers succeed, though, the CO2-based fuel would be transportable using existing oil and gasoline pipe infrastructure -- unlike ethanol -- and also would work in ordinary gasoline- and diesel-engine vehicles.

CR5 inventor Rich Diver says the prototype, being developed under the Sunshine to Petrol research program, will be completed by next year.