People are coming up with all kinds of ways to deal with the whole carbon-emissions dilemma. From biofuels to electric vehicles, each solution has its advantages (avoiding the use of fossil fuels = good), but the disadvantages (waiting around for that battery to charge = bad) have kept any one method from being adopted en masse.
The Georgia Institute of Technology has thrown one more idea into the mix: a zero-emission, hydrogen-powered car that would separate carbon dioxide from liquid fuel and gather it for sequestration underground or in the ocean. Further down the line, the scientists envision transforming that captured CO2 into more fuel, creating a sort of cycle.
"Presently, we have an unsustainable carbon-based economy with several severe limitations, including a limited supply of fossil fuels, high cost and carbon-dioxide pollution," said Andrei Fedorov, associate professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech and a lead researcher on the project, in a statement.
"We wanted to create a practical and sustainable energy strategy for automobiles that could solve each of those limitations, eventually using renewable energy sources and in an environmentally conscious way."
Georgia Tech's hydrogen-powered car would hold the carbon dioxide until it could be deposited at a fueling station. The CO2 then would be transferred to some sort of sequestering station.
And therein are the potential problems. The practice of carbon sequestering has been tossed around as a potentially viable means of dealing with pollution from greenhouse gases -- for example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced plans last October to begin researching sequestration methods (See New Policy Could Put CO2 Underground).
But the potential kinks of storing massive amounts of carbon dioxide may outweigh the benefits. After all, no one knows how to make sure the carbon dioxide will actually stay put underground, or how to prevent it from leaking into drinking water.
Add a few extra steps to the whole process of getting carbon dioxide from car to fueling station to underground, and the problem of storage and infrastructure gets even bigger -- not to mention the whole hydrogen issue.
Storing hydrogen in liquid form requires some very specific safety requirements for both the tanks and the vehicles, and creating a new infrastructure to support those requirements in a cost-effective way could be a big headache for potential investors, said Thilo Koslowski, a vice president and lead automotive analyst with Gartner.
"It's great to see that universities are exploring areas such as this," he explained. "But the real big question is, there's so many of these different technologies, but none of them allow for the same benefit that gasoline does. Gasoline is the best energy source today that can be stored."
However, with more research and development, if the government perhaps provided subsidies or encouraged investors to contribute to alternatives to gasoline, then Georgia Tech's idea, he said, "sounds almost like the Holy Grail."