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A circular carbon economy — Net-Zero Carbon

Using captured carbon dioxide to make renewable fuels

(Image: FreightWaves)

On this episode of Net-Zero Carbon, Danny Gomez, managing director of financial and emerging markets at FreightWaves, sits with Eric Rubenstein, founding managing partner at New Climate Ventures, to talk about the energy transition in transportation. 

Rubenstein said carbon dioxide can be used in everything from sustainable diesel to plastics for dashboards. He expanded on commoditizing carbon dioxide and what that can mean for the journey to reducing emissions.

New Climate Ventures invests in early-stage companies that are reducing, avoiding or capturing carbon emissions. Some of the companies it invests in use captured carbon to produce new products such as vodka, concrete or sustainable fuels.

“When we’re talking about fuel specifically and transitioning away from petroleum-based fuels, you kind of have to start with biofuels as the transition point,” Rubenstein said. 

He said it was hard to accept this initially because producing biofuels at large scale requires a lot of land. Getting biofuels from sources such as used cooking oil also has its challenges because it’s hard to collect enough used cooking oil in any one location to make an impact in transportation.

Capturing carbon dioxide to produce renewable fuel

Carbon dioxide is abundant in the atmosphere, and “you can actually capture it off of industrial plants economically. It’s happening today,” Rubenstein said.

Capturing carbon dioxide from industrial processes and turning it into a renewable fuel can create a “circular process,” Rubenstein said. Trucks leaving the plant can fill up with renewable fuel instead of petroleum-based fuel.

This process is being scaled and proven right now. Renewable fuel produced this way costs more than diesel, but it’s expected to be competitive in the coming years, Rubenstein said.

He said electric vehicles will come, but the transition period may be long due to the higher upfront cost of EVs. Providing more sustainable drop-in fuels that can reduce emissions for trucks that currently run on diesel could help make an impact sooner.

Sustainable drop-in fuels don’t require modifications to the vehicle. The only difference is the fuel being put in the tank.

In addition to reducing emissions from fuel use, Rubenstein said, “there’s a lot of room to decarbonize” in the materials vehicles are made of. He said that dashboards and seats can be made from plant-based materials or from captured carbon dioxide.

View all of FreightWaves’ Net-Zero Carbon episodes and sustainability stories.

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Alyssa Sporrer

Alyssa is a staff writer at FreightWaves, covering sustainability news in the freight and supply chain industry, from low-carbon fuels to social sustainability, emissions & more. She graduated from Iowa State University with a double major in Marketing and Environmental Studies. She is passionate about all things environmental and enjoys outdoor activities such as skiing, ultimate frisbee, hiking, and soccer.