Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010. Photo credit: telegraph.co.uk

Eyjafjallajökull eruption in 2010. Photo credit: telegraph.co.uk

Volcanoes aren’t generally regarded as being particularly practical for us humans, quite frankly on the contrary. An innovative company from Iceland, however, is suggesting that it may be feasible to produce methanol – a liquid fuel with high heating value that can even work with normal gasoline-powered engines – by refining the CO2 spewed by volcanoes. The energy required to supply this intensive refining process would come from heat created by volcanic rocks nested deep underground.

The company, Carbon Recycling International, has some impressive recycling projects under its belt. For instance, it has a proven system that converts CO2 emissions from both industrial sources like power plants and urban pollution alike into renewable methanol.

“It is possible to produce 30.000 tons of methanol annually and 50.000 tons of sulfuric acid from the pollution from the Hellisheidi power plant and create over 4 billion ISK (around $40 million) in export revenues per year.” a report on the Carbon Recycling International website writes.

Really clever stuff, but volcanoes? These guys aren’t messing about. The fuel (methanol) derived using  volcano power even has a name – vulcanol.

Methanol can be made from a large variety of feedstock and can be blended directly with ethanol.  However, this is the first renewable transport fuel of non-biological origin, which differentiates it from fuel from oil seeds, corn or sugar cane, says founder and CEO KC Tran.  This means you don’t need to displace forests or food crops to grow biofuels.

Sounds really great, but are people prepared for this? When I say prepared, I of course mean are people prepared to pay more for an experimental technology which is extremely expensive compared to current fossil fuel extraction yields. The process is hugely energy intensive as high temperatures are required, along with pure hydrogen (not exactly cheap. geothermal-sourced electricity is said to be used to split water through electrolysis), and a initial significant investment for the plant. CRI is confident, however, that this technology can be deployed – it’s only a matter of how much people are prepared to pay in the end.

Of course, you don’t need a volcano to make vulcanol – the name simply signifies the methanol was made using energy coming from volcanoes. In countries like Germany, where there’s a lot of excess wind energy at night which can’t be fed into the grid and needs to be consumed, such a system could prove to be more feasible than storing the electricity into huge batteries or producing electrolysis hydrogen.


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