In the race to get to net-zero emissions, clean tech innovators are looking at direct air capture as a solution to not only reduce our current footprint, but potentially even reverse the decades of damage we have done to the planet. Prometheus Fuels is one of them. Taking carbon from the air, the Silicon Valley startup then turns it into net-zero gasoline that could be sold at petrol stations and replace fossil fuels.
Prometheus was founded by Yale engineering PhD Rob McGinnis and officially launched from the prestigious Y Combinator in 2019, with an ambitious mission to displace fossil fuels with its technology that removes CO2 from the air and converts it into net-zero gasoline and jet fuel. The electrochemical method the company uses involves using just water, electricity, and carbon nanotube membranes.
The climate impact could be huge. Replacing all fuels derived from dirty oil and gas with Prometheus’ solution could slash a whopping 25% of global carbon emissions.
What’s even more miraculous is that the net-zero gasoline produced from Prometheus’ tech is compatible with standard vehicles that exist today, without any modifications. That’s a major reason why German carmaker BMW has backed the startup through its investment arm BMW i Ventures in 2020, describing Prometheus’ technology as “one of the largest levers that modern society has in the fight against climate change.”
Some industry watchers say that it’s too good to be true. A report released this week by British electronics firm IDTechEx believes that “despite the optimism around direct air capture, the technology still faces some serious hurdles before it can reach the scale where it has a meaningful impact on climate change.”
“It is not a silver bullet,” the researchers wrote, but added that a “coordinated system” of all clean technologies, direct air capture “could play an important role in creating a sustainable future.”
To those who doubt the potential of Prometheus, McGinnis says that the huge strides the startup has made to lower costs within just a few years is not to be taken lightly. He believes that they will be able to launch at a price that can directly compete with fossil fuels.
On Tuesday, the CEO and founder proudly claimed in a post: “We are now taking orders for our zero net carbon electro- Jet Fuel at a price of $0.01 lower than the spot price (at time of order or delivery) for Jet A, in CA. Will start deliveries next year. No matter how low fossil jet goes, we will beat it.”
It came days after the startup launched its new commercial-scale prototype Molecular Sorting bay, which it describes as the first machine in the world that can sort alcohols from water without distillation, a process necessary to extract the fuel from the mixture that Prometheus makes using CO2 and electrolysis from its renewable-powered reactor.
According to the company, it’s built to “crank out 100,000 gallons of fuel per year”, is scalable, cost-efficient and easy to transport. With their technology, Prometheus hopes to be able to provide net-zero fuel while capturing 4,450 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.
“What’s better than fuel that doesn’t harm the planet? The ability to make it wherever, whenever you want,” wrote the firm in its announcement. “The future of energy is distributed.”
All images courtesy of Prometheus Fuels.