Portable power

Re-usable carbon capture system for cars converts CO2 to biofuel using algae

UK engineers have devised a system which captures and stores CO2 from a vehicle exhaust so it can be converted into biofuel to further power cars or to heat homes.

Developed by Isle of Man-based Origo Industries, the system comprises a unit containing CO2 storage cartridges fitted to the vehicle exhaust. When these are full, they can be swapped while the CO2 is fed into a generator which uses algae to produce biofuel. The algae can then be squeezed to release oil to fuel diesel cars, or burnt whole for domestic heating.

Ian Houston, the company’s founder, developed the concept alongside telemetry firm Airmax and electronic control unit (ECU) manufacturer VTune. They had already worked together to reduce emissions through an ECU feedback system called EcoTune, and Houston proposed further reductions by adding carbon capture to the equation.

One of the key problems that has so far prevented vehicle carbon capture is exhaust backpressure. Houston’s approach prevents this occurring by using ballistics methods he learnt through military experience.

The prototype capture system, dubbed EcoBox, was showcased at the recent Green-Car-Go Live! Show. The first build was completed in just two weeks this February and trialled on Houston’s own Mitsubishi Shogun.

’I said I’d risk blowing up my own car to give proof of concept,’ he said. A test centre confirmed that the final system showed no backpressure on the exhaust and reduced carbon emissions from 275g/km to 110g/km.

’These levels mean it’s not liable for road tax, London’s congestion charge or company car tax. Not bad for a beginner,’ said Houston.

As patent applications are still in progress, he was reluctant to reveal specific details of how the technology works or with which industrial partners he is in discussions, and did not display the 10th and latest version of the system at the show. But he said the system takes four existing technologies and puts them together, and that the carbon capture system is itself a mix of existing technologies.

Houston said he hopes to get the green message across through direct money savings to individuals and fleet operators.

The ECU and telemetry is linked into the carbon capture to give a minute-by-minute reading of emissions and what the subsequent saving is. Houston believes that he can take every vehicle’s emissions to around 110g, which is below the road tax limit of 120g.

Further savings would result from making fuel at home from the captured CO2, or taking the cartridges to a garage, perhaps in exchange for loyalty discounts as the garage can make more fuel. Houston is already in talks with garage forecourt companies. If the algae is used in a home generator it would take a percentage of electricity and heating costs off the grid, giving a further reduction of emissions at source.

’The lovely thing for me would be to hit a million homes. You’re talking about meeting transport guidelines and aiding the emissions cuts at the source, which is the energy provider,’ said Houston.

He has said he is willing to slash the cost of the unit, as he will own the cartridge inside the cars and profit through carbon trading.

The concept version of the EcoBox was fitted inside the boot of the car, but the latest version is installed as part of the exhaust system under the vehicle. It can be retrofitted quite easily, the exception being pre-1992 cars, which used rubber in the fuel-line system that can be attacked by bio-oil.

Each cartridge fitted to the EcoBox can hold 8kg of CO2, which at 100g/km is claimed to give users around 50 miles (80km) of travel before it needs to be changed. Two cartridges can be used in sync to provide 160km of travel. An average 1.6 litre car usually produces 160g/km, so the same car can now produce emissions equivalent to that of an electric car — around 60g/km.

Houston is currently in discussions with several car manufacturers to further develop the system, but is keen to ensure the majority of the engineering work takes place in the UK. He believes that with the right company on board, his technology could be available on a 2009 model.

Houston’s next aim is to trial his technology in a power station, and is in discussions with an Oxbridge university for PhD research students to work with Origo to give additional insight into what is possible.

Berenice Baker