This power plant sucks in CO2 and turns it into renewable fuels

It probably hasn't escaped your attention that there's too much carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. Human industrial activity pumps it into the air and natural systems aren't able to disperse it fast enough.

So it's building up in greater and greater quantities, which is a problem because it traps heat like a giant blanket. The Earth's temperature is slowly rising. But a team of engineers in Finland believe they might have the beginning of a solution that could kill two birds with one stone.

They've built a pilot plant that can not only suck CO2 out of the atmosphere, but then subsequently turn it into renewable fuels and useful chemicals so that we don't have to use as many fossil fuels.

How it works

The system is divided into four different parts. The first is a solar power plant which generates the energy to power the process. The second pulls CO2 and water out of the atmosphere and stores them separately. The third splits the water into hydrogen using electrolysis. The fourth uses that hydrogen, combined with the CO2, to produce a substitute for crude oil.

The neat thing about the plant is that it's small-scale and fits into the distributed, networked power grids of the future. Production capacity can be increased by simply adding more units.

The plant will be put through its paces between May and September 2017. If the pilot is a success, then additional units will be built and used in a number of EU projects in the coming years.

"The concept we are exploring is an example of how the chemical industry could be electrified in the future", said Jero Ahola of the Lappeenranta University of Technology, where the plant is located. 

"The burning of fossil fuels must end by 2050, but people will continue to need some hydrocarbons."

Duncan Geere
Duncan Geere is TechRadar's science writer. Every day he finds the most interesting science news and explains why you should care. You can read more of his stories here, and you can find him on Twitter under the handle @duncangeere.