A prototype device called the Counter Rotating Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator (CR5), breaks down carbon-oxygen bonds in carbon dioxide to form carbon monoxide and oxygen in two steps. In the "Sunshine to Petrol" approach, water and carbon monoxide will then make methanol, gas, or other liquid fuels using solar energy.

After the synthesized fuel is made from the carbon monoxide, it could be transported through a pipeline or put into a truck and hauled to a gas station. It would work in ordinary gas and diesel engines. The first step would be to capture the carbon dioxide from sources where it's concentrated—power plants and smoke stacks—eventually snatching it out of the air and reducing greehouse emissions.

The prototype is expected to be completed early next year, with the actual invention a good 15 to 20 years away. According to one researcher, "This holds real promise of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and still using fuels in the ways we are accustomed to. Recycling carbon dioxide is much more attractive than burying it."

Sandia researcher Rich Diver checks the solar furnace, the initial source of concentrated solar heat for the CR5 prototype. Eventually parabolic dishes will provide the thermal energy. (Photo by Randy Montoya)

Sandia researcher Rich Diver assembles a prototype device intended to chemically reenergize carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide, that could become the building block to synthesize liquid combustible fuels. (Photo by Randy Montoya)