Almost forgot OCN is scientifically illiterate. Here you go guys:
"There's nobody else doing it in this country or indeed overseas as far as we know. It looks and smells like petrol but it's a much cleaner and clearer product than petrol derived from fossil oil," Mr Harrison told The Independent.
Directly after that quote they should have mentioned that there is a company called Carbon Recycling International in Reykjavik (Iceland) who are already creating fuel from carbon dioxide.
They have been working on this exact same technology for 5 years, and are yet to turn a profit. They have however just started running a small methanol producing plant near the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik. The advantage these Icelandic company have over the scientists in this article is that they've already have significant investment, and they can source higher concentrations of CO2 from nearby geothermal power plants. They can also get cheaper electricity to drive the process as well.
Anyway, time to debunk this idea.
The process itself is to split the water molecules into O2 and H2 through electrolysis, which is a very energy expensive process. The H2 then reacts with CO2 (which itself requires chemical treatments to remove impurities, such as bubbling through amine solution to remove H2S in the case of using geothermal sourced syngas). The reaction between H2 and CO2 takes place in vessel that houses a propeitry catalyst (the owners of the plant were reluctant to tell me what this is for obvious reasons). This reaction only runs at 20-30% efficiency, which means that the H2 and CO2 has to be circulated through the catalyst multiple times. The resulting fuel product is methanol. The overall efficiency of the process (Joules of ethanol / Total Joules required) is unknown to me, but I would anticipate the ceiling on this efficiency to be around 60-70%. If the CO2 is sourced from the atmosphere and not from concentrated emission sources, the efficiency of this process will decrease further.
Their plant at Svartsengi (The George Olah Plant) can produce 2 ML of methanol per year, capturing 1.5 kT of CO2. They have struggled to become financially viable. The problem is that methanol cannot be used directly by existing vehicles, it needs to be blended with fuel. The fuel can also only be low-volatility gasoline, which costs more to import in Iceland than high-volatility gasoline. Blending methanol with low-volatility gasoline is also expensive, especially if you have the option to use high-volatility gasoline.
So there is a cost associated with creating methanol in the first place. Then there is a cost of amine, other chemical products used in the process and also a water cost. Then you have to pay to store the methanol and transport it. Then you have to pay to blend it with gasoline. Then you add up your balance sheet and realise that it would have been cheaper to just use the electricity directly and buy an electric vehicle.
Don't get me wrong, I like the idea. It just isn't financially viable at the moment, and it would require legislation to force its use (given that it isn't financially viable). In Iceland there is no legislation for a minimum percentage of methanol to be mixed into gasoline, therefore there is no reason for anyone to do so. These laws do exist in the EU, but electricity prices are also higher in the EU, making the production of this methanol more expensive, so it is easier just to use biomass methanol.
The CO2 captured by this process is only temporarily captured. It is soon rereleased to the atmosphere through combustion of methanol. If the plan was to reduce atmospheric CO2, this process would need to take in atmospheric CO2 (grossly inefficient) and then store the methanol permanently, which is costly and does not make economic sense, because you're basically burying the electricity and money you just spent along with it.
Don't get excited about any energy-panacea until you read articles qouting efficiency and cost figures. Don't get excited unless they have built a functioning plant that is financially viable.