This $1.5 billion startup promised to deliver clean fuels as cheap as gas. Experts are deeply skeptical.


According to Prometheus’s Investor Content, the process is divided into four main stages.

In the first step, industrial fans pull in air and blow it through a mixture of water and other compounds, which McGuinness says may contain sodium carbonate. It then reacts easily with molecules of carbon dioxide in the air, transferring most of the carbonate to bicarbonate.

The resulting solution then goes into a battery-like cell with a membrane in the center and electrodes at both ends, which use electricity to spark a series of chemical reactions that produce complex alcohols. It is equipped with a catalyst based on technology licensed from Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In a previous description, the lab stated that it had developed a catalyst made from small carbon spikes embedded with copper nanoparticles. When voltage is applied, it converts carbon dioxide dissolved in water to “ethanol” with a yield of 63%.

The carbon nanotube membrane of Prometheus comes in the third step, which separates the alcohol from the water.

And in the final step, various catalysts are used to bind the alcohol and convert it into synthetic gasoline, diesel or jet fuel. In 2020, Prometheus licensed a separate technology from Oak Ridge Lab that could be used to make jet fuel from ethanol, through a multi-step process that relies on novelty despite being a vague catalyst.

The whole process is significantly different than other companies converting captured carbon into fuel. As McGuinness explained in Joule’s commentary, the Prometheus system can operate at standard atmospheric pressure and room temperature. This technology avoids the thermal energy required to produce concentrated carbon dioxide as well as the capital cost of a dedicated electrolyzer to produce hydrogen. Instead, the company claims, it can synthesize alcohol directly from carbon dioxide dissolved in water and then convert it into standard fuel.

If they really figured out how to do this, it could lead to “significant energy and cost savings,” says Evan David Sherwin, a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford who created the environmental science and technology study.

One of the last slides of investors’ content features a Prometheus-branded fuel station, with red neon “Zero Net Carbon” sign advertising gas prices at $ 3.50 per gallon and diesel at 75 3.75, well below current US average prices.

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