Renewables

Elon Musk’s SpaceX seeks rocket fuel made from atmospheric CO2

Elon Musk SpaceX rocket fuel atmospheric CO2

Photo: Official SpaceX Photos / https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/legalcode

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December 14, 2021

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Published:

December 14, 2021

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Elon Musk, the world’s richest man and Time magazine’s person of the year, revealed his company SpaceX would launch a program for capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for the production of rocket fuel.

California-based Space Exploration Technologies, better known as SpaceX, is working on solutions for colonizing Mars. Founder, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer Elon Musk, who owns roughly half of the company, has speculated it would be able to send the first crewed mission to the red planet in 2026, and recently he asked his followers on Twitter if they think there would be humans there in 2032.

In his distinctive style, he has just turned to Twitter to announce that “SpaceX is starting a program to take CO2 out of atmosphere and turn it into rocket fuel.” Musk invited those that are interested to join, presumably referring to companies and scientists. He added it “will also be important for Mars,” but failed to reveal any details.

The world’s richest man and Time magazine’s person of the year earmarked USD 100 million this year from his trust for awards in the four-year XPRIZE competition for the best carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects. The technology could be compatible with Musk’s ambitions for Mars.

The removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is beneficial for climate change mitigation as it reduces global warning, but the existing direct air capture or DAC projects are miniscule. Moreover, CO2 from the atmosphere on Mars and frozen CO2 believed to exist on the Moon could in theory be used to produce rocket fuel that would enable the return of people to Earth.

Scientists are studying the use of microbes to turn carbon dioxide into sugars and then fuel, but also other materials. One of the versions is to make a mixture of liquid oxygen and methane, which would also require water.

SpaceX launches satellites into orbit and delivers supplies and astronauts for NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and other customers. According to media reports, the startup’s valuation topped USD 100 billion in October.

Elon Musk is also the CEO of electric car maker Tesla – the most valuable automotive company in the world by far, and the founder and executive of several other high technology companies.

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