Elon Musk wants to take CO2 from the air to make rocket fuel

Elon Musk: SpaceX is working on a project to extract CO2 from the air and turn it into rocket fuel. It will also be important for Mars missions

SpaceX is starting a program to take CO2 from the atmosphere and "turn it into rocket fuel": this is the content of Elon Musk's tweet released only hours after the SpaceX CEO was crowned Person of the Year - by the prestigious Time magazine.

SpaceX's new venture is destined not so much to spark discussion as it is to act as an accelerator for a process that is already being perfected, that of extracting CO2 from the air we breathe, which we know could be fundamental to safeguarding life on planet Earth.

Extracting CO2 from the atmosphere

The purpose of extracting carbon dioxide from the air is not as crazy as you might think: Iceland has recently started an important project that uses the new technique called DAC - Direct Air Capture and that is estimated to extract up to 4000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere each year.

The Icelandic plant, in operation since last September, is the largest DAC plant in the world: its eight air collection containers have a series of cylindrical fans capable of sucking air into them and then filtering CO2. This is then heated, mixed with water and pumped into the depths of the ground, where - trapped in the rocks - it could remain for thousands of years.

Elon Musk's is not at all crazy, then, but the most pragmatic we could expect from the chief engineer of a rocket - the Falcon 9 - which produces CO2 during launch, and in large quantities.

Musk has repeated several times, "for now we have only one planet" and it would be foolish to run the risk of a disaster, even if estimated at 0.1% of the possibilities: just this year Elon Musk announced a prize of 100 million dollars for those who can propose a good strategy for the removal of polluting emissions from the atmosphere. Lo scopo è quello di eliminare ogni anno almeno 1000 tonnellate di CO2 dall’atmosfera terrestre.

“Sarà anche importante per Marte”

Fin quando non diventeremo la specie interplanetaria cui puntano i più ambiziosi progetti di SpaceX, la Terra è l’unico pianeta che abbiamo, perciò l’attenzione di Elon Musk è piuttosto viva sulla questione delle politiche di rimozione delle emissioni dall’atmosfera.

“Credo sia una di quelle cose per cui ci vorrà del tempo” affermò lo scorso Aprile “in particolare per capire quali siano le migliori strategie economiche per la rimozione della CO2”.
Estrarre CO2 dall’aria in maniera efficiente “sarà anche importante per Marte”, continua Musk in seguito al tweet: si tratta dell’ormai diffuso sogno ingegneristico di produrre risorse e carburante in situ, sulla Luna e su Marte, in vista delle prossime missioni di lunga durata lontano dalla Terra.

"Turning local resources into fuel," according to Musk, "could have major implications in our transition to an interplanetary species." It's no coincidence that just earlier this year, SpaceX revealed an ambitious plan to extract natural gas from deep within the Texas soil, near the village of Boca Chica and Starbase - SpaceX's base designated for the operations of the grandiose Starship spacecraft.