Iceland has one of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet, a dramatic contrast of ice, snow, glaciers, and fiery lava flows from one of the most volcanic places on earth.
It’s spectacular alright, but Iceland’s not the sort of place you associate with innovative vehicle technology, is it?
Well, that might be about to change because one Icelandic company is harnessing the power of volcanoes and combining it with the country’s expertise in geothermal energy to produce “volcano powered cars”. No, seriously!
The company, Carbon Recycling International, has an industrial plant near a volcano. It captures CO2 from a power plant and converts it into methanol, or “Vulcanol”, as the lads in the marketing department have labelled it.
Methanol can be used to power internal combustion engines, or for more mundane things like paint and plywood.
As a fuel, it’s been around for a few decades and had its heyday in the 90s when it was talked up as a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels and was sometimes blended with it into “gasohol”. Brazil is still using it.
But it never really caught on. It has a couple of problems and one of them is inefficiency. The industry used biomass – that’s plants, basically – to produce methanol, using up vast acres that could have been growing food.
The CO2 from a volcano doesn’t have that problem and the company can run the plant that converts it to methane using the electricity it’s generating.
“Vulcanol” is a carbon-neutral liquid fuel, because although it emits CO2 when it’s combusted and heads out the exhaust pipe, that CO2 would have been emitted by the volcano anyway.
“Vulcanol” ensures it does some useful work on the way out and replaces fossil fuels, which do emit CO2.
So will “Vulcanol” become the last refuge for recalcitrant old petrol heads determined to keep their internal combustion engines in the face of those new-fangled electric vehicles?
Will green-tinged old motorists be filling their beloved old V8 Commodores with “Vulcanol”, instead of petrol?
Probably not, because there’s another problem with methanol.
While you can use it as a fuel it requires certain modifications to the engine and the lubricants that keep things running.
That’s not necessarily cheap and could see vehicle manufacturers having to re-engineer motors and oil companies creating new oils. So on the face of it it’s unlikely.
There’s also the question of scale. How many volcanos do you need to power the world’s internal combustion engines? No, I haven’t a clue either, but it’s probably quite a few.
But those practical concerns haven’t held back one vehicle maker who’s just as “out there” as “Vulcanol” itself.
If Sweden’s Koenigsegg had a motto it would surely be “too much speed is barely enough”. It makes ludicrously fast hypercars.
And yes, it’s going to make cars powered by “volcano juice”.
“You don’t have to pollute the planet just because you want to have a fast, interesting sports car,” said CEO Christian von Koenigsegg.
“It’s a very interesting way of creating an environmentally benign propulsion energy source,” he said.
It is indeed, and it all makes me wonder whether Holden hasn’t missed an opportunity.
Rather than exit Australia, perhaps they could have re-invented themselves as a maker of volcano-fuelled performance cars for die-hard rev-heads.
I have to admit the Holden Volcano SS has a certain oomph to it, doesn’t it?