Our dependence on foreign oil to propel our automobiles is one of the hot-button issues of the day. And while lots of ink is spilled on the subject, few are actually doing anything about it. Byron Elton, however, is. Elton's company, called Carbon Sciences, is based not amidst the refineries of Carteret, New Jersey, but in beatific Southern California, Santa Barbara to be exact. Elton and his staff, including chief scientist Dr. Naveed Aslan, are pioneering a conversion process to produce gasoline from natural gas and carbon dioxide.

My organic chemistry background is limited, but the simple explanation here is that a proprietary chemical catalytic procedure can combine this plentiful domestic resource with everyone's favorite greenhouse gas, and voila!, you've got fuel.

"Our company doesn't make a substitute for gasoline," says the effervescent Elton. "We make gasoline. It can be used in the existing supply chains, and in the vehicles we drive today."

The process reportedly uses natural bio-organisms as a catalyst to break down carbon dioxide into its molecular components, such that the carbon can be used to enrich methane, which is the principal component of natural gas. Carbon Sciences says this can produce liquid jet fuel and diesel as well as conventional petrol. In all scenarios, crude oil is cut entirely out of the picture, and carbon dioxide that would be otherwise contributing to global warming is getting recycled.

"No one else has been able to do this before," Elton says.

Don't go looking for the Carbon Sciences filling station on the nearest turnpike, however, as the process has yet to be commercialized. Elton says his company will show a prototype of the method later this year, and that he's already had "some significant discussions" with some major oil companies. "Ours is a fairly radical GTL [gas-to-liquid] technology, but we believe we've figured it out," he says.

We wonder, however, if Elton's talk smacks of hyberbole? He told another reporter a year and a half ago that the company would have a demonstration plant operating within weeks. So far, no plant. And we noticed Elton's predecessor at Carbon Sciences, Derek McLeish, was talking about doing this two years ago.

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