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Startup backed by Bill Gates turns air pollutant and water into clean fuel: 'This has all the benefits of fuel as we know it'

The operation is billed as the world's first commercial electrofuel, or e-fuel, plant.

The operation is billed as the world's first commercial electrofuel, or e-fuel, plant.

Photo Credit: Infinium

The folks behind startup energy company Infinium can check "acquire billionaire backer" off the to-do list. That's because the Sacramento-based enterprise can count none other than Bill Gates as a supporter. 

The goal is to create low-carbon alternative fuels for planes, boats, trucks, and other applications while also capturing and repurposing air pollution, according to published reports.

Last year, Gates provided $75 million for the project through his Breakthrough Energy organization, which invests in "cutting-edge" research and companies in the clean sector. Gates is shown in a video clip shared by CBS in April talking about the project at Infinium's Corpus Christi, Texas, facility. He is wearing the company's infinity-inspired logo on his shirt and hard hat. 

"This has all the benefits of fuel as we know it today without the emissions," Gates said in the clip. 

The Texas operation, called Project Pathfinder, is billed as the world's first commercial electrofuel, or e-fuel, plant. It uses air pollution from nearby fossil operations to make cleaner-burning energy sources, per CBS. 

The process also requires locally made renewable electricity to power electrolysis, which breaks water into hydrogen and oxygen. Unlike more common steam-methane reforming, electrolysis doesn't need natural gas, making it a more planet-friendly hydrogen-producing option. 

Infinium then combines the hydrogen with the carbon dioxide it has already captured — keeping it out of the atmosphere — to make syngas, which can be converted into a range of energy products, as noted by ScienceDirect.

The method includes some "proprietary" science to create a cleaner energy source. Flight fuel, diesel, and other types are some examples

Bloomberg reports that the process is already churning out about 8,300 liters (close to 2,200 gallons) of e-fuel each day. The company touts the product as being "ready to replace" fossil fuels, according to Inc.

"Our unique position as both a technology innovator and project developer allows us comprehensive oversight of the e-fuels production process, enabling us to swiftly expand our projects and increase our worldwide output of environmentally friendly e-fuels," Infinium CEO Robert Schuetzle said in a statement, per Inc. 

Hydrogen is already being thoroughly vetted elsewhere in the Lone Star State. The U.S. Department of Energy is backing an expansive project at the University of Texas Austin to show that the fuel can be a cost-effective and planet-friendly alternative to dirty energy

By leveraging renewable power in the electrolysis process, Infinium and others studying the science could unlock hydrogen technology that is already beginning to reshape everyday industries like garbage collection

The addition of capturing harmful pollution before we inhale it can have massive health benefits, including relief from asthma and other lung troubles. Reducing these pollutants can also help curb the extreme weather we're seeing more often as a result of the warming planet. 

For its part, Infinium is currently working with Amazon to power some of the company's California delivery trucks. There's also an agreement in place with American Airlines to use the e-fuel in coming years, per Inc. 

In the CBS clip of Gates' tour of the Texas facility, he and the crew are shown riding around in a side-by-side powered by e-fuel. It's a small demonstration of endless potential for Infinium. 

"This plant is literally one-hundredth the size of … the one they are dreaming of making," Gates told CBS.

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