Our present dependence on fossil fuels means that, as our demand for energy inevitably increases, so do emissions of greenhouse gases, most notablycarbon dioxide (CO2). To avoid the obvious consequences on climate change, the concentration of such greenhouse gases in the atmosphere must be stabilized. But, as populations grow and economies develop, future demands now ensure that energy will be one of the defining issues of this century. This unique set of (coupled) challenges also means that science and engineering have a unique opportunity-and a burgeoning challenge-to apply their understanding to provide sustainable energy solutions. Integrated carbon capture and subsequent sequestration is generally advanced as the most promising option to tackle greenhouse gases in the short to medium term. Here, we provide a brief overview of an alternative mid- to long-term option, namely, the capture and conversion of CO2, to produce sustainable, synthetic hydrocarbon or carbonaceous fuels, most notably for transportation purposes. Basically, the approach centres on the concept of the large-scale re-use of CO2 released by human activity to produce synthetic fuels, and how this challenging approach could assume an important role in tackling the issue of global CO2 emissions.We highlight three possible strategies involving CO2 conversion by physico-chemical approaches: sustainable (or renewable) synthetic methanol, syngas production derived from flue gases from coal-, gas- or oil-fired electric power stations, and photochemical production of synthetic fuels. The use of CO2 to synthesize commodity chemicals is covered elsewhere (Arakawa et al. 2001 Chem. Rev. 101, 953-996); this review is focused on the possibilities for the conversion of CO2 to fuels. Although these three prototypical areas differ in their ultimate applications, the underpinning thermodynamic considerations centre on the conversion- and hence the utilization-of CO2. Here, we hope to illustrate that advances in the science and engineering of materials are critical for these new energy technologies, and specific examples are given for all three examples. With sufficient advances, and institutional and political support, such scientific and technological innovations could help to regulate/stabilize the CO 2 levels in the atmosphere and thereby extend the use of fossil-fuel-derived feedstocks.