CO2 is valuable, don’t waste it, recycle it!
The populations of undeveloped countries want the economic prosperity and standard of living that Americans enjoy today, and that requires energy. In the next 100 years, worldwide demand for energy will increase tenfold, as billions of “third world” consumers acquire access to modern products and services. An ever-expanding modern world will continue to need an abundant source of hydrocarbons – A sustainable source of hydrocarbons will always be needed.
By recycling CO2, America would be building the technology now for a sustainable hydrocarbon future.
The idea of recycling CO2 to make synthetic fuels is not without controversy. Those who oppose the recycling of CO2 argue that it would take more energy to recycle the CO2 than would be produced when synthetic fuel is used. Well, of course! That is called conservation of energy. You can not get more energy out of the synthetic fuels than you put into it. And because the process would be less than 100% efficient, you will most certainly get less energy out than you put in.
Synthetic liquid hydrocarbon fuel will serve as a convenient carrier of high-density energy. The energy input into the recycling process would be non-carbon energy such as that produced by solar, wind, or nuclear energy. The commercial value of the original energy would increase because, as a liquid hydrocarbon, it could be easily stored and transported. The increased value of the new form of energy would pay for the energy expended in the process of recycling the CO2.
If the original source of energy does not itself produce CO2, then what does it matter if more energy is used in recycling CO2 than is returned by the synthetic fuels produced by recycling? Renewable energy is lost anyway, if not used — but it is a lost opportunity, not a lost resource — that is why we call it renewable!
Recycling CO2 is advocated by George A. Olah, professor of chemistry and director of the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute at the University of Southern California, and winner of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on carbocation and hydrocarbon chemistry. Hydrocarbons for the 21st Century – The work of the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute.
Published in Chemical and Engineering News, Dr. Olah said:
“From plant life over the ages, new fossil fuels can be formed. The process is so slow, however, that within our human life span we do not have time for nature to replenish what we are rapidly using up. A challenging new approach that we are pursuing is to reverse the process and produce hydrocarbons from carbon dioxide and water via methanol, thus chemically recycling carbon dioxide. In the laboratory, we already know how to do this, and progress is being made toward bringing about the feasibility of such an approach. The limiting factor is the energy needed for generating hydrogen from water. Using alternative energy sources–but first of all atomic energy, albeit improved and made safer–will eventually give us needed energy.”
“Much is said these days about a hydrogen economy, emphasizing hydrogen as the clean, inexhaustible fuel of the future. However, the safe handling and dispensing of volatile hydrogen–for which no infrastructure exists–is difficult and costly.”
“I believe a much preferable way of storing hydrogen is in the form of methyl alcohol (methanol economy). Methanol is a convenient liquid that can be produced by reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It can be catalytically converted into ethylene and propylene and through them to higher hydrocarbons. This can provide an inexhaustible source of hydrocarbon products and fuels, which are now obtained from oil and gas. Furthermore, in recent years, with colleagues at the California Institute of Technology and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, we have also developed a new, direct methanol fuel cell that produces electric power without the need of hydrogen. Thus, methanol is both a fuel and a source of hydrocarbons. By recycling excess CO2 into methanol instead of just storing or sequestering it, we can also mitigate global warming. It is to this effect that a major research effort, with my colleagues associated with the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute at the University of Southern California, is directed.”
Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy
This book discusses a new approach based on what we call the “Methanol Economy”. The production of methanol directly from still-available fossil fuel sources, and the recycling of carbon dioxide via hydrogenative reductions, are—we believe—feasible and convenient ways to store energy generated from all possible sources including, alternative energy sources (solar, hydro, wind, geothermal, etc.) and atomic energy. In the short term, new efficient production of methanol not only from still-available natural gas resources (without going through the syn-gas route) but also by the hydrogenative conversion of carbon dioxide from industrial exhausts, offer feasible new routes. In the long term, recycling of carbon dioxide captured from the air itself will be possible. Air, in contrast to oil and gas resources, is available to everybody on Earth, and its CO2 content represents an inexhaustible recyclable carbon resource. Methanol produced from this CO2 (using any energy source to produce the required hydrogen from water), is an excellent fuel on its own for internal combustion engines or fuel cells of the future. It can be also readily converted, via its dehydration to ethylene and propylene, into synthetic hydrocarbons and their products. Consequently, it can free mankind’s dependence on our diminishing oil and natural gas (even coal) resources.
— Nobel Laureate George Olah
Recycling CO2 into fuel —The conversion of CO2 to fuel is not a dream, but an effective possibility that requires further research said research Professor Gabriele Centi from the University of Messina in Italy. Results from this project, once refined, could help turn back the clock, and remove CO2 from the atmosphere, turning it into useful fuel. One problem with CO2 is that it is a highly stable gas. Once produced, the chemical bonds in CO2 are extremely difficult to break. The new technique enables special catalysts to break those chemical bonds and create long-chain carbon molecules, which can be easily converted into fuels.
The research can be rightly called cutting-edge. Traditionally, the energy needed to break those chemical bonds, even with catalysts, is very high. The researchers used a two-stage approach. First, sunlight was used with a titanium catalyst to split water molecules, releasing free ‘protons’ (hydrogen ions), electrons and oxygen gas. In the second stage, those free electrons are used to reduce the CO2 and bind the carbon atoms together using platinum and palladium catalysts inside carbon nanotubes.
Staggeringly, the research is currently efficient enough to produce molecules of eight or nine long hydrocarbon chains at one percent efficiency at room temperature. This is already two to three times greater efficiency than any other industrial process. If coupled with ‘green’ technologies, such as the massive heat generated in solar thermal energy towers, then far greater efficiencies can be achieved.
In a presentation to the American Chemical Society in San Francisco on September 13, 2006, Professor Centi said that viable production of hydrocarbon chains from CO2 could be attained within a decade.
For more information See: Electrocatalytic Gas-Phase Conversion of CO2 in Confined Catalysts
Artificial Photosynthesis, powered by electricity from nuclear, solar, wind, or any source of electric power—can reduce carbon dioxide molecules to carbon monoxide. The carbon monoxide can then be recombined with hydrogen molecules taken from the water to produce synthetic hydrocarbon fuels.
Fuels from Sunlight — U.S. Department of Energy, July 22, 2010
“After nearly 3 billion years of evolution, nature can effectively convert sunlight into energy-rich chemical fuels using the abundant feedstocks of water and carbon dioxide. All fuels used today to power vehicles and create electricity, whether from fossil or biomass resources, are ultimately derived from photosynthesis… plants and photosynthetic microbes were not designed to meet human energy needs – much of the energy captured from the sun is necessarily devoted to the life processes of the plants. Imagine the potential energy benefits if we could generate fuels directly from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water in a manner analogous to the natural system, but without the need to maintain life processes. The impact of replacing fossil fuels with fuels generated directly by sunlight would be immediate and revolutionary.”
Turning sunlight into liquid fuels — Using the energy of sunlight to produce pure hydrogen and oxygen from water molecules without electrolysis.
Team to chemically transform carbon dioxide into carbon-neutral liquid fuels —Using concentrated solar energy to reverse combustion, a research team from Sandia National Laboratories is building a prototype device intended to chemically “reenergize” carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide using concentrated solar power. The carbon monoxide could then be used to produce hydrogen [Water gas shift reaction] or serve as a building block to synthesize a liquid combustible fuel, such as methanol or even gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel.
Nuclear Hydrogen for Production of Liquid Hydrocarbon Transport Fuels:
Hydrocarbon liquid fuels that have no greenhouse impacts can be produced if the carbon source for the manufacture of the liquid fuels is carbon recycled from the atmosphere (via biomass collection or direct removal from air). With nuclear hydrogen production, this conversion process becomes:
Recycle carbon + Water + Nuclear energy —> Liquid fuels (No greenhouse)
—by Charles Forsberg Oak Ridge National Laboratory
*Nuclear Hydrogen Production Process Design and Economics
Capturing Carbon Dioxide Directly from the Air
Technology is available for developing large “artificial trees” to remove carbon dioxide directly from the air. These artificial trees can be designed to remove a volume of CO2 equal to the total tailpipe CO2 emissions of a given region, resulting in a zero net balance of CO2 in the atmosphere; effectively making the hydrocarbon burning cars and trucks in the region equal to zero emissions vehicles.
The CO2 could be “harvested” from the artificial trees and recycled back into synthetic alcohol or synthetic diesel fuel.
Synthetic fuels made from recycled CO2 would be renewable because the CO2 tailpipe emissions from hydrocarbon burning engines would be drawn out of the atmosphere by artificial trees and chemically recycled back into synthetic fuels.
In response to the question, is the idea of capturing carbon dioxide from the air really more than science fiction? Dr. Hans Ziock, of Los Alamos National Laboratory, answered:
“The idea is far more than science fiction, although certainly a fair distance from actual implementation. The removal of CO2 from air is fairly easy, as flowing air through a calcium hydroxide, or other basic solution will show. That is simple chemistry. Although the needed scale is large, the land area required is a couple of orders of magnitude smaller than that required for wind energy, solar energy, and more than three orders of magnitude smaller than the area required for biomass. The reason for this is that there is a lot of energy in a small amount of carbon, where as solar and wind energy are very diffuse, and biomass has a huge inefficiency in converting the diffuse sunlight energy into fixed carbon.”
“One should be careful to note that removal of CO2 from the atmosphere does NOT generate any energy, and in fact consumes energy. However, its removal allows one to generate energy from carbon fuels elsewhere which more than compensates for the energy consumed in the process. Our back of the envelope calculations show that we could remove the CO2 generated from a gallon of gasoline for less than 25 cents.”
“The process would be aimed at the transportation sector and other small diffuse emitters of CO2. It would be foolish to do this for a power plant where one already has a fairly concentrated stream of CO2.”
“The concept would be a solution for the CO2 emissions from the transportation sector, which, if implemented, would eliminate the need for the huge expense of completely replacing the existing fuel infrastructure for the transportation sector, and side step the entire issue of finding a cost and energy efficient means of producing, transporting, and storing hydrogen both to/at the distribution centers and then in the vehicles. It of course also makes the CO2 collection completely independent of how or where the CO2 is emitted, as all that is needed is that the net balance of atmospheric CO2 is zero.”
“A more aggressive implementation of this technology would allow civilization to begin drawing down atmospheric CO2 levels back to where they were before the industrial revolution, not simply stop the increase.”
Dr. Klaus Lackner, Professor of Geophysics in the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia University along with Dr. Hans Ziock of Los Alamos National Laboratory and Dr. Patrick Grimes, an internationally recognized expert in chemical processes, have together presented a brief white paper titled, The Case for Carbon Dioxide Extraction from Air. First published in SourceBook – The Energy Industry’s Journal of Issues, 1999. 57(9): p. 6-10.
These three talented scientists have also presented an in-depth white paper titled, Capturing Carbon Dioxide from Air, which describes the concept in detail. The PDF document is 15 pages and can be downloaded from the DOE National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) website.
Capturing Carbon: Expert Q&A — NOVA scienceNOW –
A recent development at Los Alamos National Laboratory:
Synthetic Fuel Concept to Steal CO2 From Air — Green Freedom™ for carbon-neutral, sulfur-free fuel and chemical production. Los Alamos National Laboratory has developed a low-risk, transformational concept, called Green Freedom™, for large-scale production of carbon-neutral, sulfur-free fuels and organic chemicals from air and water. At the heart of the technology is a new process for extracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and making it available for fuel production using a new form of electrochemical separation. By integrating this electrochemical process with existing technology, researchers have developed a new, practical approach to producing fuels and organic chemicals that permits continued use of existing industrial and transportation infrastructure. Fuel production is driven by carbon-neutral power. More…
Scientists Would Turn Greenhouse Gas Into Gasoline —If two scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are correct, people will still be driving gasoline-powered cars 50 years from now, churning out heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere — and yet that carbon dioxide will not contribute to global warming.
The scientists, F. Jeffrey Martin and William L. Kubic Jr., are proposing a concept, which they have patriotically named Green Freedom™, for removing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it back into gasoline.
The idea is simple. Air would be blown over a liquid solution of potassium carbonate, which would absorb the carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide would then be extracted and subjected to chemical reactions that would turn it into fuel: methanol, gasoline or jet fuel.
This process could transform carbon dioxide from an unwanted, climate-changing pollutant into a vast resource for renewable fuels. The closed cycle — equal amounts of carbon dioxide emitted and removed — would mean that cars, trucks and airplanes using the synthetic fuels would no longer be contributing to global warming. More…
Global Research Technologies, LLC — For the first time, carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles on the streets of Bangkok can be removed from the atmosphere by capture devices located anywhere in the world. That’s just one example of the impact that GRT-developed CO2 capture systems will have worldwide.
First Successful Demonstration of Carbon Dioxide Air Capture April 25, 2007 — Global Research Technologies, LLC (GRT), a technology research and development company, and Klaus Lackner from Columbia University have achieved the successful demonstration of a bold new technology to capture carbon from the air. The “air extraction” prototype has successfully demonstrated that indeed carbon dioxide (CO2) can be captured from the atmosphere. This is GRT’s first step toward a commercially viable air capture device.
GRT’s Future Commercial Air-Capture Products Will Address CO2 Market Needs in Sectors Ranging From Agriculture to Energy
Global Research Technologies, LLC (GRT) is continuing to refine ACCESS™, its air-capture technology product named for the initials in the phrase “Atmospheric Carbon CapturE SystemS.” GRT’s proof-of-concept successes have established that the firm is on its way to designing and building patented air-capture technology that will eventually enable the removal of millions of tons of CO2 a day from the earth’s atmosphere. GRT is also refining its long-term business model and working to integrate large numbers of future ACCESS units into markets that produce and use CO2.
ACCESS units can be located anywhere — far from CO2-emitting smokestacks and far from populated and scenic areas. Yet if desired, they can also be located adjacent to end-use markets. Full-scale models of future commercial ACCESS units will be approximately the size of shipping containers. Each will be able to remove a ton of CO2 a day. Smaller-scale versions of ACCESS units are envisioned for use by end-users requiring less CO2 captured for their processes or products.
Klaus Lackner, Ph.D., one of the visionaries behind the GRT system’s design and a member in the company, explained, “Carbon-based fuels can be used with minimal climate consequences provided the CO2 they produce when combusted is removed from the atmosphere. GRT’s ACCESS will make it possible to rely on fossil fuels in the transportation sectors without increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.” Professor Lackner is also the Chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering at Columbia University.