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New Sunlight Reactor Produces Fuel

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the summon-danny-boyle dept.

Earth 269

eldavojohn writes "A new reactor developed by CalTech shows promise for producing renewable fuel from sunlight. The reactor hinges on a metal oxide named Ceria that has very interesting properties at very high temperatures. It exhales oxygen at very high temperatures and inhales oxygen at very low temperatures. From the article, 'Specifically, the inhaled oxygen is stripped off of carbon dioxide (CO2) and/or water (H2O) gas molecules that are pumped into the reactor, producing carbon monoxide (CO) and/or hydrogen gas (H2). H2 can be used to fuel hydrogen fuel cells; CO, combined with H2, can be used to create synthetic gas, or "syngas," which is the precursor to liquid hydrocarbon fuels. Adding other catalysts to the gas mixture, meanwhile, produces methane. And once the ceria is oxygenated to full capacity, it can be heated back up again, and the cycle can begin anew.' The only other piece of the puzzle is a large sunlight concentrator to raise the temperature to the necessary 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. The team is working on modifying and refining the reactor to require a lower temperature to achieve the two-step thermochemical cycle. Another issue is the heat loss which the team claims could be reduced to improve efficiency to 15% or higher. Since CO2 is an input, the possibility exists for coal and power plants to collect CO2 emissions to be used in this process which would effectively allow us to "use the carbon twice." Another idea listed is that a "zero CO2 emissions" is developed along these lines: 'H2O and CO2 would be converted to methane, would fuel electricity-producing power plants that generate more CO2 and H2O, to keep the process going.' The team's work was published last month in Science."

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oh can it be frist pssoot time (1)

SpokeBot (884906) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929720)

oh plz plz plz

Re-re-re-repost! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34929738)

http://tech.slashdot.org/story/10/12/24/2216257/New-Solar-Reactor-Prototype-Unveiled

Re:Re-re-re-repost! (-1, Troll)

sycodon (149926) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929934)

What can the environmental community possibly find wrong with this?

Re:Re-re-re-repost! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930010)

What can the environmental community possibly find wrong with this?

Filthy niggers, that's what.

Re:Re-re-re-repost! (-1)

Skarecrow77 (1714214) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930026)

Stop abusing the sun! We've only got enough sunlight to last until the year 4,500,002,011AD!

It's time to conserve!

Re:Re-re-re-repost! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930430)

Actually, the sun will slowly grow hotter and we'll find that the Earth will be uninhabitable well before the point where it will reach the red giant stage. Maybe only a half billion years or so.

Re:Re-re-re-repost! (-1, Offtopic)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930562)

I'm finding it amusing that when conservatives start looking for actual reasons why environmentalists are wrong, they can only come up with shit like this.

But then I suppose that in their tiny minds, they actually believe that an environmentalist would object to using a lot of sunlight. They find that argument convincing. It would be funny if it weren't so pathetic. No, actually it's funny anyways. HAHA, look at the stupid conservative losers.

A more immediate likely problem (4, Interesting)

VernonNemitz (581327) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930772)

While a "hydrogen economy" in whatever broad implementation is a fine idea in theory, there is one extremely important detail that must be done very carefully right from the start. The leakage of hydrogen gas must be kept to an absolute minimum. Why? Simple! Just multiple any X amount of leakage you choose, per person, by a couple billion users in a scaled-up hydrogen economy. Now factor in the simple fact that all leaked hydrogen will naturally rise through the atmosphere to the ozone layer, and that ozone is naturally "hypergolic" with hydrogen --the two chemicals instantly react. If you thought the effect of chlorocarbons was bad for the ozone layer, well, "you ain't seen nothin' yet", as the saying goes, if a large hydrogen economy doesn't do everything it can to keep hydrogen gas leakage to an absolute minimum.

Re:Re-re-re-repost! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930030)

It uses sunlight at an unsustainable rate. If we use his device then within 20 years we'll only have enough sunlight for two thirds of the globe. Within 35 years the whole world will be in darkness. When will scientists stop medling with things they don't understand?

Re:Re-re-re-repost! (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930442)

What can the environmental community possibly find wrong with this?

Probably will end up as something like "producing the required 10 pounds of cerium causes environmental damage equivalent to burning 10 kilobarrels of crude oil, yet only produces energy equivalent to 1 kilobarrel equivalent of burned crude oil before the catalyst disintegrates or whatever" So you'd be 9 kilobarrels ahead if you'd just burn the crude oil.

Very much like how making corn alcohol is a great way to manufacture the equivalent of one barrel of crude oil, assuming you're willing to burn the equivalent of two barrels of crude oil to make that one barrel equivalent..

Re:Re-re-re-repost! (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930804)

You're wrong. Corn ethanol is slightly positive, just darn near not and it loses out cost wise without subsidies.

Re:Re-re-re-repost! (5, Funny)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930602)

This reactor produces one of the most important components of a Hydrogen Bomb, and thus should be banned! And everybody knows that reactors are evil, and will cause the China Syndrome (whatever that is), which will kill us all. Reactors are well known to explode in a nuclear conflagration, as well as poisoning everyone within a 1000 mile radius before they do!

Of course environmentalists are going to hate this.

CalTech? (0, Flamebait)

bryonak (836632) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929754)

It's mainly produced by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH in Zürich) and built at the PSI (a research facility near Zürich).
Ya, there are also some CalTech guys participating.

Re:CalTech? (4, Informative)

fahrbot-bot (874524) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929912)

Not exactly. From TFA... The prototype reactor was designed and tested at CalTech, using electrical furnaces to generate the required 3,000 degrees. They then went to Switzerland to use the Paul Scherrer Institute's High-Flux Solar Simulator - "capable of delivering the heat of 1,500 suns" - to test with a solar heat source.

So it was *mostly* CalTech guys, using Swiss equipment for testing and further development.

Re:CalTech? (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930362)

So it was *mostly* CalTech guys, using Swiss equipment for testing and further development.

No. Nothing outside America counts. And you are being unpatriotic.

Re:CalTech? (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34929960)

It's mainly produced by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH in Zürich) and built at the PSI (a research facility near Zürich). Ya, there are also some CalTech guys participating.

It's nice to know that there's some nutjobs in Europe that are just as patriotic as the nutjobs in the American South.

Re:CalTech? (-1, Offtopic)

bhartman34 (886109) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930512)

It's nice to know that there's some nutjobs in Europe that are just as patriotic as the nutjobs in the American South.

Not sure I'd call the American South "patriotic". These are also states' rights people who would still (despite how poorly it went for them the first time) secede at the drop of a hat if things didn't go their way.

Re:CalTech? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930558)

Or possibly just react to the exorbitant American patriotism shown in the summary? (note that this is not the same as anti-Americanism)

Re:CalTech? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930630)

Dude, you're going to get modded into oblivion. This is an American site, and we're proud of our achievements.

Equal parts excitement and antipathy (3, Insightful)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929760)

Another idea listed is that a "zero CO2 emissions" is developed along these lines: 'H2O and CO2 would be converted to methane, would fuel electricity-producing power plants that generate more CO2 and H2O, to keep the process going.'

So basically, it would be a solar-powered station that could run around the clock using methane as a storage medium. I know that for as awesome as this sounds, it is equally unlikely to ever come to fruition to the extent that it is explained here.

Re:Equal parts excitement and antipathy (2)

clonan (64380) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930174)

The article said it had a 15% conversion rate.

You are better off using compressed air and turn a turbine.

Re:Equal parts excitement and antipathy (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930272)

gasp, or wait until they build better reactors, or gasp, wait until they scale to MW size reactors, or gasp, use it in places where turbines make no sense, or gasp, use it in addition to turbines.

Re:Equal parts excitement and antipathy (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930462)

the idea is closing the carbon loop and not change habits of being hydrocarbon-centric not to generate electricity. Generating hydrocarbons from CO is important for materials, transportation fuels, fine chemicals, etc.

Re:Equal parts excitement and antipathy (1)

ThatMegathronDude (1189203) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930176)

Or: bottle methane obtained by reacting atmospheric CO2 and H2O, burn in vehicle, return CO2 and H2O to atmosphere. It could provide a higher density energy transportation medium than batteries (and allow for faster refueling as well).

Re:Equal parts excitement and antipathy (2, Funny)

el3mentary (1349033) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930596)

Or we could stick tubes up Cow's asses to harvest methane.

Re:Equal parts excitement and antipathy (2)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930238)

Did anyone note the 15% efficiency?

  Not exactly rocking that boat, not clear that it is cheaper to implement than photocells, useless at home. Interesting, and maybe addresses a way to turn the sunlight into tankers of liquid fuel, but ....

Re:Equal parts excitement and antipathy (1)

wierd_w (1375923) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930618)

Would also enable regenerative atmospheric reprocessing on board a closed-system vehicle, like a submarine or a deep-space spaceship.

Both would require something ELSE as the main power source, such as a fission or fusion reactor-- Thy CO2 reprocessing that this technology offers would be just to keep the air breathable.

(In the case of a deep space flight, the CO produced could be rapidly fed to algae to liberate the remaining oxygen, and to produce nutritious algae flakes for your breakfast in the morning. [sarcasm]"Yum!"[/sarcasm]. The issue then is one of power consumption and vehicle weight logistics; is it better to have the added weight of the re-processor and recycle, or just to carry that same weight in extra compressed atmosphere storage. In the case of a submarine, where weight is not such a pressing issue, but where surfacing for air might not be a good thing, being able to reprocess atmosphere on the fly to increase the window of covert activity would be highly attractive.)

Re:Equal parts excitement and antipathy (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930828)

This solves the Batteries issue. You can burn Methane in your car and this can supply that Methane without all the CO2 and drilling.

its "Caltech" not "CalTech"! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34929774)

its "Caltech" not "CalTech"!

Re:its "Caltech" not "CalTech"! (1)

bhcompy (1877290) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930054)

Actually, it's Pacific Tech.

Re:its "Caltech" not "CalTech"! (0)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930708)

California University of New Technology

TL;DR (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34929788)

I was crit by a wall of text! The purpose of the summary is to pique our interest while leaving the article to explain the details. I don't even want to read this summary.

Eventually... (0)

steelersteve13 (1372165) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929794)

We won't have to work. We'll just lounge around, playing WOW or some other MMO game, or smoke dope/drink beer, and remember the good old days of hard work and perseverence. Ok, maybe that day is a long ways off.

Loads of Potential (5, Insightful)

Philomage (1851668) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929808)

The summary covers a lot of it, but this is pretty fascinating (if it reaches production): something that can be added to the exhaust of a fossil fuel power generation station that reduces the carbon footprint and provides fuel to use in either that or other processes in addition to supplying oxygen for other processes. All it really takes is concentrated sunlight for an energy source.

I'd be interested to see in a few years what other uses are figured out for it.

We live in interesting times...

Re:Loads of Potential (1)

Issildur03 (1173487) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929888)

Why not make a solar power plant at that point? For storage purposes, batteries probably store more than 15% of the power that's used to charge them and don't require combustion. Neat research either way, though.

Re:Loads of Potential (1)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929946)

Because most of the world infrastructure is already set up for burning fossil fuels.

Re:Loads of Potential (1)

Issildur03 (1173487) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930004)

A solar power plant frees up fossil fuels to be used elsewhere, so it's already "producing" them indirectly.

Re:Loads of Potential (1)

Philomage (1851668) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930040)

But by creating syngas, this process also "frees up fossil fuels". I see this being used IN ADDITION TO new solar plants.

Re:Loads of Potential (2)

wjousts (1529427) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930418)

But your solar plant "freeing up" fossil fuels is not removing CO2, those freed up fossil fuels are still adding CO2 to the atmosphere. This system removes CO2 during production which is released again during burning, so overall, it's carbon neutral. But as Philomage has already replied, there is no reason this can't be in addition to solar plants.

The point is that cars still largely run on gas, and a carbon neutral way of producing gasoline is a better short term solution that solar power and electric cars. Also, those fossil fuels aren't just used for burning. They are also important chemical feedstock for producing a huge range of products that make modern life livable (plastics, pharmaceuticals, etc). A solar plant won't solve that problem.

Re:Loads of Potential (5, Informative)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930046)

And that's what's probably the better long-term goal here: Convert atmospheric CO2 into some gasoline-like fuel, and use that as fuel in more mobile or space-constrained applications, where it generates CO2. You are back to a closed loop again, and humanity can be sustainable on our current resources. (With the external energy input of the Sun.)

Of course, you'd be limited by the amount of energy you can harvest from sunlight, but that's really a problem no matter what you do, in the longer term...

Re:Loads of Potential (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930794)

"infrastructure" - code word for "investments"
"world" - code word for "people who own the world's money"

In other words, most of the rich people in the world are investing in fossil fuels.

OMG OMG (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34929846)

What in the world will the climate change doomsayers have to say when CO2...A DANGEROUS GAS is used and taken out of the atmosphere...OMG they won't have anything to argue about...Course...the government will need to tax the HECK out of them for handling a dangerous gas like CO2!! /sarcasmoff

Balance of energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34929856)

It won't be very big.

The balance of energy says that, even at 100% efficiency, the amount of energy generated by burning the combustible fuel, can be no larger than the amount of sunlight collected to convert the CO2 back into the combustible fuel.

Re:Balance of energy (1)

Shikaku (1129753) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929996)

I think the goal is more to get something good out of removing CO2, instead of a very slow and gradual change of benefiting the atmosphere.

Mind you, if the goal was to just remove CO2, they do have plans to build new skyscrapers with trees up high.

Re:Balance of energy (1)

Daniel_Staal (609844) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930060)

True, but you can release the energy later, at a different location, or in more concentrated bursts. All of which could make the energy more useful.

Simply Amazing ~ Free Energy (0)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929882)

I find it truly amazing that we can utilize this gigantic ball of burning energy that shows up every single day to help power things on Earth. Why haven't we thought of taking advantage of this abundant, renewable and FREE resource before????

Re:Simply Amazing ~ Free Energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34929986)

I don't know. Why haven't you?

Re:Simply Amazing ~ Free Energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930006)

We do utilize it. Without it, we wouldn't exist. As a matter of fact, it has been utilized for BILLIONS* of years!

*THOUSANDS if your theology deems it so.

Re:Simply Amazing ~ Free Energy (3, Informative)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930020)

Why haven't we thought of taking advantage of this abundant, renewable and FREE resource before????

I believe we've been thinking of it for decades ... but, apparently, it's hard to actually do on a large scale and affordably. At least, that's kinda the impression I've gotten over the years.

Re:Simply Amazing ~ Free Energy (1, Informative)

LehiNephi (695428) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930028)

It's been thought of. Time and time again. "Thinking of it" is not, and never has been, the issue. The issue has been "how do we harness this in a way that is at least as economic and effective as fossil fuels?" And that's where every solution has failed so far. Because even though the sun produces a tremendous amount of energy, collection thereof is unreliable down on the ground, and the technology to do so is expensive.

Putting stuff into space resolves the reliability issue, but only multiplies the cost.

earth goes around the "burning ball of energy" (1)

mschaffer (97223) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930032)

The gigantic ball of "burning energy" is the sun. It doesn't show up every day---we do, as we rotate around the globe, alternating being in the shady side and the sunny side of the earth.

Also, the resource may be free, but the cost of utilizing it isn't. It's like the gold and other precious metals dissolved in the ocean water. This "free" resource is there. You could extract more gold than your most wild dreams. The cost of extracting the precious metals from the seawater, however, will be quite significant---especially compared to the value of what you extracted.

Re:Simply Amazing ~ Free Energy (1)

Tumbleweed (3706) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930076)

I find it truly amazing that we can utilize this gigantic ball of burning energy that shows up every single day to help power things on Earth. Why haven't we thought of taking advantage of this abundant, renewable and FREE resource before????

Absolutely. We should send ships to that gigantic ball of burning energy to bring some back to Earth for our needs. Someone call Cillian Murphy!

Renewable Energy (1)

jpvlsmv (583001) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930498)

Sorry, but every time I see solar (or geothermal or wind or tidal) as described as "renewable", I get pissed off.

How exactly do you think we would "renew" the sun when it runs out of energy? Use a big laser to push photons back in?

--Joe

Re:Renewable Energy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930742)

I hope you are sarcastic.

Renewable is simply inexhaustible and/or naturally replenishable for the foreseeable human future. That means a million years - timeframes involving millions of years are for all human purposes forever. Fossil fuels are non-renewable resources because their replenishment rate is significantly slower than our utilization rate. Sun, on the other hand, will be the same 1 or 100 million year from now, more or less, whether we use its energy doesn't impact its future.

Re:Simply Amazing ~ Free Energy (2)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930550)

I find it truly amazing that we can utilize this gigantic ball of burning energy that shows up every single day to help power things on Earth. Why haven't we thought of taking advantage of this abundant, renewable and FREE resource before????

MTBF, on an annualized basis, is almost exactly 12 hours. On a month to month basis, especially in polar areas, it approaches zero roughly once per year.

Re:Simply Amazing ~ Free Energy (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930796)

Technically, isn't almost all power we currently use solar power? That energy we're releasing when burning fossil fuels came from the sun, stored by the plants millions of years ago. The process in this article is essentially the same idea, just on timescales more acceptable to humans.

Wind and hydro power are just indirect solar power, too. I think the only non-solar power we use is nuclear and geothermal, both of which are releasing the stored power from the previous star that went supernova and created all those heavy elements (so, star power, but not Solar (as in from Sol, our current sun)).

Headline! (4, Funny)

rumblin'rabbit (711865) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929886)

World Energy Problems Solved!
4th Time This Month

report (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34929902)

Just to report that at this exact time, bryonak, jeffmeden and Philomage are head to head in their scores (2 each).

Alternate idea (5, Funny)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929918)

I've discovered a system that allows sunlight, groundwater, airborne CO2, and a few other elements to be converted into substances which can easily be used for heating fuel, building materials, and even in some cases food. It's really amazing, and costs relatively little to set up and even less to maintain. It's also aesthetically pleasing, so you get very little complaint from the NIMBY crowd. In fact, this system is so simple that you'll often find it in the front and back yards of ordinary single-family homes, apartment buildings, and office complexes.

Not that this idea isn't potentially nifty, of course.

Re:Alternate idea (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930008)

So, would your "idea" prevent a patent on theirs??

Re:Alternate idea (1)

Philomage (1851668) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930058)

...woosh? You do realise he's talking about plants and gardening, don't you?

Re:Alternate idea (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930342)

...woosh? You do realise he's talking about plants and gardening, don't you?

He could be acutely aware of that, and still have a valid question.

Since gardening doesn't prevent patenting what's described in TFA, he's perfectly correct.

Re:Alternate idea (1)

nedlohs (1335013) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930422)

The NIMBY crowd will possibly get annoyed with you when try and harvest said resource and when you use it as fuel.

Re:Alternate idea (2)

wierd_w (1375923) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930754)

Harvesting perhaps, but using I don't see as too much of an issue as long as you pelletize it first.

Pellet stoves and pellet heaters produce very little smell or smoke, and burn the fuel much more efficiently than say-- a fireplace.

(Can also utilize grass clippings and garden waste, once pressed into pellets.)

WOW! (0)

MikeDirnt69 (1105185) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929972)

1) Profit!

you know what (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34929976)

else can produce lots of heat and runs 24/7 without depending on weather or time of year?

Bonus hint: it can also produce an ass ton of electrical energy!
Bonus Bonus hint: it doesn't produce CO2
Bonus Bonus Bonus hint: there is enough fuel for several thousand years chilling that's easy to get to
Bonus Bonus Bonus Bonus hint: you can also use the waste as fuel

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Aww screw it....

All about cost efficiency (1)

emt377 (610337) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929998)

Effectively what they're doing is turning sunlight into chemical energy. The process sounds complex at first glance, so can it be more efficient than other methods of capturing solar energy? From a technical POV the percentage of sunlight captured is interesting. But from a business POV the costs are interesting, and I think overall more important: real estate footprint, amortized capital costs, and operational costs. Where do these fall relative to other methods?

Re:All about cost efficiency (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930124)

Maybe it's less efficient, but so what? The source is free, so even if it is less effiecnt, if the total energy can be maintained, then it's a wash.

Re:All about cost efficiency (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930730)

Maybe it's less efficient, but so what? The source is free, so even if it is less effiecnt, if the total energy can be maintained, then it's a wash.

Welcome to EROEI energy returned on energy invested. Lets say you can build a plant that makes 10 million barrels of crude oil equivalent over its lifetime. If it takes less than 2 million barrels of crude to dig the materials out of the ground, pay the folks whom maintain the plant, and finally pack it in the landfill when its done, you made a profit of 8 million barrels.

On the other hand, if it takes 20 million barrels of crude to refine the materials, build the plant, maintain the plant, decommission the plant, not so hot of a deal anymore.

Once you get beyond that, you reach financial limitations, like it would be nice to get a rate of return on investment above 0.0000001% or else you won't get the loan to build the plant.

Re:All about cost efficiency (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930654)

Effectively what they're doing is turning sunlight into chemical energy. The process sounds complex at first glance, so can it be more efficient than other methods of capturing solar energy? From a technical POV the percentage of sunlight captured is interesting. But from a business POV the costs are interesting, and I think overall more important: real estate footprint, amortized capital costs, and operational costs. Where do these fall relative to other methods?

Well, best comparison model is probably farming, where your typical crop runs about 1 or 2 percent efficiency from sunlight to glucose but these guys can almost make methane at 15% efficiency. Also fertilizer and insecticide costs are zero and theoretically you can produce whenever the sun is up regardless of outdoor temperature.

So I'm thinking it would be a bit more capital intensive and much less risky than industrial farming.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Photosynthetic_efficiency [wikipedia.org]

How expensive is this thing Cerium? (3, Interesting)

140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930016)

That strange and exotic metal Cerium, is it at least cheaper than gold? How rare is this? Admittedly it sucks to have our oil stuck under their sand, but trading it for our Cerium stuck in their jungle is not a better solution either.

Re:How expensive is this thing Cerium? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930210)

According to http://www.chemicool.com/elements/cerium.html [chemicool.com]

Cost, pure: $162 per 100g
Cost, bulk: $1.20 per 100g
Source: Cerium is the most abundant of the lanthanides. It is not found free in nature but is found in a number of minerals, mainly allanite, bastnasite and monazite. Commercially, cerium is prepared by electrolysis of the chloride or by reduction of the fused fluoride with calcium.

The increased cost of the pure element Ce comes from refining it via electrolysis from it's naturally occuring state in various rare minerals. The article does not seem to mention the energy costs of refining the Cerium. So, although with this element, no electrolysis is needed to separate C from O2, electolysis is needed to obtain the element itself. Nothing is free (except Linux maybe).

Re:How expensive is this thing Cerium? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930216)

Cerium is also used in CMP slurries in newer processs silicon wafers - it's also one of the rare earths that China is currently restricting export on.

Re:How expensive is this thing Cerium? (2)

olsmeister (1488789) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930266)

Another rare earth, which China has started rationing to the rest of the world .... [publicbroadcasting.net] , as I sit here watching the Chinese president speak from the White House.

Re:How expensive is this thing Cerium? (4, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930274)

That strange and exotic metal Cerium, is it at least cheaper than gold? How rare is this? Admittedly it sucks to have our oil stuck under their sand, but trading it for our Cerium stuck in their jungle is not a better solution either.

It's strange and exotic, at say, McDonalds or Pick n Save food store. On the other hand, Home Depot probably sells cans of it and its widely industrially available in bulk and used for all kinds of things.

Its extremely cheap compared to gold. Heck its pretty cheap compared to nickel, tin, and only about twice as costly as copper. Its about ten time as expensive as bulk raw aluminum per pound.

Its a relatively common semi-industrial metal used in all manner of catalysts and especially grinding processes. Cerium Oxide grinding paste sells for about $10 per pound. You can pay more retail in small cans if you'd like, or perhaps you could contract down to 50 cents per ounce if you bought a unit-train of railroad cars worth of it.

Ask your local (working, not retail) jeweler, whom probably has some quart cans of different size grits for polishing stuff.

Unlike the polishing / grinding industry, the catalyst industry would probably recycle heavily. So I'm thinking it would remain relatively cheap even if usage increased.

Why bother? (0)

Uzito (771420) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930024)

This does not make any sense. A simple chemical reaction of methane burning is CH4 + 2*O2 -> CO2 + 2*H2O + 890 kJ/mol energy freed during the process.. So in order to convert CO2 and water back to methane and oxygen you need to spend the same 890 kJ/mol energy. Okay, you get the energy from the sun, but why not to use the sun to generate the energy directly without doing the CO2 conversion back and forth?

Re:Why bother? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930152)

how do you purpose to get this energy direcly from the sun? Solar panels are horribly inefficient, and would probably take up way more space than one of these solar concentration plants to produce the same ammount of energy... unless i missed it, i didnt see a mains outlet on the sun?

Re:Why bother? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930154)

Because there is no "getting energy from the sun directly". Other methods of solar energy also use chemical shenanigans to actually store the energy gained from the Sun.

Re:Why bother? (3, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930158)

You would think with someone who can manage to type out the chemical chain you would know the sun doesn't shine at night. SO you need to STORE the energy.

But no, you go on poo-pooing the idea without bothering to think in any logical or rational manner. We certainly don't have enough people like that already~

Have you considered working for Glen Beck?

Re:Why bother? (0)

MichaelKristopeit331 (1966802) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930258)

who is "We"?

you are exactly what you've claimed to be: NOTHING.

cower behind your chosen pseudonym some more, feeb.

you're completely pathetic.

Re:Why bother? (1)

Uzito (771420) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930288)

Yes the sun does not shine at night indeed and there are some losses in converting sun rays into a usable energy using regular solar panels. But exactly the same issues are present in the proposed co2+h2o reactor project.

Re:Why bother? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930676)

But you can divert some of the methane created into a storage tank to use during the hours when the sun isn't shining. If you have a plain photo-voltaic system you'd have to divert some of the energy to batteries. If you used a solar furnace that simply turned water to steam then you'd want to find a way to store some of the heat and that's being addressed by storing heat in salt.

All these systems that depend on converting solar energy into electricity or some other form of transportable energy have to address what to do when the sun goes down.

The only alternative energy sources that don't depend on storing something for a rainy day are wind and nuclear and there are days when the wind doesn't blow either so If you want a fully 7 by 24, 365 day a year power source, you've better start mining uranium.

Re:Why bother? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930352)

This does not make any sense. A simple chemical reaction of methane burning is
CH4 + 2*O2 -> CO2 + 2*H2O + 890 kJ/mol energy freed during the process.. So in order to convert CO2 and water back to methane and oxygen you need to spend the same 890 kJ/mol energy. Okay, you get the energy from the sun, but why not to use the sun to generate the energy directly without doing the CO2 conversion back and forth?

Because we're "experts" at storing, stockpiling, and using methane gas, but attempts to store sunlight for later use, perhaps by bouncing it between two parallel mirrors or something, is way beyond our (current) technology.

Also ask a petrochemical engineer about the way cool things you can make given a large supply of methane. Pretty much any organic chemistry compound (with pretty obvious exceptions, like you're going to need some metal atoms from somewhere if you want to make organometallics, amines are going to need nitrogen, etc)

Re:Why bother? (1)

mfnickster (182520) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930826)

H2O and CO2 would be converted to methane, would fuel electricity-producing power plants that generate more CO2 and H2O, to keep the process going.

Indeed, this part made no sense to me. Why would you put energy into producing a methane only to burn it for electricity?

The whole point of going to methane/syngas/ethanol is because you can store it and transport it, and use it for applications that require more concentrated energy than solar or batteries will give you. You're going to have unnecessary losses if you use it to generate electricity. You'd be better off just running a steam generator off the solar furnace.

Re:Why bother? (1)

wagnerrp (1305589) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930522)

There are certain applications where hydrocarbon energy storage makes sense. High power electric motors and batteries are still very expensive compared to an internal combustion engine of the same output. Batteries simply don't have the power density to run airliners. It's easier to ship fuel to generators at remote outposts than charged batteries.

If you were simply dumping this energy back onto the grid, you are correct. You would just use a normal solar plant directly. The 40% efficiency conversion you would get with a collecting tower and heat engine would far exceed the hoped for 15% conversion you get out of this device, and the subsequent 40% conversion when burning it.

So the new thing here is... (1)

mschaffer (97223) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930080)

So, the only real novel thing here is utilizing solar energy to heat the backwards fuel cell. The "reactor" isn't really new.
Anyhow, If they can make it work reliably, efficiently, and cost effectively, they may be on to something.

Re:So the new thing here is... (1)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930488)

That is where I always expected fuel cells to go. I refrigerator sized unit on the side of my house with a storage tank for the gas it produced during the day from the solar cells on the roof, and I could cut the cord to the power company. Batteries are still the biggest problem for getting off the grid for electricity.

Old News (3, Informative)

jklovanc (1603149) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930102)

This has already been discussed two years ago here http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/08/01/06/1620228/Scientists-Recycle-CO2-with-Sunlight-to-Make-Fuel [slashdot.org] .

Re:Old News (1)

Arlet (29997) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930134)

And the efficiency is still extremely poor.

Re:Old News (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34930528)

we should stop all research now. not good enough for Arlet!

Is this the build-up to some joke? (0, Troll)

DriedClexler (814907) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930106)

So, let me get this straight: Caltech scientists are telling us that, "Okay, we've got this awesome machine going on! See, it stores energy from the sun in a useable form, and does it by stripping the oxygen off the CO2 molecules, which it can then exhale in a way that's also useful to us. Totally game changing!"

And after we applaud them for this, their plan is to say, "Yeah, and it's called a plant, morons!"

Re:Is this the build-up to some joke? (1)

Sentrion (964745) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930644)

Except that we're not allowed to build these reactors with actual "plants". "Plants" cannot be patented due to some "prior art" BS. Everybody knows we can't make technological or economic progress without venture capital, patents, copyrights, licensing agreements, enforceable contracts, corporate lobbying, government regulations, outsourcing, offshoring, executive bonuses, business lunches, corporate gifts, executive perks, and high profit margins.

Duh!

Re:Is this the build-up to some joke? (1)

northernfrights (1653323) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930776)

Since when do plants store energy in a way that's efficiently useful to us? You can't build a car that runs off your bags of mowed grass, you can build a car that runs off H2. This is no joke.

Patent trick (3, Interesting)

Iffie (1410897) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930324)

This is old stuf, but the metals originally proposed are not rare and the patent has expired. I did a piece about it here.. http://www.greencheck.nl/index.php?/archives/279-De-Rare-Earth-Mythe.html [greencheck.nl] It shows the patents and the reactions proposed. Supressed technology is reintroduced as an invention. Cerium spiked up 600 perscent last august..

Re:Patent trick (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930648)

They probably created their own patents by adding "on the internet" somewhere in their proposal. There are billions of those type of patents.

here we go again. (1)

villain222 (1120485) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930340)

I'm getting a little tired of all this future tech stuff that sounds like it will solve all of our problems, but never seems to come to fruition. throw this one on the list with Transporters and Warp drives.

Re:here we go again. (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930516)

I'm getting a little tired of all this future tech stuff that sounds like it will solve all of our problems, but never seems to come to fruition.

Yeah, we should probably just stop trying. After all, we'd stop being disappointed that way.

"You tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is 'never try'."

Old News... (0)

DarthVain (724186) | more than 3 years ago | (#34930738)

This has got to be the oldest news story on Slasdot at about 4.6 Billion years too late.

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