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New Plastic to Cut CO2 Emissions and Purify Water

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 6 years ago | from the green-plastic dept.

Science 120

Roland Piquepaille writes "Researchers have lots of imagination. After developing plastic as solid as steel, other scientists from in Australia, Korea and in the U.S. have created a plastic which could cut CO2 emissions and purify water. Their new material mimics pores found in plants and is exceptionally efficient. As said one of the lead researchers, 'it can separate carbon dioxide from natural gas a few hundred times faster than current plastic membranes and its performance is four times better in terms of purity of the separated gas.' Now it remains to be seen if commercial companies are interested, either for water desalination or for natural gas processing plants."

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120 comments

Esculation of promises (3, Interesting)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988469)

"could cut" becomes "to cut". Probably previously in the chain there's a "might cut". No wonder we get so many hyped technologies that never deliver.

Re:Esculation of promises (4, Interesting)

jfengel (409917) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988513)

Just wait. This is Slashdot, where there's at least a vague hope of somebody understanding a bit of science. By the time this hits the regular papers it will be "cuts".

Re:Esculation of promises (1)

clsours (1089711) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988645)

The material works. The only question is, Will it be cost-feasible to employ this plastic? In future as carbon trading opens up and becomes a market reality in more places, the answer will probably be yes.
Also, to be filed under Something gained in translation:
"analysed the material, which was initially engineered by Ho Bum Park"
Or maybe file it under 3rd grade humour.

Re:Esculation of promises (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#20990093)

Will it be cost-feasible to employ this plastic? In future as carbon trading opens up and becomes a market reality in more places, the answer will probably be yes

so, in other words, its not cost feasible now, but, we can raise taxes on CO2 emissions to make it that way.

Re:Esculation of promises (2, Interesting)

rtb61 (674572) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991445)

It would be more accurate to say that they can make the material in highly complex limited run laboratory setting but they have not yet gone onto developing mass production techniques for creating the plastic film on a large scale.

The current Australian government has shifted CSIRO's focus from working in the interest of all Australian citizens to working in the intrests of corporate profits. Where as before they would immediately have gone on to develop mass production techniques due to the obvious benefit to all Australian citizens and the rest of the world, now, there is just the drive to pass it onto corporate friends of the current administration for high profit exploitation.

So this is the marketing to sell the product on to a selected corporation for some token value, which the citizens of the three countries involved can then buy back at a greatly inflated mark up.

It is likely in the near future Australia will be shifting to nuclear power and using a substantial portion of the energy generated for quite a few desalination plants in the southern half of the country.

Which is why you'd hope for sanity (1)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988779)

No need for /. to overhype. Leave that to USA Today.

What the F%$K (1)

WED Fan (911325) | more than 6 years ago | (#20994415)

Hey, people, so far, in reading the comment sections, I have yet to see a single anti-MS rant. Can we get it together and start bashing MS?

Be careful. Possible fraud. (-1, Troll)

Futurepower(R) (558542) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988853)

Be careful. Roland Piquepaille, the man who wrote the Slashdot story submission, is paid to write stories. Many of the people who pay him seem to want investment money, and also seem to have no hope of making a profit, because of faulty science.

Slashdot editors have never said whether they take money from Roland Piquepaille to post the stories he writes.

Re:Be careful. Possible fraud. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20989305)

You complain about Roland Piquepaille. I actually find more insight into just one story submitted by Roland than all of the stories submitted by Twitter. If you want to complain about anyone, complain about twitter and all of his FUD that is submitted as stories.

Doesn't make sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20990007)

That isn't logical. You are saying we should accept abuse because there are other abusers?

Re:Esculation of promises (1)

ArAgost (853804) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992445)

By the time this hits the regular papers it will be "cuts".
So, uhm, are we reading news on the BLEEDING edge?

Re:Esculation of promises (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20988591)

"could cut" becomes "to cut". Probably previously in the chain there's a "might cut".

It's the difference between asking "can I" versus "may I". As a kid, asking my father the former got the response "I don't know, are you capable of it?".

It seems their tests have shown that they are capable of it, now they just need to find companies and ask them "may I reduce your waste levels?" Who knows, maybe a company will decide that expending money to not kill off everyone downstream/downwind/etc. is worth it either in terms of advertising to their customers, government regulations, or locals with torches and pitchforks.

Re:Esculation of promises (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20988791)

ahh... another story submitted by roland, once again... this guy kills me.

Re:Esculation of promises (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#20989009)

I believe the "might" part was put in originally because um...what do you do with the CO2 trapped on the other side of the membrane? ooh didn't think of that one, did they? lol. Well at least it filters water.

Re:Esculation of promises (1)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 6 years ago | (#20989481)

Gosh, and after that, maybe "esculation" will become "escalation". No promises, though.

Re:Esculation of promises (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20992739)

Osculate my gluteus maximus, you spelling bee!

Re:Esculation of promises (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20989759)

"could cut" becomes "to cut". Probably previously in the chain there's a "might cut". No wonder we get so many hyped technologies that never deliver.

Oh, no -- I'm sure any technology that might cut CO2 emissions and might purify water also might restore virginity.

Editorial Sensationalism (3, Informative)

Sentri (910293) | more than 6 years ago | (#20990385)

Now now, the CSIRO are actually a respectable scientific body that research and develop countless products, dont believe me? Have a look at 802.11n (for example)

From the Article:
"This plastic will help solve problems of small molecule separation, whether related to clean coal technology, separating greenhouse gases, increasing the energy efficiency of water purification, or producing and delivering energy from hydrogen," Dr Anita Hill of CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering said.
"The ability of the new plastic to separate small molecules surpasses the limits of any conventional plastics."
"It can separate carbon dioxide from natural gas a few hundred times faster than current plastic membranes and its performance is four times better in terms of purity of the separated gas."

All wishy washyness about the abilities of the substance is the editorialising of slashdot and the writer of the article

(802.11n link with a fairly complete look at the picture: http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20070924-dark-australian-patent-cloud-looms-over-802-11n-spec.html [arstechnica.com] though it does kind of skirt around the fact that the CSIRO were ripped off in the past by the worldwide adoption clause and they are attempting to avoid the same again )

Re:Editorial Sensationalism (1)

poena.dare (306891) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991087)

All wishy washyness about the abilities of the substance is the editorialising of slashdot and the writer of the article

Well, if we had a really good filter...

Re:Editorial Sensationalism (2, Insightful)

instarx (615765) | more than 6 years ago | (#20994383)

And please note that the membrane seperates CO2 from natural gas. Big deal. It isn't CO2 contamination in NG that's the problem, its the CO2 that's produced when the natural gas is burned. Now, does it take CO2 out of *exhaust* gases efficiently? If so it could be useful, but this smells of hype to me.

Re:Editorial Sensationalism: not necessarily (2, Insightful)

CodeShark (17400) | more than 6 years ago | (#20996323)

The significant statements about this new plastic are as follows:
  • it separates small molecules from larger ones very quickly
  • at a higher purity level than current membranes,
  • and it does so at a higher temperature.
What this presumably means is that a properly used filter could be used to clean up combustion related gases, etc., returning the unburned hydrocarbons to a burner perhaps, and allowing the the remaining C02 and water molecules to be further processed later on.The next step in the line is the one that I think is the holy grail here -- to be able to separate the water and H20 from the exhaust air stream for sequestration and whatever the presumably purified water vapor would be useful for.

obligatory charlie brown (4, Insightful)

Asshat_Nazi (946431) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988477)

We'll just sit here in the pumpkin patch, and you can see the Great Pumpkin with your OWN EYES.

Re:obligatory charlie brown (1)

schnikies79 (788746) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988593)

offtopic or not, Charlie Brown should NEVER be modded down!

Re:obligatory charlie brown (2, Funny)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988993)

offtopic or not, Charlie Brown should NEVER be modded down!

That's just too far off topic for me to agree with you this time.

Though I will also say

In soviet Russia, Charlie Brown down moderates YOU

Artificial Kidney? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20988487)

Can any medical types address the application of this material to artificial kidneys?

Re:Artificial Kidney? (2, Interesting)

Abeydoun (1096003) | more than 6 years ago | (#20990645)

IICAMS (I am currently a medical student) Unless it has some other interesting characteristic not mentioned, the only potential use I see in dialysis/an artificial kidney would be to increase serum pH. But in someone with renal problems and is likely to be fairly physically inactive, the lungs already do a fairly decent job at regulating high pH by C02 removal. Nonetheless, the lungs' ability to regulate pH is more of a redundancy/tweaking technique to make the system more robust and as such they don't do as good of as job as the kidneys.

For those interested, in the physiology of it, red blood cells carry an enzyme (carbonate anhydrase) that helps establish the equilibrium of

H+ + HCO2- <---> H2CO3 <---carb anhydrase---> H20 + CO2

So by Le Chatelier's principle, if you can actively tweak the concentration pH by actively removing CO2 from the system, driving the equilibrium to the right and decreasing the amount of H2CO3 (and as a result H+) increasing the overall serum pH up.

Re:Artificial Kidney? (1)

Renraku (518261) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991741)

The major problem with creating artificial organs is one of flexibility.

Your kidneys, for example, do much more than just filter blood. They keep the pH livable, help control blood volume and consistency, secrete a few hormones, and help maintain blood pressure.

This material could be reworked to possibly improve the function of dialysis machines, however, if its not just right or flexible enough to become just right, even that will be far fetched..

Nothing in your body has just one purpose.

not news (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20988559)

Cowboy Neal has been wearing a buttplug while eating at Taco Bell for years.

'Nah', say industry groups. (1)

RyanFenton (230700) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988569)

"Nah", say industry groups.

"We've got enough money." They elaborate.

Honestly though - if this works out, these inherently filtering plastics would become the new... well, plastics sub-industry. Assuming the filters don't break down too rapidly, and wouldn't be inherently too limited in terms of materials/temperatures they can sort with, the variety of functions they could perform would mimic what we see in life all around us.

In addition the potential use in farming and the sciences would produce a direct benefit to humanity and our sustainability beyond the usual commercial concerns.

Ryan Fenton

Re:'Nah', say industry groups. (1)

P3NIS_CLEAVER (860022) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988655)

There is nothing 'new' about this. There are commercial plastics used to desalinize water (reverse osmosis) and membranes used to concentrate oxygen in the gaseous state.

Re:'Nah', say industry groups. (2, Interesting)

RyanFenton (230700) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988701)

If you're implying I lack complete understanding here - you're right. But all that I've seen of filtering plastics have been macroscopic plastic forms that either hold a solution in a shape that maximizes some process (evaporation, condensation), or are otherwise just the container for the real filtering process. The single-piece plastic with inherent filtering properties like a cell wall is what seems new to me.

Ryan Fenton

Re:'Nah', say industry groups. (3, Interesting)

tcolberg (998885) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988909)

The hope is that the may be the or one of the few steps necessary to making water desalination reasonable on a massive level. For example, the Western States of the US are in constant bickering over limited water rights. This and similar technologies may bring water desalination costs down to a point where such worries about fresh water are unnecessary.

I know a lot of people love to point to conservation, but cities like Los Angeles are already conserving a lot of water. Urban areas in California only use around 10% of fresh water in the state, with agriculture using most of the rest.

Re:'Nah', say industry groups. (2, Insightful)

deek (22697) | more than 6 years ago | (#20990187)

This and similar technologies may bring water desalination costs down to a point where such worries about fresh water are unnecessary.


There _are_ other issues with desalination, other than cost. Like, what do you do with the salty brine by-product? Tip it back into the ocean? That could cause environmental problems.

Still, on a small scale, a cheap and efficient desalination product would be brilliant! I'd certainly buy a handheld version, when I go camping near the ocean.

Re:'Nah', say industry groups. (2, Interesting)

SEE (7681) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992043)

It's like sulfur. If you were to commercially mine coal just for the sulfur, you'd lose money competing with other sulfur sources. But scrubbing sulfur from coal smoke to comply with environmental rules extracts the sulfur anyway. The result has been a total collapse of the commercial sulfur-mining industry as power plants try to sell off the huge stockpiles of sulfur they're amassing.

Similarly, high-concentration brine is an excellent source of salt. Other sources of salt are currently economically competitive with and even somewhat superior to extraction from seawater. But the byproduct brine from a commercially viable desalination plant will be much more concentrated; converting that into salt will be much cheaper than direct extraction from seawater. Throw in environmental rules against just dumping the brine, and you wind up with lots of cheap salt replacing other commercial sources.

True, you might wind up with impressive stockpiles of salt after a while (like we have with sulfur), but that's just an open invitation for somebody to develop a productive use for it all. (Gasoline was once just a mostly-useless byproduct of kerosene production . . . ) Fill in the existing salt mines with it, maybe.

Re:'Nah', say industry groups. (1)

Eivind (15695) | more than 6 years ago | (#20994031)

Why would that cause problems, other than extremely locally ? You're not changing the total amount of salt in the sea, nor the total amount of water in the sea, so the end-result should be pretty close to zero. Keep in mind that the water isn't permanently removed from the sea, it returns to the sea in short order. If it *is* a problem locally, which also seems pretty unlikely except in extremely closed, small, sea-arms, the obvious solution is simply more mixing.

Re:'Nah', say industry groups. (2, Interesting)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 6 years ago | (#20989387)

There is a catch, of course: Plastics are often derived from oil.

Re:'Nah', say industry groups. (1)

RyanFenton (230700) | more than 6 years ago | (#20989429)

There is a catch, of course: Plastics are often derived from oil.

Certainly - but when you can better filter the Canadian oil shale...

Ryan Fenton

Re:'Nah', say industry groups. (1)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 6 years ago | (#20989451)

Certainly - but when you can better filter the Canadian oil shale...
Maybe they can use plastics for that... ;-)

Re:'Nah', say industry groups. (1)

jollyreaper (513215) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991109)

There is a catch, of course: Plastics are often derived from oil.
But we can create oil with those -- shit, I forget the name of them, you put turkey offal in one end and get hydrocarbons out the other. The point is, we can do that with people, to. I say we start with the Texas oil men.

Essentially a plastic version of a plant membrane (5, Informative)

bomanbot (980297) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988571)

Well I read TFA and the concept behind that plastic is deceptively simple: It is a membrane consisting of hourglass-shaped pores, which seemingly is a very efficient shape for pores and is also used in plant cell membranes.

So in essence, this plastic is a plant membrane in plastic form, which is not a radically advanced concept, but a really clever one and if it works as advertised, kudos to the research teams.

Re:Essentially a plastic version of a plant membra (1)

asadodetira (664509) | more than 6 years ago | (#20989645)

In my opinion the press release distorted somewhow the facts in an attempt to make it more understandable. According to the article in science they actually don't know for sure what the shape of the material. Based on absorption experiments they assume the pore structure is similar to that of activated carbon or zeolites, instead of the pore structure of usual polymer membranes.

Net reduction -vs- Net produced (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20988605)

I would be curious if this is a net reduction of CO2 considering the processes of getting oil from oil sands in the ground to final molded plastic CO2 trap. It takes a lot of CO2 to get that oil out of the ground, process it into resin for plastic manufactoring then make the final molded CO2 trap. 4 + 4 - 2 != 0 CO2 Seems like marketing has jumped on the CO2 product marketing band wagon.

Re:Net reduction -vs- Net produced (1)

clsours (1089711) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988691)

This is the kind of question that always needs to be asked, whenever a technology promises to do something 'cleaner'. Oftentimes the new technology is more expensive, requires more processing, more raw materials, and sometimes more dangerous materials.

What I want to know is ... (5, Insightful)

DivineGod (1160361) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988621)

... will the CO2 emission from producing the plastic be worth the amount saved by using it?

Re:What I want to know is ... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20988807)

Well the whole CO2 thing is for the unscientific PC crowd that didn't realize when Al Gore displayed the historic climate temperature and CO2 gas concentration slide that the graphs were skewed. The rise CO2 levels FOLLOWED the rise in temperature NOT the other way around. D'OH! So much for the scientific method.

Re:What I want to know is ... (1)

gotonull (1054170) | more than 6 years ago | (#20990389)

What I want to know is how the crazy /.ers manage to get !steve and jobs to line up EVERY TIME

Copying Nature (5, Insightful)

lloy0076 (624338) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988673)

Well, those who innovate turn once again to Parental Nature for inspiration; not entirely surprising seeing Parental Nature either has:

  • Millions of years of evolution to get it right; or
  • A supremely Intelligent Designer

I just hope enough of Parental Nature is around the place for long enough before we lose the wealth of knowledge and technology which we can copy.

Re:Copying Nature (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 6 years ago | (#20990751)

Yes, but one day that intelligent designer is going to come down from the heavens, and instead of another 40 day and 40 night flood there is going to be a huge patent lawsuit on all the things we've copied from nature. No amount of rainbows is going to fix that mess!

Re:Copying Nature (1)

dpilot (134227) | more than 6 years ago | (#20993723)

Quick, file a business process patent on "Evolution by natural selection as a mechanism for Intelligent Design." Recent patent reform in the US changes things from first-to-invent to first-to-file. Since the above business process is critical to all the mechanisms of nature that we're copying, we can cut off any infringement suits by the Intelligent Designer at the knees with this one.

what the fuck (3, Funny)

Jafafa Hots (580169) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988735)

does "as solid as steel" mean?

They mean it's not a liquid, gas, or plasma (3, Insightful)

bigtrike (904535) | more than 6 years ago | (#20989047)

Perhaps they're referring to the state? Although if it's a plastic, it's probably an amorphous solid and lacks a crystalline structure like steel.

Re:what the fuck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20990297)

it's a bad translation from French I guess. It should be "as strong as steel".

Lead scientists? (3, Funny)

youthoftoday (975074) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988761)

Surely that's a highly toxic metal (at least its compounds are)? Does that cancel out the good this will do?

Re:Lead scientists? (1)

Xinef Jyinaer (1044268) | more than 6 years ago | (#20989175)

What a foul attempt at a pun.

Re:Lead scientists? (1)

springbox (853816) | more than 6 years ago | (#20989369)

It's funny because those are two words that are spelled the same way. Like bass and bass.

Re:Lead scientists? (1)

Xinef Jyinaer (1044268) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991263)

No no, It's not funny, it's really pathetic. Need I quote Samuel Johnson? (while personally I love a good pun, the grand-parents pun is just so pathetic)

purify things other than water (4, Interesting)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 6 years ago | (#20988929)

I would like to see a plastic that can purify ethanol, instead of using the extremely inefficient method of boiling to distill the ethanol. All that boiling is one of the big reasons ethanol is impractical in the US. (we don't have the climate for sugarcane)

Re:purify things other than water (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#20989209)

Huh? Even if we did have the climate for sugarcane - we'd still need to distill the result to purify it.

Re:purify things other than water (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 6 years ago | (#20989471)

Yes but you get a lot more ethanol out of sugarcane than you do corn, so you can actually get more energy out of sugarcane than you put in it. basically you are actually benefiting from the sunlight the plants collected, but currently with corn you put in as much if not more energy trying to convert it. If you are operating your farms mainly near coal power plants you are just going through a round about way of converting coal into ethanol. (should just use coal gas then, it's cheaper)

I assumed all slashdotters knew the main hitch with corn ethanol as fuel cars, sorry if I wasn't more clear.

Re:purify things other than water (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#20990957)

Yes but you get a lot more ethanol out of sugarcane than you do corn, so you can actually get more energy out of sugarcane than you put in it. basically you are actually benefiting from the sunlight the plants collected, but currently with corn you put in as much if not more energy trying to convert it. If you are operating your farms mainly near coal power plants you are just going through a round about way of converting coal into ethanol. (should just use coal gas then, it's cheaper)

You have no clue what you are talking about.
 
 

I assumed all slashdotters knew the main hitch with corn ethanol as fuel cars, sorry if I wasn't more clear.

What is the major hitch? It's not purification (which is required for any ethanol source), nor is it the pseudoscientific babble you post above.

Re:purify things other than water (1)

Bryan Ischo (893) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991277)

Well Mr. Derek Lyons, until you provide even the slightest explanation for your attacks on his statements, it looks like *you* are the one spouting bullshit here.

In other words - it's not very interesting when you just say to someone "you are wrong." It's much more interesting when you give *reasons* for disagreeing.

Try to be a little more interesting, ok?

Re:purify things other than water (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991575)

One doesn't debate pseudoscientific nonsense - one merely notes its existence and moves on. (And when one has the wit to take the rational part in such a debate, once can differentiate between so noting and attacks.)

Re:purify things other than water (1)

OrangeTide (124937) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991495)

More distillation steps == more energy.

Higher sugar content == less processing to convert starches into sugars. Also sugar cane has much higher carbohydrate yield per unit area than corn does.

This is stuff we already know, and is proven in numerous publications written on the subject. In addition it is easily confirmed independently.

Where do farms get the energy to boil their fermented corn to distill the ethanol? Solar, wind, hydro, nuclear. That would be ideal, but the most cynical of us think burning coal is going to be the most likely. It's already been shown that ethanol corn farms cannot produce enough energy burning ethanol to actually power the entire process.

In fact it makes little business sense to burn any ethanol at your corn-to-ethanol factory, because we already know corn ethanol is not the cheapest energy source. Not by a long shot.

I was only trying to show that if you had a device that could eliminate some of the more expensive aspects of production that economics of corn ethanol could be dramatically changes. Pretty exciting stuff if you ask me.

Re:purify things other than water (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991645)

More distillation steps == more energy.

Difference needed in distillation steps between sugarcane and corn == zero.
 
 

Higher sugar content == less processing to convert starches into sugars.

Very little processing is required to convert starches into sugars - one merely malts, or uses enzymatic processes directly.
 
 

This is stuff we already know, and is proven in numerous publications written on the subject. In addition it is easily confirmed independently.

In addition it is handwaving bullshit having nothing to do with the topic at hand.
 
 

It's already been shown that ethanol corn farms cannot produce enough energy burning ethanol to actually power the entire process.

You just might try and read up on ethanol production - because sugarcane based ethanol can't either. It requires substantial energy input (above and beyond the bagasse) to make work.
 
 

I was only trying to show that if you had a device that could eliminate some of the more expensive aspects of production that economics of corn ethanol could be dramatically changes.

You're parroting crap you've read other places, without understanding it. In some circles, that makes you look smart. In others, it makes you look like and ass.

Re:purify things other than water (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20991707)

He's right, in a round about (and confusing) way. Some citations:

Whims, J., 2002, "Corn Based Ethanol Costs and Margins", Attachment 1,
AGMRC, Kansas State U.,

DOE, 1998, "Cellulosic Ethanol: R&D Status & Carbon Emissions", U.S. Dept.
of Energy.

F.O. Lichts, 2003, "World Ethanol and Fuels Report"

FURJ, 1998, "Overview of Latin American Technology Development for
Avoiding Greenhouse Gas Emissions", Federal University of Rio de Janeiro,
November. file paper E10.

EF, 2002, "Argentina, Bio-diesel and the CDM", Environmental Finance,
February

Ho, S.P., 1989, "Global Warming Impact of Ethanol v. Gasoline", Presentation
at Conference Clean Air Issues and America's Motor Fuel Business,
Washington DC, October.

Johnson, F.X., 2002, "Bioenergy from Sugar Cane for Sustainable
Development and Climate Mitigation: Options, Impacts and Strategies for
International Co-operation",

Hamelinck, C. et al., 2003, "Prospects for ethanol from lignocellulosic biomass:
techno-economic performance as development progresses", Utrecht University,
Report NWS-E-2003-55

Re:purify things other than water (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 6 years ago | (#20993413)

"Difference needed in distillation steps between sugarcane and corn == zero."

Sugarcane ethanol is distillated 3 times. But I don't know how many times corn ethanol is distillated. Anyway, the distillation of a solution with a bigger concentration of ethanol uses less energy than one with bigger concentration of water.

"Very little processing is required to convert starches into sugars - one merely malts, or uses enzymatic processes directly."

Moiling sugarcane is easier tough. But that isn't probalty that important.

"It requires substantial energy input (above and beyond the bagasse) to make work."

If you are talking about the plant, you are wrong. Sugarcane etanol plants work with the energy extracted from the bagasse, and still sell some eletricity to the grid.

Now, if you are talking about the entire cycle, you are right. Sugarcane uses more energy in the form of fertilizer, tractor fuel, plant powering and transportation than there is on the bagasse.

Re:purify things other than water (1)

mkcheme (824521) | more than 6 years ago | (#20994697)

The energy cost to biomass --> ethanol is not in the distillation, it's in the enzymatic digestion of the biomass into fermentable sugars. Current processes require large amounts of enzymes made in a separate process. According to a recent talk at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston, the smart money is in pairing the enzymatic digestion with microorganisms that exoress the enzymes. This compresses two steps into one ("process intensification") and as a side benefit, the enzymes and microbes work better together than individually.

Re:purify things other than water (1)

Your Pal Dave (33229) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991403)

The big advantage you get with sugarcane is that the remaining cane material, bagasse [wikipedia.org], can be burned to provide heat for the distillation process. Beets have a comparable yield to cane in terms of amount of sugar per acre, but require an external energy source to distill the ethanol, so the overall energy yield is much lower.

A membrane separation method would be a big boon here.

Re:purify things other than water (2, Interesting)

technococcus (990913) | more than 6 years ago | (#20991369)

The other big reason ethanol is impractical everywhere is that its lower heating value is less than half that of gasoline. Translation: You have to burn at least twice as much (by weight; more than that by volume) to get the same energy output. Considering the carbon content of a kg of ethanol vs. that of a kg of gasoline, there's absolutely no reason to support such a terrible stopgap. Get on board with gas-electric hybrids, all-electrics, small light diesels (efficiency, go!), and fast-breeder nuclear plants to reduce emissions, please.

Re:purify things other than water (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20996079)

Don't forget that durned azeotrope [wikipedia.org] issue. Of course, there are ways to get around this, but why bother, when there's so much money left to be made with the currently installed infrastructure? Once the oil runs out, we can use sensible means, like catalytic drying of Bio-engineered EtOH/HOH, instead of e.g. [expensive] vacuum distillation, to purify our next generation cash cow. In the mean time, we've got $$$Billions$$$ invested in oil - and we want to see a good Return On Investment.

As an aside, I studied Chemical Engineering, when I was at the university (work in "material science", now) and, as a "Senior Design" project, we were required to work out (as students) a plan for a plant which would produce fuel-grade ethanol, with a minimum of 15% ROI, using [then] current technology. This was more than 10 years ago, and that 15% was *easily* achievable (on paper).

Then What? (4, Interesting)

headhot (137860) | more than 6 years ago | (#20989267)

What happens to the plastic membrane after it absorbs the CO2? Does it get recycled? thrown out? Burned?

Re:Then What? (1, Informative)

The Master Control P (655590) | more than 6 years ago | (#20989665)

The membrane doesn't absorb anything. Once you finish snickering at the graphic that depicts individual molecules passing through smoothly-machined pores, you can see it's just a molecular-size seive; The linear CO2 molecules can present a small enough cross-section to go through if they line up axially; Tetrahedral methane and larger organic chains can't, so it efficiently sorts fluids based on molecule size.

It looks a lot like a nanopatterned plastic zeolite [wikipedia.org] actually.

separate CO2 from air? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#20989595)

Could a variant of this extract CO2 directly from air, by making the pores big enough for O2 and N but not CO2? Probably not scalable to scrubbing global-warming agents from the atmosphere, but might be useful for extracting carbon from air to combine with hydrogen from wind or nuclear, to product synthetic methane or liquid fuel. The alternative is to use carbon from biomass, but that requires harvesting and transportation; pulling it straight out of air would be simpler.

Re:separate CO2 from air? (1)

the Jim Bloke (1110963) | more than 6 years ago | (#20990269)

The size of the pores defines what the membrane will filter. Now, to my limited chemical knowledge, a molecule consisting of 2 oxygen atoms is going to be smaller than a molecule consisting of 2 oxygen atoms and a carbon atom. On those grounds, the membrane would have to be used in reverse as it were, allowing the O2 and N2(how big is N2, compared to CO2 ?) to pass through while trapping the CO2. The efficiency of simply filtering normal atmosphere wouldnt be very high though. Much more cost effective to filter out the CO2 at industrial sources of it, where you are assured of a high quantity.

Re:separate CO2 from air? (1)

orkysoft (93727) | more than 6 years ago | (#20990387)

It would be even simpler to put those membranes on top of smoke stacks of factories, that way, they could isolate the CO2 near the big sources.

The many small sources would be a lot harder, of course.

Oh Great, Something New to Make Prices Go Up (1)

bratwiz (635601) | more than 6 years ago | (#20990113)


I'm sure some bright spot will be able to explain it away. How now they have a new technology that can do it faster, cheaper and better than ever before-- and yet somehow, in the end, it will translate to more cost to the consumer.

Re:Oh Great, Something New to Make Prices Go Up (1)

kybred (795293) | more than 6 years ago | (#20990271)

I'm sure some bright spot will be able to explain it away. How now they have a new technology that can do it faster, cheaper and better than ever before-- and yet somehow, in the end, it will translate to more cost to the consumer.

3 words: Patent License Fees

Desalination is huge (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#20990151)

Any improvement in desalination is a welcome one. We need big desalination plants around the world to feasibly meet demands for fresh water.

That's nice and all, but... (3, Informative)

r_jensen11 (598210) | more than 6 years ago | (#20990383)

It doesn't change the fact that we use plastics more often than we should. Melting plastic requires significantly more energy than melting glass. Recycling plastic also requires significantly more energy than recycling glass. Additionally, plastic can only be recycled a few times. Glass, on the other hand, has a much longer life.

How about we bring back the glass bottles? We're already losing the glass beer bottles to plastic ones. I say we reverse the tide, and go back to glass Coke bottles. And wouldn't it be nice if those milk jugs were actually re-used?

I'm not trying to say that we shouldn't find better plastics. All I'm saying is that I think, in addition to researching new plastics, we take time to look at the alternatives to plastics. Sometimes the old-fashioned methods work just as well, if not better, than new methods. You havn't seen a more efficient wheel invented in the last few thousand years, have you?

Wait... what?? (2, Informative)

Khyber (864651) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992731)

"Melting plastic requires significantly more energy than melting glass."

I hold in my hands a plastic bottle and a glass bottle, both used to have beer in them.

I take my butane lighter, spark it, and hold the flame to the bottom of the plastic. Within seconds, it's melting and burning. I do that to the glass bottle, and I'll burn thru that whole lighter's fuel supply (which is energy) before I even turn the glass red.

I'll say it probably takes more energy to melt glass rather than plastic.

Re:Wait... what?? (1)

bcattwoo (737354) | more than 6 years ago | (#20995049)

Yep, I would like a little bit of what he is smoking.

Perhaps what he really meant was that a glass bottle can be recycled to become a glass bottle again, while a plastic bottle cannot without great expense and thus is not.

Re:Wait... what?? (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 6 years ago | (#20996395)

It kinda depends upon the plastic really. Some of it just needs to get warm enough and it'll simply fuse with other plastics of the same type, requiring minimal heat and pressure. Other types need to be shredded down to be easily melted down and recycled. Glass, on the other hand, requires huge amounts of energy just in melting it. That says nothing about the added energy use of machines designed to handle such hot material.

Could be used to make an artificial nose (1)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#20992163)

Maybe I'm just really tired, but it seems to me that if you varied the size and shape of the pores, you'd have a really simple way to do a wholesale analysis sample for complex molecules. You could have a "nose" for smelling in either liquid or air, allowing you to have a sensor that looked for all sorts of contaminants and gave immediate results.

Perhaps, if these plastics were non-toxic, you could even have a plug in test that gave an immediate bacteriological or viral assay of a blood sample. So, instead of relying on a bizarre and arbitrary set of symptoms of a patient to look for an illness, you could just scan their blood and get an immediate diagnosis from a computer, and then get antibiotics immediately.

I see one problem....pollution (1)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | more than 6 years ago | (#20994227)

I see pollution of another kind here....yes plastics are not good, when we build them we cant recycle them so to speak without causing a lot of pollution, but we could always grind them down, and then use them as filler or something, but now that is solid as steel, how the hell would we grind them???

Anyone have links about the recycling of plastics, would be a welcomed response, as I have a small interest in knowing about this.
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