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Scientists Recycle CO2 with Sunlight to Make Fuel

Soulskill posted more than 6 years ago | from the playing-with-hydrocarbons dept.

Power 289

An anonymous reader brings us this article from Wired about a new method to produce fuel with the help of concentrated sunlight and carbon dioxide. The process "reverses" combustion, breaking down the CO2 into carbon monoxide, which is then used as a building block for hydrocarbons. Quoting: "The Sandia team envisions a day when CR5s are installed in large numbers at coal-fired power plants. Each of them could reclaim 45 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air daily and produce enough carbon monoxide to make 2.5 gallons of fuel. Coupling the CR5 with CO2 reclamation and sequestration technology, which several scientists already are pursuing, could make liquid hydrocarbons a renewable fuel."

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289 comments

fuck niggers and fuck republicans! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21932936)

they are both filthy trash!

This is (0, Redundant)

Subjective (532342) | more than 6 years ago | (#21932950)

a great invention!

Grampa's biotech solution (5, Funny)

Harmonious Botch (921977) | more than 6 years ago | (#21932960)

My grandfather used to be an employee in a biotechnology venture in the 30's. It was a two stage process. The first was a corn - or sometimes a potato - plant. The second was a still. ( He was a tinsmith. ) The input was CO2 and sunlight, the output was ethanol.

Re:Grampa's biotech solution (2, Informative)

arivanov (12034) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933002)

Not a lot have changed. Then the economics were perverted by the prohibition, now the economics are perverted by subsidies. In either case the process does not make sense neither for booze (grapes are better) nor for fuel (oil plants are better).

Re:Grampa's biotech solution (2, Funny)

edwardpickman (965122) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934076)

Yeah but this time they are hoping to run a car with the fuel instead of running your grandfather.

Re:This is (0, Redundant)

Subjective (532342) | more than 6 years ago | (#21932976)

dammit, edited out my *cough*'s (don't use html-style next time)

Re:This is (4, Informative)

x2A (858210) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933314)

Seems to be a couple years old though, this page [sandia.gov] (second story down) which includes the same photo is dated feb 2006, and includes a much better description of how it works, including how they use alternate direction rotation rings for heat conservation within the drum, although it looks like they've more recently been trying it with CO2 instead of H20. This page [greencarcongress.com] contains more info and diagram [typepad.com] of the counter rotating drum. Very interesting stuff though.

Re:This is (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21933924)

Church of Global Warming's worst nightmare.

Vaporware (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21932980)

This sounds a lot like vaporware, in both senses of the word.

Re:Vaporware (0, Redundant)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933768)

yeah, especially when they figure out that it always takes more energy to build a complex mollecule than to burn it. Seriously, some scientists are just dumb. Plants use nutrients to build complex mollecules from CO2. So that means they'd be putting in more joules worth of "nutrients" (if you measured their potential chemical energy) in than we're getting out in fuel.

Re:Vaporware (1)

ATMAvatar (648864) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933854)

That's correct - photosynthesis gets is energy input from nutrients the plant gathers. Shame on biologists for using words like photosynthesis (where photo- means light, or under most contexts of photosynthesis, sunlight) to confuse others as to where the real power comes from.

Re:Vaporware (3, Insightful)

myc (105406) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934168)

You may have missed the part about requiring sunlight. Also, a common misconception about photosynthesis is that plants need "nutrients" to synthesize glucose from CO2. In terms of the biochemical pathways, the only "nutrient" that are required are water and CO2; the free energy required for photosynthesis and de novo glucogenesis is provided by photons from sunlight. ATP and NADPH, energy intermediates that are consumed during the dark reactions of photosynthesis (the Calvin cycle), are generated during the light reactions of photosynthesis.

Re:Vaporware (2, Insightful)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934192)

I suppose you neglected to read the whole "solar energy" part of the article? The point of all these things, be they this plan or biofuels, isn't some magic pixie dust source of free energy. It's that the easiest way of getting solar energy into a useful form might be to take a detour through plants or CO or steam or something else.

Fortunately, some people are actually trying to solve these problems rather than bitching on /.

underwhelming (2, Interesting)

macurmudgeon (900466) | more than 6 years ago | (#21932982)

2.5 gallons of fuel produced per plant, per day? It's nice that it might scrub pollutants but it seems the solar energy could be more profitably used to directly produce electricity.

Re:underwhelming (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21933012)

2.5 gallons of fuel produced per plant, per day, per installed Counter-Rotating Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator (CR5).

Re:underwhelming (1)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933588)

So the next question would seem to be: Can enough of these be installed on a single plant to reclaim a significant amount of fuel? If there are 100 of these put on a single plant will we still get 2.5 gal per CR5, and is there enough space (88 m2 per unit)for the necessary solar furnace requirements for large numbers of CR5 units? After than I would be curious to know what the CO2 density is needed for these to function efficiently. I'm thinking in terms of just installing them the open air in cities like LA and Mexico City and Beijing where the pollution tends to get trapped and concentrated.

Re:underwhelming (1)

hackingbear (988354) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934098)

It says,

The Sandia team envisions a day when CR5s are installed in large numbers at coal-fired power plants. Each of them could reclaim 45 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air daily and produce enough carbon monoxide to make 2.5 gallons of fuel.
So if installed at the current power plant, it can at least neutralized CO2 emission and maybe lower the fuel consumption, even if it can't be used as an large scale, economical energy source. So it does have immediate benefits if work as claimed.

The main problem is that

although large-scale implementation could be a decade or more away
But by then, most likely, one or more of followings will have happened:
  • We will have been destroyed by global warming
  • We will have found global warming is not a real problem and we will be hyping some other global issue
  • We will have run out of fossil fuels already, and recessed into primitive ages
  • we will have found another green energy source. Last I check, nuclear fusion is just 50 years away, just like every other ideas presented. :-)

Re:underwhelming (1)

quazee (816569) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933016)

Not only that, but the size of a dish required to focus the sunlight on the "barrel" is not mentioned.

Re:underwhelming (4, Informative)

Diego_27182818 (174390) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933292)

Not only that, but the size of a dish required to focus the sunlight on the "barrel" is not mentioned.
It is mentioned, from the article

An 88-square meter solar furnace will blast sunlight into the unit, heating the rings to about 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit.

Re:underwhelming (2, Funny)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933070)

that was my first thought too, 2.5 gallons of fuel per plant a day amounts to all the coal fired plants in the USA can get together and sell one person a tank of gas for their car...

Re:underwhelming (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21933166)

Uh... I think you need to re-read the quote.

  "CR5s are installed in large numbers at coal-fired power plants. Each of them could reclaim 45 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air daily and produce enough carbon monoxide to make 2.5 gallons of fuel"

Each of the CR5s produce 2.5 gallons... large numbers of CR5 means 2.5 x "large number" per plant per day.

Re:underwhelming (3, Interesting)

xaxa (988988) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933456)

It would seem easier to pipe the CO2 into a greenhouse and grow some food.

Re:underwhelming (3, Insightful)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933870)

And steam locomotives would seem easier than high-temperature turbines. "Seems easier" is not what I'd call a good metric for evaluating such a technology.

Re:underwhelming (1)

misleb (129952) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933950)

It would seem easier to pipe the CO2 into a greenhouse and grow some food.


Why even bother piping in CO2? I hear Monsanto has genetically engineered plants to pull CO2 RIGHT FROM THE ATMOSPHERE. All hail Monsanto, Savior of Mankind and Protector of Intellectual Property (not necessarily in that order). :-P

Anyway, I think the nice thing about these CR5s is that they don't seem to require much external processing. Just put CO2 and Water in and get hydrocarbon fuels out. Not to mention O2. I'm sure the O2 these would produce would have some economic value. Using biomass for fuels, on the other hand, is rather involved, expensive process.

-matthew

OK, Let's Do the Math (1)

Dr. Spork (142693) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933780)

Each of them could reclaim 45 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air daily.

Gee, so, given that coal powerplants in the USA alone produce 1.8 millon metric tons of CO2 per year, we would need 11 million of these devices installed in the US to make American coal power carbon neutral.

Maybe this should help everyone realize just what a bad, bad idea coal power really is, especially when we have much better alternatives.

Re:OK, Let's Do the Math (1)

Dr. Spork (142693) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933808)

Correction: I messed up the calculation, the actual number is 240,000 units - but stil, a ridiculous quantity.

Re:OK, Let's Do the Math (1)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933844)

but stil, a ridiculous quantity.
The article is unclear about how much space these really require. If you can get 1000 of these at each power plant then it seems quite achievable to make all the coal power plants in the US carbon-neutral.

Re:OK, Let's Do the Math (2, Insightful)

misleb (129952) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934118)

Correction: I messed up the calculation, the actual number is 240,000 units - but stil, a ridiculous quantity.


Not to mention that even if you did convert all the CO2 from the coal plants... you'd just be burning it again in cars (or something else). The entire process would not be carbon neutral. You're merely reusing the carbon once. In the end, you're releasing the exact same net amount of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Might as well just use the solar energy to create electricity directly and reduce the amount of coal burned in the first place. That would reduce the net amount of CO2 (from coal plants, anyway)... not just delay its release.

-matthew

Re:underwhelming (5, Interesting)

pla (258480) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933562)

It's nice that it might scrub pollutants but it seems the solar energy could be more profitably used to directly produce electricity.

Great idea in the equatorial region, but solar really doesn't count as an option in the polar two-thirds of the planet (at least not until we have near-100% efficient PV panels that cost a pittance).

I would also point out that very few companies seem to want to build solar power plants, even in ideal places such as the vast tracts of desert wasteland in the US SouthWest. I presume this results because the long term costs might look great, but the books would take a big hit up front, and most companies (or at least, their current boards) couldn't care less beyond next quarter.

Given those two facts, we can either talk endlessly about why we don't use cool-tech-X, or we can deal with the reality we have now: We use a LOT of cheap and dirty coal power plants. And it costs considerably less to retrofit them with spiffy scrubbers such as TFA mentions than it does to rebuild new clean plants.

Also, who says only power plants can use this? Why couln't I (and everyone else who might care enough to give something like this a try) buy one (probably a scaled-down version to make it affordable) and toss it in my backyard? Five or ten tons a year, times a few hundred thousand people who want a free gallon or two of gasoline per day, could really make a difference.

No one renewable energy source will solve all our problems. Between them all, however, perhaps we can at least keep the planet habitable for a few more generations of humans.

Re:underwhelming (1)

maxwells_deamon (221474) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933816)

I would guess that you need to run these using the high C02 output of the power plant.

It does not say in the article, but normal air has a much lower C02 %

   

Re:underwhelming (3, Insightful)

Jimithing DMB (29796) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933672)

Interesting? Mods.. please. I really hope the poster was joking.

[...] the solar energy could be more profitably used to directly produce electricity

As if we have a limited supply of solar energy. Yes, we better not do this because we might drain the sun.

The sad thing is that I think there are far too many people on this forum who are completely uninterested in technologies like this. Yeah, sure, we'd love to be able to grab all the energy we need from the sun and we'd love to be able to store during dark periods or transmit it with relatively low loss from lit areas to unlit areas. And it'd be great if we could harvest energy from the winds (hey, I'm a sailboat racer.. I do it all the time) or from the natural water flows.

However, until we can get all of these technologies working, something we may never see in our lifetimes, wouldn't it be nice if we could reduce the amount of pollution we produce and start harvesting at least some amount of energy from the sun? It's basically free energy. Every little thing we can do to use it will greatly improve our ability to continue the lifestyles we enjoy while reducing our environmental footprint.

We've got at least a few generations and probably many more to work this out and come up with creative ways to both meet our demands for energy and reduce our environmental footprint.

Re:underwhelming (1)

JoshHeitzman (1122379) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934200)

Until we start building solar collectors in space that send the energy back to Earth we do have a limited supply of solar energy that is limited by the surface of the Earth. Even solar collectors in space are limited by the Sun's actual output. Other posters have raised the issue of how much space these devices take up and it is necessary to know this as well as the lifetime cost of these devices to know whether it would be more profitable to use these devices to generate liquid fuel or to use the same space to generate electricity. Calling CO2 pollution seems like propaganda to me. Animals and the Earth both produce CO2 and plants consume it. CO2 is a natural and necessary part of our environment. Even regarding total CO2 levels there is the question of whether these devices are really more efficient at turning CO2 into fuel then biofuel feedstocks that could be grown at the same location.

Re:underwhelming (1)

jeremiahbell (522050) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933962)

> 2.5 gallons of fuel produced per plant, per day? It's nice that it might scrub pollutants but it seems the solar energy could be more profitably used to directly produce electricity.

I'd have to think so also, but the only requirement for this technology is to heat the cobalt-ferrite rings to 2600 degrees so couldn't we find another way to do that? What about concentrating the heat from nuclear reactor coolant (if it isn't hot enough we can collect and concentrate it), earth's natural heat production processes (volcanoes do have some impracticalities), or something else obvious I'm missing.

Re:underwhelming (1)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934146)

What about concentrating the heat from nuclear reactor coolant (if it isn't hot enough we can collect and concentrate it)
How exactly do you "concentrate heat"?

i dunno (1)

wwmedia (950346) | more than 6 years ago | (#21932992)

aint that like recycling dung from a big white elephant in a room?

Doesn't make sense (4, Insightful)

SiliconEntity (448450) | more than 6 years ago | (#21932994)

It doesn't make sense to me: first you burn coal, which basically creates energy by oxidizing carbon and creating CO2; then you use solar energy to undo that and turn the CO2 back into CO. Wouldn't it make more sense to make electricity directly from the solar energy and not involve the coal at all? Besides which, if the CO is later used as fuel as they say, then eventually you're going to oxidize that anyway and create the same CO2 you would have in the first place. It seems like a very roundabout way to add solar energy into the mix.

Re:Doesn't make sense (5, Insightful)

vakuona (788200) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933086)

It enables people to not have to change everything overnight. We have a big investment in carbon based fuel processes, so having away to create hydrocarbons which we then burn, and create CO2, then use solar energy to repeat the process means that hydrocarbons are now just an intermediate step, and that we have a dynamic equilibrium, and can forgo the pain of trying to get rid of all our petrol engines and replace them with fuel cell engines. At least, this won't have to be done overnight, and we actually do stop the increase in greenhouse gases, because we recycle them.

If it works, it is a clever solution.

Re:Doesn't make sense (2, Insightful)

saundo (312306) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933666)

The mising link is how to get the CO2 that is now emitted from the cars burning said converted fuel. I suspect that it might not be enough to offset that through simply removing CO2 from the atmosphere in equal amounts, but I digress.

The fact that this kind of secondary use of solar energy is starting to come about is a much more interesting development. Sure, you can generate electricity/heat water/etc from solar, but what else can we do with that energy that is also beneficial? THAT's interesting.

Re:Doesn't make sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21933762)

Well it's lucky it will be ready in only 15 years then, isn't it!

Re:Doesn't make sense (1)

gaelfx (1111115) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934080)

The Sandia team originally developed the CR5 to generate hydrogen for use in fuel cells. If the device's rings are exposed to steam instead of carbon dioxide, they generate hydrogen. But the scientists switched to carbon monoxide, so the fuels they produce would be compatible with existing infrastructure.
You're right that this project is in the interest of keeping things from needing to change too much from what they are now, but I'm not sure that that's the best solution. My point is that the whole process of energy consumption/production will be further complicated by this addition, and though it may be efficient and quite "nifty," it will probably never hit that 100% efficiency mark and would also probably not approach it as quickly as a simpler solution, such as solar energy, could. Maybe it's not right to use the Mazda "fewer moving parts" argument, but if something goes awry, I'd rather have a simpler machine to fix. Another problem with this is that it doesn't eliminate our dependence on oil, it just loosens the knot a little (until energy companies figure out a way to tighten it again). Don't get me wrong, I think that even though hydrogen cars are a great solution to the pollution problem, they still make us dependent on an energy source that feasibly could, for whatever reason, go away. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure that the sun will be there tomorrow, and frankly, if it's not, I'm not gonna be all that concerned about getting to work on time. /Still think it sounds pretty cool, I just like being idealogical

Re:Doesn't make sense (2, Interesting)

Martin Foster (4949) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933110)

If you are going to burn the coal in order to produce the large quantities of energy required to warm and light homes. Then you can alleviate its impact to the environment and reuse some of that waste to make the system more efficient overall.

Solar power as of yet, is not effective enough to produce the energy of a major coal plant (with the same density of land area used). Coal plants however, pollute en-masse and this addition makes them more efficient and less hazardous to the environment as a whole.

Now if solar was as efficient, then there would be no point to it.

Re:Doesn't make sense (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934188)

Solar will eventually be as efficient. Nanosolar is working on a way to literally just PRINT out solar cells. If not as efficient, it's so easily and cheaply made that it would be ubiquitous in a very short time (even Google has dropped some serious cash on this company, so it's well worth looking into.)

Re:Doesn't make sense (2, Informative)

Timmmm (636430) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933124)

The problem with clean vehicles at the moment is energy storage. Batteries are expensive, complicated and not very good. Fuel cells are still developing and not very efficient. Petrol on the other hand is a proven energy storage technology. If you could manufacture petrol (or something similar) just using atmospheric CO2 and solar energy, you would effectively make all cars 'green'.

Of course it will be impossible to get enough energy to do that from solar energy. Oh well!

Re:Doesn't make sense (2)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933510)

Impossible is quite a strong word. Why do you think it is impossible?

Re:Doesn't make sense (5, Insightful)

Znork (31774) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933170)

"Wouldn't it make more sense to make electricity directly from the solar energy and not involve the coal at all?"

To some extent, yes. The main problem is that electricity produced needs to be (almost) instantly consumed. Chemical storage of the energy avoids that problem. As such, there are various forms of chemical energy storage, ranging from batteries, through hydrogen, through ammonia to hydrocarbons, all with their own problems and advantages.

With batteries, the main trouble is they store too little and they (comparatively) rapidly break down.

Fuel cells can run on hydrogen or ammonia, with varying success. Hydrogen is a PITA to store, but perhaps ammonia is a simpler compromise.

Or hydrocarbons. Which have the advantage of being easy to store and fairly stable.

The thing about the energy crisis is there is no lack of energy (in fact, global warming is in essense an excess of it, and provides excesses of it in the form of weather). There's just a huge problem of extracting, transporting and, above all, storing that energy so you can use it when and where you need it.

Re:Doesn't make sense (5, Funny)

Fear the Clam (230933) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933198)

perhaps ammonia is a simpler compromise

And unlike gasoline, you wouldn't have to clean up an ammonia spill. In ammonia-fueled car, fuel spill cleans you!

Re:Doesn't make sense (2, Funny)

Dirtside (91468) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933984)

So... in Soviet Russia, I guess that means you DO clean ammonia spills?

Re:Doesn't make sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21934238)

(in fact, global warming is in essense an excess of it, and provides excesses of it in the form of weather)
Global warming is an excess of energy, but it's not useful energy. It's not possible, even in theory, to extract atmospheric heat to generate power.

Re:Doesn't make sense (1)

Wulfrunner (1213776) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933180)

It makes perfect sense if you consider that the costs of rebuilding the energy infrastructure to use solar power as a primary resource are likely higher than the costs of increasing the overall efficiency of hydrocarbon-based energy systems. The best way to ease into a more eco-friendly approach to energy production is with a blend of new, renewable technologies, and modifications to existing technologies to make them more efficient (like this one). After all, it is easier to ask someone to buy a can of gasoline "recovered" from CO2 emissions than to ask them to buy a new experimental solar-powered car.

Re:Doesn't make sense (1)

drgould (24404) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933240)

It's called appropriate technology. Sure, converting solar energy directly into electricity is better, but meanwhile you've got all those coal plants sitting there spewing out pollution and CO2 for years and years while you're switching over to solar. What are you going to do about that? (and affordable solar always seems to be 10 to 20 years in the future, it's almost as bad as fusion.)

Re:Doesn't make sense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21933250)

"Wouldn't it make more sense to make electricity directly from the solar energy and not involve the coal at all?"

You would have a great idea if we had cars that could run on electricity. But since our entire mobile industry is based on chemical fuel (hydro carbons). It makes perfect sense to continue to use that infrastructure. This allows for the greens to be happy without having to buy new cars and replace all of the existing infrastructure to deliver energy to the consumer.

By the way, this doesn't need to use coal it can use nuclear, solar, wind etc... to do the final stages of conversion back into a liquid fuel. Then we have a closed cycle... This is a GREAT idea

Re:Doesn't make sense (1)

Technician (215283) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933266)

I am glad you get it. You burn tons of coal and then using sunlight get back a couple gallons of fuel. Using solar heat to simply replace burned coal makes a lot more sense to me. I do understand that a few solar panels is not going to cut the coal consumption by much. Many greenies simply believe that once the process is perfected a small amount of sunlight will replace the tons of energy released in burning coal and reclaim all the CO2. It can be done, we just need to improve efficiency.

Look up over unity. It's this group who have all the answers on how to do it.

http://oupower.com/ [oupower.com]
http://www.phact.org/e/z/freewire.htm [phact.org]
http://www.energyvortex.com/energydictionary/overunity_energy.html [energyvortex.com]
http://www.overunity.com/ [overunity.com]

Not Renewable either... (1)

jessiej (1019654) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933332)

Once oil is gone from drilling reserves, it's gone. It takes a very long time for oil to form. We're talking about a scale in the millions of years! Not exactly renewable.

Re:Doesn't make sense (1)

x2A (858210) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933398)

It also works with water (instead of CO2) to extract hydrogen.

Re:Doesn't make sense (0)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933402)

carbon monoxide can be used as a feed stock for a number of chemical reactions that don't just produce fuels. Imagine producing plastics using the process, it is that much less petroleum being used for that purpose, that much CO2 that doesn't get put back into the air. right now it isn't as economical as using petroleum but that could change if we really deplete the reserves. a big possibility of using carbon monoxide is for making alcohols, of which ethanol can be used to make butadiene and ethylene, already this reaction is being used in certain countries rather than petroleum.

Re:Doesn't make sense (1)

Phurge (1112105) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933680)

yes it does - you have your coal/gas fired plants providing baseload power and use the sun to revert some of the CO2 emissions. Solar can't provide baseload power....

Re:Doesn't make sense (1)

pjbgravely (751384) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933682)

Wouldn't it make more sense to make electricity directly from the solar energy and not involve the coal at all?


Actually a lot of area's do not have enough sunny days a year to even make the CO2 reclaimer work well, let along a full scale solar power generator system. I can't find a link but I believe the area I live in, near Binghamton NY, receives about 100 sunny days a year, that reduces any solar devices output by 1/3.

Re:Doesn't make sense (1)

mea37 (1201159) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933718)

Maybe. Or maybe the means we have of converting sunlight directly to electricity aren't as efficient, once practical concerns are taken into account, as a multi-step process that uses a hydrocarbon fuel battery.

There's also the matter of leveraging existing infrastructure, which (sad but true) is more significant than anyone thinks it should be.

Re:Doesn't make sense (1)

Pogue Mahone (265053) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933778)

One of the problems with using "natuaral" energy sources like sunlight is how to get the energy when it is needed and not when nature sees fit to provide it. In short, how do you store the energy? This seems like a reasonable way, assuming the CO can be stored and used to power the same power station. OK, so there are bound to be losses in the system that will have to be made up with fuel from other sources, but the net result should be lower consumption of fossil fuels. and thus lower CO2 emission.

photosynthesis (1)

yoyoq (1056216) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933024)

i think plants have been doing this for millions of years

Re:photosynthesis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21933134)

Must be april fools day...

What could possibly go wrong... (0)

iamacat (583406) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933026)

Even a small leak at this plant can kill many workers or even people in a nearby town without them even realizing they should run away for safety. I don't see CO being a practical fuel in any setting, and if you burn it you stop being carbon-neutral. They should just stick with generating hydrogen or electricity.

Re:What could possibly go wrong... (3, Informative)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933316)

You can immediately use CO for synthesis of more complex chemicals. No need to store it.

BTW, chemical plants have a lot more nasty compounds than CO.

Re:What could possibly go wrong... (1)

xaxa (988988) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933472)

You can buy CO detectors, I expect anyone dealing with CO has to have them. My local water treatment place had a chlorine alarm and a big tower, if the chlorine alarm sounds everyone has to run to the tower and climb to the top floor.

Re:What could possibly go wrong... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21933670)

Even a small leak at this plant can kill many workers or even people in a nearby town without them even realizing they should run away for safety.


Christ almighty.. what a fucking douche. This is NOTHING compared with what we've already been dealing with [chron.com] in oil fields. Yes, you can smell it [osha.gov] in this case (for a moment anyway), but it's not likely you're going to get away from it in time, especially if you're in a low-lying area.

The bottom line: energy production is dangerous. Life is dangerous. Duh.

We need stop-gap measures like this.

Re:What could possibly go wrong... (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934134)

A high-technology industrial economy is dangerous. It's the trade-off we make for having all thing good things it brings us. Some people don't understand that.

A friend of mine used to work for the old Baxter-Travenol pharmaceutical operation. In the building he worked in, he said that a few floors up was a facility that was making intermediate compounds (amines, I believe he said, but this was twenty-odd years ago so my memory could be faulty) used in the production of certain drugs. This was a completely sealed operation, because the stuff was so volatile and so poisonous, that if even a few teaspoonfuls got out it would kill everyone in the building in a few minutes.

I've spent almost thirty years working in U.S. industry (process control and data acquisition software, mostly.) Let me tell you, carbon monoxide is positively healthful compared to some of the really nasty stuff used to make the products we enjoy. If I had a dollar for all the times I was told "yeah, if a couple drops of this shit got out we'd all be dead" I could retire early.

Renewable not! (4, Insightful)

bradbury (33372) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933052)

So long as any of the carbon in the cycle is coming from sources currently in the ground or oceans (e.g. coal, oil, natural gas, or methane clathrates). I.e. we are harvesting energy by oxidizing previously reduced carbon -- it is NOT RENEWABLE or SUSTAINABLE!

The only cycles which potentially work over the long term are: (a) solar; (b) fusion reactors; (c) breeder reactors; (d) thorium fuel cycle reactors. That is probably in decreasing order of length of time we could sustain our civilization off of those sources (your opinions may differ).

The coal power plant output conversion of CO2 to liquid fuels simply shifts the problem from an CO2 source one can easily sequester (coal plant smokestacks) to one which is much less easy to sequester (automobile exhausts). You have a fundamental problem here which is when are we going to incorporate the cost of "full sustainability" into our energy costs? That means any carbon you put into the atmosphere you pay to take back out of the atmosphere. Ideally you do more than that to reduce atomospheric CO2 levels back to pre-industrial levels [1], i.e. you are taking more CO2 out of the atmosphere than you are putting into it. We are currently very far from being able to do that.

So long as we continue to live off of the reduced carbon sources (stored solar energy harvested by plants hundreds of millions of years ago) and don't fully pay for them we have a real problem.

Robert

1. Or humanity makes a decision to allow the glaciers and icecaps to melt, the sea levels rise a bit, some islands and low lying areas get flooded, weather patterns to change a bit *and* spends the money necessary to mitigate the negative effects of these processes.

Re:Renewable not! (1)

Jaktar (975138) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933380)

Or humanity makes a decision to allow the glaciers and icecaps to melt, the sea levels rise a bit, some islands and low lying areas get flooded, weather patterns to change a bit *and* spends the money necessary to mitigate the negative effects of these processes. I think that's the plan right there. Once the water levels rise and all of those pesky islands are out of the way, we can finally implement our massive wave generators!

Re:Renewable not! (1)

x2A (858210) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933434)

The artical does say that at the moment they need pure CO2 intake, but as it's developed further, they look to be able to use the atmosphere as a source for the CO2.

Re:Renewable not! (2, Insightful)

bradbury (33372) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933626)

I'm not saying it is impossible to use CO2 from the atmosphere as an input. Plants do it. But they have a *lot* of surface area to harvest CO2 which is only present at hundreds of ppm levels. We have the same problem with harvesting CO2 from the atmosphere that we have with harvesting solar power from the sun -- one has to produce relatively complex molecular structures, which are hopefully lightweight, at high surface area to mass (cost) ratios.

If we solve those problems for solar cells, we may be on the path to solving it for carbon sequestration -- but I expect it will be at costs significantly higher than we currently pay for energy from ancient reduced carbon sources. (Carbon sequestration fees are essentially a tax on our semi-sustainable use of ancient solar energy. We *will* eventually use up all of the ancient solar energy resources.)

I don't think we will solve either the inexpensive solar energy or inexpensive carbon sequestration problems without a far amount of bionanotechnology or "hard" nanotechnology (diamondoid and robust molecular manufacturing) being applied and I'd guess we are 10+ years away from the first and 25+ years away from the second.

Robert

Short term, long term, one size doesn't fit all (2, Informative)

Per Abrahamsen (1397) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933582)

At the short term, it seems to make coal based energy production more efficient. That is significant, no matter what your long time goals are, coal is going to be a very important source of energy for the next many years.

At the long term, they hope to develop the technology further so it can extract the CO2 needed directly from the atmosphere, and then it will be a renewable if successful.

A problem with the energy and climate discussion is the idea that we should have one solution to all our needs. Short of a dramatic breakthrough in fusion, I don't see that happen.

We are going to see an increase in renewable energy. Different kinds in different places, there are good reasons why "wind" is more relevant than "solar" in my country (Denmark), and why "water" is dominating in Sweden. Fission to ought get a renaissance. Use of fossil sources should decrease. if nothing else then for economic and geopolitical reasons. Biofuel will hopefully not be significant, until we get global population growth under control. There is a huge potential in efficiency, just proper isolation would make US consumption much closer to other industrialized countries.

And we are going to have to adapt to a changing climate, that is a given.

Re:Renewable not! (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933702)

Once it becomes remotely possible to stop using coal or oil, yeah, but in the meantime, it reduces the amount of CO2 that gets released for a given amount of energy consumption.

Re:Renewable not! (1)

Trailer Trash (60756) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934152)

Or humanity makes a decision to allow the glaciers and icecaps to melt, the sea levels rise a bit, some islands and low lying areas get flooded, weather patterns to change a bit

This is a process that's been going on for Billions of years. It's staggering, the arrogance to think that "humanity" is able to "make a decision" on that scale.

Get used to seeing this (1)

houstonbofh (602064) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933106)

There are lots of ways to put energy in a liquid that can move a car. The problem has been that they are not cheap. But since oil is no longer cheap, and associated from people who want to do us harm, the disincentive for alternative fuels is rapidly fading. Get ready to see gas from corn, grass, algae, recycled food, recycled plastics, and now CO2.

Re:Get used to seeing this (1)

cyberon22 (456844) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933216)

I wouldn't agree that Bush and Cheney want to do us harm. More just self-interest coupled with indifference to complex problems.

Re:Get used to seeing this (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933468)

There actually a wing i among fundamentalist Republicans who feel that not only are we headed for the apocalypse but it is their job to hurry it along.

E.g. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1141/is_43_38/ai_93084876 [findarticles.com]

also

http://rightweb.irc-online.org/analysis/2003/0312apocalypse.php [irc-online.org]

And since they kowtow to these groups for their own political ends Bush/Cheney in fact *are* evil.

Re:Get used to seeing this (1)

bigstrat2003 (1058574) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933542)

Exactly. Most likely, they don't give a damn about us one way or the other. Saying they actively wish to harm us is just kind of... dumb. Why should they care what the hell happens to us (so long as they're getting what they want)?

yeppers (0, Troll)

Asshat_Nazi (946431) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933116)

i can haz yer niggrs?

Not carbon neutral (3, Informative)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933164)

All it adds up to is getting a bit more energy out of the coal.

In the middle of the process there's a small C02 -> CO ->CO2 stage.

Probably better to use all those mirrors to heat some water and drive a turbine.

Re:Not carbon neutral (1)

compumike (454538) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933272)

Probably better to use all those mirrors to heat some water and drive a turbine.
This may not be the case. Solar traditionally does fairly poorly in thermal systems because of how spread out the energy is. Focusing the energy to yield a higher temperature is possible only with huge arrays of precision mirrors. And without the high temperatures, the thermal to mechanical efficiency must suck at least as much as the Carnot efficiency [wikipedia.org] .

In contrast, the light-driven chemical reaction is NOT limited by Carnot, but of course has its own efficiency associated with it. It depends very much on the specifics of that reaction as to whether it's better or worse than your turbine idea, but it at least does not require expensive solar concentrators.

--
Our microcontroller kit. Your C code. Learn digital electronics today! [nerdkits.com]

Re:Not carbon neutral (2, Insightful)

xaxa (988988) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933486)

The caption for the picture in the article reads "Sandia researcher Rich Diver checks out the solar furnace which will be the initial source of concentrated solar heat for converting carbon dioxide to fuel. Eventually parabolic dishes will provide the thermal energy." so it seems he is concentrating the solar energy anyway.

45 pounds (1)

overcaffein8d (1101951) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933220)

45 pounds of carbon dioxide.... but out of how many?

sounds to me like they should just filter the carbon dioxide out and sell it to soda companies, and the rest send to mars. (ok, i know i'm going to get flamed for that. it was just a joke.)

really though, it would be great if we could get an economically feasible way to get CO2 from our cars and smokestacks to mars without burning more of the stuff or letting it get away from the planet's gravitational pull.

A New Kind of Cracker (3, Informative)

TheHawke (237817) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933244)

Instead of attempting to make hydrocarbon based fuels the article toots about, crack CO down even further using an Old School catalytic cracker containing platinum, breaking CO into the base components of ultra-pure carbon (graphite) and high levels of oxygen.
Now I'd release the oxygen since atomic oxygen is the most corrosive element on the table, recover the graphite and sell it off.'
This would give the high polluting coke refineries something to grieve about since this would put a ding in their profits.

Easier Storage than solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21933344)

I'll probably get flamed for this, but isn't one of the big issues with solar and wind the inability to store large amounts of energy for use in the grid? it would seem that a system like this would allow the fuel that it produces to be stored for a long period of time and used as needed. It doesn't seem like a lot of fuel at first (2.5 gallons a day???) but as with all technologies, it's in its infancy and will only get better with time. Give it some time, and I'd be surprised if we're all not still driving ICE vehicles, but the Greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere (even regionally smoggy areas could become the new 'oil wells' for this type of technology) have been drawn down to pre-industrial levels. This is the first time i've heard of man attempting to use engineering to reverse the process.

Please note that this post does not mean I'm against conservation or utilization of every possible technology to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. I'm a big renewables fan.

Govt science at work (2, Interesting)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933504)

NASA wanted a pen that would work in zero G; spent millions on RnD
The russians used a pencil

much more productive to focus on using less energy in the 1st place, in terms of energy saved/research dollar

these tech fixes are really obscuring the problem: our basic life style is not good. the govt should stop building highways, put money and tax incentives to get homes and jobs at mass transit accessible sites; just getting one or two million people out of suburbs into nyc lifesytles would do more for the enviroment then a million years of Rnd

Urban myth (4, Informative)

MyNymWasTaken (879908) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933574)

http://www.snopes.com/business/genius/spacepen.asp [snopes.com]
Claim: NASA spent millions of dollars developing an "astronaut pen" which would work in outer space while the Soviets solved the same problem by simply using pencils.
Status: False.

Re:Urban myth (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933914)

Not to mention that pencils are actually pretty bad in space -- too much graphite dust and broken pencil leads, neither of which is good for electronics.

Re:Govt science at work (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933982)

NASA wanted a pen that would work in zero G; spent millions on RnD

The russians used a pencil


I'll let someone else correct your misapprehension on this issue.

just getting one or two million people out of suburbs into nyc lifesytles would do more for the enviroment then a million years of Rnd

What about those people who just don't want to live in a city? I don't: I grew up in a small town and would be abjectly miserable living in a city. Offer all the tax incentives you want and I would still never choose to live in a big city. Or should we simply force a few million people to live a certain way for the greater good? That might work in some countries, but wouldn't go over very well here.

I don't know what you have against technological advancement, but if you look at this with the proper perspective, you'll realize that the only hope we have is better technology. That will only happen through significant expenditures in R&D. Sure, you cannot predict that any given line of research will bear fruit, but on the whole our investment in R&D has paid big dividends for the human race, dividends worth many times the cost of the research itself. Simply dropping those efforts in the name of conservation would be insanely foolish.

Summary a bit too rosy ... (3, Informative)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933526)

Scientists Recycle CO2 with Sunlight to Make Fuel

They're leaving the production of actual liquid fuel to other people ... all this thing does right now is produce carbon monoxide.

Re:Summary a bit too rosy ... (2, Informative)

IamTheRealMike (537420) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934042)

Right. IIRC you'd need to split water to get hydrogen, and then combine the CO and H2 in the Fischer-Tropsch process [wikipedia.org] to actually get liquid fuels. So it'd take a lot of energy to do, but if you can suck CO2 out of the atmosphere (a hard, hard problem), voila, you have renewable petroleum.

Re:Summary a bit too rosy ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21934142)

Yes, but there is a well known process to do that.

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

There are companies that use this process to produce diesel commercially (eg. Sasol Ltd in South Africa)

More steps, more energy loss (2, Insightful)

Veramocor (262800) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933568)

Or you could use solar energy directly (photovoltaics or solar thermal) to generate electricity and not use as much coal decreasing Carbon dioxide emissions that way. Instead they generate electricity using coal, then use solar energy to convert the CO2 back, which is dumb because each processing step has inefficiencies associated with it and adds unneeded complexity to the system.

In the best case it takes as much energy to break the CO2 bonds as you get from generating the CO2, in reality it will take much more.

Same process as wood gasification? (2, Interesting)

bear_phillips (165929) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933678)

Is this basically the same process used in wood gasification? In a wood gasifier, wood turns to charcoal, to CO2 then to CO. This seems to be the same thing but using the sun as the heat source instead of hot burning charcoal.

solar fuel is the way to go (1)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 6 years ago | (#21933874)

Photovoltaics are great, and biofuel is nice, but why not just directly generate fuel from sunlight? I haven't heard of the particular technique the Sandia guys are using.

The technique most people are using is based on titanium dioxide catalysis in UV light. Japan is crazy for this stuff. It oxidizes pollution, makes it easier to clean buildings and windows and breaks water into oxygen and hydrogen (it's also in paint and sunscreen). It also can convert (reduce) CO2 into alcohols or methane in the right kind of atmospheric conditions, unfortunately not our atmospheric conditions. For the last 10 years or so, a few people have been looking at new crystal structures and dopants to enhance its efficiency, sunlight adsorption and reductive properties.

A big guy in this field is Masakazu Anpo, I think his papers describe all of the above.

While this kind of technology gets going, you're going to see a lot of press releases talking about reducing emissions and increasing efficiency of fossil fuels, but the end goal is to replace fossil fuels.

Old Technology (2, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934032)

Convert CO2 to fuel with sunlight. We've had that for years. They're called plants.

Why not nuclear rather than solar? (1)

mpthompson (457482) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934038)

However, creating a powerful and efficient solar power system to get the cobalt ferrite hot enough remains a major hurdle in implementing the technology on a large scale, said Aldo Steinfeld, head of the Solar Technology Laboratory at the Paul Scherrer Institut in Switzerland, in an e-mail.

Using solar power to generate the heat introduces a lot of practical problems to overcome such as space for the solar reflectors, dependence on time of day and weather and other issues. It seems that a compact nuclear reactor could easily generate the 2600 degrees Fahrenheit required to heat cobalt ferrite rings and excess heat used to turn steam turbines to generate even more electricity. In essence it would be a coal/nuclear hybrid plant.

Long-Term Solution for Aircraft Fuels (1)

GospelHead821 (466923) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934088)

One of the BIG problems I always imagine when I think about the entire economy becoming electric is that of aircraft. I have a hard time conceiving of an airplane that operates on an electric motor. One possible solution is to phase out aircraft in favour of fast, electric trains. This technology, if it works as claimed, could provide another solution. Even if the amount of infrastructure necessary to satisfy all of our energy needs with reclaimed CO2 would be too cumbersome, it might be feasible to use this technology to satisfy the energy needs of those process that really are best served by hydrocarbon fuels.

Turning Up the Heat on Solar (1)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934198)

"It's a heat engine," Stechel said. "But instead of doing mechanical work, it does chemical work."


If it's really a heat engine, then it might be powered better by something other than sunlight. Sunlight does offer an average (across night/season/weather/latitude) of about 400W:m^2 in North America, but this machine will consume quite a lot of energy to produce and maintain, while consuming area that could deliver more energy in direct power from the sunlight than what it stores in "reformed CO2". Which either way means displacing petrofuel with sunlight, but likely more petrofuel is replaced net with direct solar power (or even biomass, the most scalable solar power).

However, much of the inefficiency of solar power generation is lost as heat. If this system could capture more of that wasted heat as power, then it could sit under the direct solar generators, improving their efficiency. Since direct solar power now operates at up to 45% efficiency (concentrated by cheap reflectors), capturing even half of the wasted heat could represent a huge boost to the solar process.

Again, the power investment in the heat engine must be considered against the net energy budget. But maybe it performs even better on chemical reactions that aren't CO2 -> CO -> fuel. Even just cracking the CO2 down to carbon solids and O2 could be a more efficient net result. Or some totally different chemical process currently powered by petrofuels which can be made much more efficient by capturing some waste heat (of which industry produces quite a great amount as other hard-to-manage pollution).

But then, there's another application for heat engines that's probably even better than any of those. Perhaps geothermal power can be more efficiently tapped with better heat engines than the traditional. Geothermal sources typically don't need high efficiency, because they're such large amounts of original power ("the interior heat of the Earth"). But there are places with meager geothermal recoverability that might be feasible if there were more efficient transduction tech.

No matter what, research into converting heat into more usable power sources is extremely worthwhile. This is exactly the kind of basic research for which I'm glad to pay taxes that support Sandia and other National Labs like it.

Is this really useful? (1)

adamchou (993073) | more than 6 years ago | (#21934250)

The article says that the process doesn't actually produce fuel. It breaks down carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide and oxygen. This is nice but carbon monoxide is still a green house gas and without a way to actually convert carbon monoxide into fuel, whats the point?
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