Future Perfect – Capturing CO2 for energy
What’s happening right now?
As of October 2010, carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere was estimated to be at a concentration of 388 ppm (parts per million) by volume. Going along with that alarming figure, in 2011, the emissions of carbon dioxide produced from coal consumption will be over 5,636.3 million tons. Now we have come across numerous conceptions that make use of alternative systems that do reduce the CO2 emissions, like adoption of solar energy, wind power and even hydrogen fuel cells.
But what if we address the very core issue, by utilizing carbon dioxide itself for our important industrial as well as economic purposes? Well, in actuality, there have been such conscientious ventures, which do make use of CO2; starting from using it to power geothermal plants to even utilizing it as a fuel itself.
1. CO2 for geothermal energy:
A mega project from U.S. Department of Energy will make use of CO2 to extract heat from subterranean rock formations to power geothermal electric plants. To be built on the New Mexico-Arizona border, the ambitious proposition will utilize an advanced technology conceived by Los Alamos National Laboratory. The technology calls for CO2 as substitution for water and other fluids to carry geothermal energy to surface plants. This project itself will include an electric plant of 3- to 5-MW capacity.
2. Turning Carbon Dioxide Into Fuel – Using Solar Power:
Back in the 1990’s, Lin Chao at Princeton University had come up with a unique setup in the form of an electrochemical cell, with CO2 as electrolyte. In this cell, he used palladium cathodes and a catalyst of pyridinium (a garden variety organic chemical that is a by-product of oil refining), and by passing electric current, found out that methanol can be obtained from CO2. Then, after 2003, a student named Emily Barton contrived an electrochemical cell that makes use of a semiconducting material used in photovoltaic solar cells for one of its electrodes. She was then successful in utilizing sunlight to transform CO2 into the basic fuel.
3. Solar reactor creates fuel from CO2:
Scientists at the California Institute of Technology, headed by Sossina Haile have managed to ingeniously devise a 2ft. tall prototype of a solar reactor that catches the solar energy, and then uses it as a catalyst for converting carbon dioxide and water into fuels. The hollow centered reactor incorporates a quartz window for magnifying the sun rays to heat the contraption. The heat, in turn, initiates a reaction which produces hydrogen (usable as a fuel) and carbon monoxide (used in various industries) from carbon dioxide.
4. W/Air breathing necklace filters CO2 for energy:
Fascinatingly quirky yet utterly adroit; these are the CO2 filtering necklaces that can actually be worn as accessories. Though looking like some post apocalyptic gas mask, the necklaces can filter CO2 from the surrounding air, which in turn makes the air more ‘breathable’, while the CO2 is converted into electricity for use.
5. Converting CO2 to energy:
Another system that is somewhat analogous to the previously mentioned Solar reactor, and this time the prototype was contrived by Clifford Kubiak and Aaron Sathrum from the University of San Diego. The system utilizes solar energy for conversion to electricity, and this resultant electrical energy is used to charge up the two catalysts. The chemical reaction, thus initiated, converts CO2 into oxygen and carbon monoxide. Now carbon monoxide may be toxic, but it does have a plethora of uses ranging from chemical industry, medicines to even meat coloring.
6. New Microbe Tech Turns Sun and CO2 Into Fuel:
Biofuel manufacturing company Joule unlimited has managed to successfully contrive engineered cyanobacteria that require only sunlight and CO2 to produce liquid hydrocarbons like ethanol and diesel. According to the company, the exclusive patent contains a recombinant acyl ACP reductase (AAR) enzyme and a recombinant alkanal decarboxylative monooxygenase (ADM) enzyme. The fusion of these enzymes with the bacteria allows for production of liquid hydrocarbon in a single step.
7. Bacteria that turn CO2 into energy:
In another separate project, UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science have genetically modified a cyanobacterium to consume carbon dioxide and produce the liquid fuel isobutanol. The reaction itself will be powered by natural light, and, hence, would be a replication of photosynthesis. The end product, i.e. isobutanol is generally considered to be a petrol alternative.
There can be several adverse effects of carbon and greenhouse gas emissions, ranging from increase in micro level pollution to even climate shifting patterns over vast swathes of lands. So, at the end of the day, it’s all about channeling the adversity of carbon emissions into a productive system that can cater to our energy needs. And, for that, we need to support and develop such technologies, which can provide at least some form of solution to this gravely amounting problem.
Emission of greenhouse gases can prove to be one the greatest man made disasters in the long run. But such convenient technologies not only give us a chance to regulate those rates of emissions, but also to utilize them for further economic progression. So the benefits are ‘twofold’, i.e. they are not just limited to reduction of pollution levels, but also encompass the enhanced generation of energy.
As we have previously mentioned that CO2 accounts for around 388 parts per million (ppm) of our atmosphere. Now statistically, that is an increase of 31 percent over the past 250 years, and actually 15 percent has increased in the last 35 years. Now, among the consumption of fossils fuels, oil (petroleum) has 35 percent share, while coal and natural gas respectively have 27 percent and 20 percent; and all of them contribute to phenomenal rates of CO2 emission. So, in a paradoxical albeit convenient turn of events, we can basically introduce the CO2 itself as one of the major ‘share-holders’ of energy in those figures. The impact can logically be impressive as a polluting element is itself utilized as an energy source.