Thursday, October 20, 2016

This Sounds Promising

Whether this will turn out to be another idea that holds great promise but then comes to nothing will only be known, I guess, in the future, but it does sound promising:
The danger of the ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in Earth's atmosphere has become one of the most pressing issues of our age. As such, much research has been conducted to find ways not only to reduce it, but also in ways to remove it. This has led to many schemes that simply sequester CO2 underground, or store it in volcanic rocks. More ambitious schemes even aim to not only remove this gas, but to usefully employ it to create usable products, such as plastics and foam, or even to produce hydrocarbon fuels. Now scientists from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) claim to have produced one of the most usable of all chemicals – ethanol – in a process that is not only cheap, efficient, and scalable, but also conducted at room temperature.


  1. It looks very interesting. What's unclear is the process of extracting, separating and condensing CO2 from the atmosphere to produce the form of gas needed for this process. This is an end-use technology but, like all the others, it depends on a source of CO2 feedstock. Most of these technologies seem to rely on smokestack CO2 "scrubbers" that scavenge a percentage of the emissions from some industrial process such as a coal powered generating plant.

    Now, if they show us the technology to get the genie back in the bottle, scavenging atmospheric CO2, the 400 parts per million CO2, then they've got something. On a planetary scale our atmosphere is as thin as an onion skin. On a human scale it's gigantic.

    There's one other major problem with these breakthrough announcements. They're invariably pounced on by the fossil fuel giants as "proof" that we can continue to burn coal, oil, and gas without consequence.

  2. I watched the video, read the article you linked and another a friend sent me and, as I suspected, this "process" begins with a tank of liquefied CO2. They're probably using smokestack gas harvested by scrubbers through the "clean coal" process. From that they produce ethanol. No one bothers to mention what we do with ethanol. We burn it as a transport fuel.

    That's not to say this is a bad thing. It's not. Every gallon of ethanol - processed scavenged CO2 - presumably replaces about a gallon of gasoline - processed fossil fuel.

    Sure, it's scalable - sort of. It remains limited, however, to CO2 that can be scavenged by scrubbers. Coal fired power plants are ideal. Other sources of carbon emissions - cars, buses, trucks, trains, ships and aircraft don't lend themselves to this sort of technology. I suppose you could develop a system that would fill the trunk and backseat of a passenger car but then you would really have to avoid a collision that might rupture your CO2 storage tank. If that lethal gas leaked out in your car you might get two, possibly three breaths and then... well. I doubt many motorists would tolerate the cost, inconvenience and risk.

    This is another use for captured CO2. What we need, however, is to capture atmospheric CO2, the greenhouse gas, and develop the infrastructure to mineralize it and sequester it safely and permanently. I'm convinced there is no other viable solution.

    This "breakthrough" will, however, be bandied about by the fossil fuelers and their handmaidens, the climate change deniers and helpful congressmen and women. Problem solved. Clean coal, clean oil, clean gas. Burn baby, burn.

    Ethanol, when burned, also releases CO2, toxins and "regulated pollutants." It acquired the mantle of "clean energy" through being extracted from corn and other vegetation. This allowed ethanol to be cast as part of the "surface carbon cycle." We get it from plants, new plants grow and then capture more CO2 for photosynthesis. This ethanol, however, is not part of that surface carbon cycle. It's not clean, renewable energy.

    Overall there's a great deal less to this "breakthrough" than meets the eye. It's biggest benefit may be political.

    1. Thanks for your comprehensive analysis, Mound. I was hoping someone like you would offer some commentary. I did wonder, as you have noted, the source of the carbon dioxide for this process, as the video did not make that clear. Thanks for clarifying things.