Nanocopper CO2 catalyst – a possible solution to EPA’s draconian coal power plant killer laws?

From MIT, a possible solution to allow coal fired power plants to meet the new draconian CO2 emission requirements imposed by the EPA. Hybrid copper-gold nanoparticles convert carbon dioxide to methane CO2=>CH4

May reduce greenhouse gas emissions

An electron microscopy image of hybrid gold/copper nanoparticles. Image: Zhichuan Xu

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — Copper — the stuff of pennies and tea kettles — is also one of the few metals that can turn carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuels with relatively little energy. When fashioned into an electrode and stimulated with voltage, copper acts as a strong catalyst, setting off an electrochemical reaction with carbon dioxide that reduces the greenhouse gas to methane or methanol.

Various researchers around the world have studied copper’s potential as an energy-efficient means of recycling carbon dioxide emissions in powerplants: Instead of being released into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide would be circulated through a copper catalyst and turned into methane — which could then power the rest of the plant. Such a self-energizing system could vastly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired and natural-gas-powered plants.

But copper is temperamental: easily oxidized, as when an old penny turns green. As a result, the metal is unstable, which can significantly slow its reaction with carbon dioxide and produce unwanted byproducts such as carbon monoxide and formic acid.
Now researchers at MIT have come up with a solution that may further reduce the energy needed for copper to convert carbon dioxide, while also making the metal much more stable.

The group has engineered tiny nanoparticles of copper mixed with gold, which is resistant to corrosion and oxidation. The researchers observed that just a touch of gold makes copper much more stable. In experiments, they coated electrodes with the hybrid nanoparticles and found that much less energy was needed for these engineered nanoparticles to react with carbon dioxide, compared to nanoparticles of pure copper.

A paper detailing the results will appear in the journal Chemical Communications; the research was funded by the National Science Foundation. Co-author Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli of MIT says the findings point to a potentially energy-efficient means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from powerplants.

“You normally have to put a lot of energy into converting carbon dioxide into something useful,” says Hamad-Schifferli, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and biological engineering. “We demonstrated hybrid copper-gold nanoparticles are much more stable, and have the potential to lower the energy you need for the reaction.”

Going small

The team chose to engineer particles at the nanoscale in order to “get more bang for their buck,” Hamad-Schifferli says: The smaller the particles, the larger the surface area available for interaction with carbon dioxide molecules. “You could have more sites for the CO2 to come and stick down and get turned into something else,” she says.

Hamad-Schifferli worked with Yang Shao-Horn, the Gail E. Kendall Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, postdoc Zichuan Xu and Erica Lai ’14. The team settled on gold as a suitable metal to combine with copper mainly because of its known properties. (Researchers have previously combined gold and copper at much larger scales, noting that the combination prevented copper from oxidizing.)

To make the nanoparticles, Hamad-Schifferli and her colleagues mixed salts containing gold into a solution of copper salts. They heated the solution, creating nanoparticles that fused copper with gold. Xu then put the nanoparticles through a series of reactions, turning the solution into a powder that was used to coat a small electrode.

To test the nanoparticles’ reactivity, Xu placed the electrode in a beaker of solution and bubbled carbon dioxide into it. He applied a small voltage to the electrode, and measured the resulting current in the solution. The team reasoned that the resulting current would indicate how efficiently the nanoparticles were reacting with the gas: If CO2 molecules were reacting with sites on the electrode — and then releasing to allow other CO2 molecules to react with the same sites — the current would appear as a certain potential was reached, indicating regular “turnover.” If the molecules monopolized sites on the electrode, the reaction would slow down, delaying the appearance of the current at the same potential.

The team ultimately found that the potential applied to reach a steady current was much smaller for hybrid copper-gold nanoparticles than for pure copper and gold — an indication that the amount of energy required to run the reaction was much lower than that required when using nanoparticles made of pure copper.

Going forward, Hamad-Schifferli says she hopes to look more closely at the structure of the gold-copper nanoparticles to find an optimal configuration for converting carbon dioxide. So far, the team has demonstrated the effectiveness of nanoparticles composed of one-third gold and two-thirds copper, as well as two-thirds gold and one-third copper.

Hamad-Schifferli acknowledges that coating industrial-scale electrodes partly with gold can get expensive. However, she says, the energy savings and the reuse potential for such electrodes may balance the initial costs.

“It’s a tradeoff,” Hamad-Schifferli says. “Gold is obviously more expensive than copper. But if it helps you get a product that’s more attractive like methane instead of carbon dioxide, and at a lower energy consumption, then it may be worth it. If you could reuse it over and over again, and the durability is higher because of the gold, that’s a check in the plus column.”

Written by: Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office

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161 Responses to Nanocopper CO2 catalyst – a possible solution to EPA’s draconian coal power plant killer laws?

  1. Grant Shirreffs says:

    Doesn’t this sound suspiciously like a perpetual motion machine?

    No matter how good your catalyst, if the reaction is CO2 + ? => CH4 +?, and you can then burn the CH4 to give CO2+energy, then you must put more energy into the catalyzed reaction than you get from the subsequent burn. So the whole thing seems pretty pointless.

  2. TomL says:

    ” Instead of being released into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide would be circulated through a copper catalyst and turned into methane — which could then power the rest of the plant.”
    So you convert CO2 to methane (where does the hydrogen come from?), and then burn the methane producing … CO2.

    Am I missing something, or does this whole process really accomplish nothing?

  3. Gail Combs says:

    It is a rotten solution.
    From the EPA:

    Greenhouse Gas Properties

    Methane (CH4) is a principal component of natural gas. It is also formed and released to the atmosphere by biological processes occurring in anaerobic environments. Once in the atmosphere, methane absorbs terrestrial infrared radiation that would otherwise escape to space. This property can contribute to the warming of the atmosphere, which is why methane is a greenhouse gas.

    Methane is about 21 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2) by weight (see box below). Methane’s chemical lifetime in the atmosphere is approximately 12 years… http://www.epa.gov/outreach/scientific.html

  4. max says:

    Brilliant, in order to handle EPA restrictions on CO2 emmisions to save the planet from waming due to the GHG effect, they propose converting CO2 to methane, a gas with a much greater green house effect (about 20 times that of CO2). I have no doubt that the EPA will run with this announcement to show that their standards are forcing innovation to save the planet.

  5. Besides, isn’t methane (CH4) a much more effective greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2)?

  6. Paulo Zappi says:

    I’m appalled by the lack of understanding of basic physics of whoever wrote this article. The energy obtained by burning fossil fuels (like natural gas, or CH4) cannot be recovered by reducing CO2 back to methane. Why? Because it would require a source of hydrogen and hydrogen can come only from a catalysed partial oxidation of methane or from the electrolysis of water.

    The absurdity of the idea is to suppose that Hydrogen is free and this article gives a very bad name to a otherwise famous institute, the MIT.

    It is really shocking ot see how “green thinking” is corrupting science almost everywhere!

  7. John M says:

    Instead of being released into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide would be circulated through a copper catalyst and turned into methane — which could then power the rest of the plant. Such a self-energizing system could vastly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired and natural-gas-powered plants.

    They’re going to have trouble patenting this, since last I checked, the USPO still dismisses perpetual motion inventions out of hand.

  8. Sparx says:

    Ahhh… April is indeed the cruellest month.

  9. shrnfr says:

    TomL, you missed nothing. Carnot long since demonstrated that perpetual motion machines of the first kind do not exist. That is the first law of thermo. But there is actually a small role these could play. They could be used to take electricity from solar gunk and wind farms and convert it into a storable form.

  10. Kasuha says:

    I guess someone in MIT has drank too much. Converting CO2 into methane requires a lot of energy – at least as much as get by burning it. There’s no way around it as long as first law of thermodynamics applies. And even if they decided to turn all CO2 from power plants into methane – what now with it? Burn it back to CO2? Wouldn’t that be stupid now that we invested so much energy into it? Or release it to atmosphere as methane? Wouldn’t that be even worse than releasing CO2? Or perhaps turn it back into coal?

  11. Jimbo says:

    “……setting off an electrochemical reaction with carbon dioxide that reduces the greenhouse gas to methane….”

    Great! Problem solved – methane is now a non-greenhouse gas. Now what the heck do you do with the methane? Burn it? Release it? What?

  12. vboring says:

    Unless it utilizes a waste energy source in the plant, it doesn’t sound like it sould accomplish anything.

    Pretend it is 100% energy efficient in converting CO2 + H20 + electricity into methane. Pretend you then burn the methane at 100% efficiency…. and get back exactly enough energy to produce enough methane to fuel the plant that burns the methane to provide the energy to produce the methane… and so on. It does precisely nothing for your coal plant emissions.

    One practical use for it theoretically could be to turn cheap nuclear (or surplus wind) energy into easily stored CNG for transportation or back-up power, but as a way to reduce coal plant emissions it is likely worthless.

  13. Doug in Seattle says:

    I have to assume there’s water invloved in the reaction to get some H’s for the methane.

    We are still left with the question though of whether CO2 is actually harmful.

  14. Ben says:

    WOFTAM.
    Copper has so many gainful uses than to contemplate wastefully throwing it on the fire solely for the purpose of helping gullible warming believers sleep at night.
    This sort of nonsense if the reason that the greenpr!cks demonstrable stupidity is so irritating, rather than just being plain amusing

  15. Jimbo says:

    Was this supposed to be a Friday Funny?

    REPLY: Is it Friday? – A

  16. Jimbo says:

    Was this suposed to be a Friday Funny?

    “Gold is obviously more expensive than copper. But if it helps you get a product that’s more attractive like methane instead of carbon dioxide, and at a lower energy consumption, then it may be worth it…..”

    WTF! The propaganda has taken a deep root indeed. Co2 used by plants – very deadly. Greenhouse growers please reduce that 1,000 ppm to a safer 350ppm. Thanks.

  17. sophocles says:

    Hamad-Schifferli said:
    “You normally have to put a lot of energy into converting carbon dioxide into something useful,”
    ==================================
    … the foraminifera in the oceans do it pretty cheaply, converting it to calcium carbonate. Oh, yes, that’s right: they’re solar powered.

    Much of the world’s CO2 is locked up in limestone. When there’s no more CO2, I guess the foraminifera will be out of a job …

  18. R. de Haan says:

    Those of us who understand the true back grounds behind the CAGW scare know it’s not at all about CO2 reduction.
    It’s about centralized control over all our resources, money grabbing, reduction of energy access mobility and population control.
    Every “solution” only disturbs their party and will be regarded as most unwelcome.

  19. JuergenK says:

    @Dear Grant
    Did you read the whole thing?
    Catalysts or enzymes (the biologic pendents of catalysts) do reduce the energy necessary for transformation of a certain molecule into another one. Take Aluminium for example. To melt bauxite you need at least 1200°C. But if you add cryolith the temperatur needed to melt bauxite lowers to about 970°C.
    That’s magic – or isn’t it?
    No, it isn’t.
    The whole life depends on catalysts. We won’t exist, if that magic won’t work.
    It is not a “perpetuum mobile”. It is just stuff (copper with gold coat) helping other stuff to get upwards. No, it has nothing to do with energy – but just the way stuff recombines with the little help of a friend :-)
    Please look up catalysts in the encyclopedia of your confidence.

  20. Scott Covert says:

    It’s an interesting process, completely useless for the stated application.
    I bet my 14 year old son could debunk this one without any prompting.

  21. matthewamsel says:

    Hey, if getting methane out increases the plant’s efficiency by a couple of percent for a modest capital expenditure, I’m for it.

  22. Jimbo says:

    OK, after a more careful read what I understand it that it’s basically a sealed system. Co2 to methane and so on. Still damned pointless and possibly uneconomical, release the co2 and feed the plants. These kinds of projects just fuel (no pun intended) more and more unnecessary schemes.

  23. howarth says:

    I went to the MIT news website and this is an actual article. I thought it was an April 1st article. It still might be. Its dated April 11. This is unimaginable coming from MIT. Rube Goldberg would be laughing. I understand the need for the catalyst but not for scrubing CO2 to convert back to a hydrocarbon. Its a mindless waste of energy
    .

  24. John M says:

    JuergenK,

    Please look up the difference between kinetics and thermodynamics.

    Then write down the possible reactions to make methane from CO2 and calculate the overall thermodynamics (including those needed to make any reducing agents).

    Catalysts, no matter how good, can’t drive a reaction “uphill”.

  25. Gail Combs says:

    Paulo Zappi says:
    April 11, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    I’m appalled by the lack of understanding of basic physics of whoever wrote this article….
    ____________________________
    And to think MIT used to be THE best, sigh….

    If this is what now comes out of the best and brightest of US Universities we are in serious trouble here folks.

  26. Grant Shirreffs says:

    I understand catalysis. To use a mixed metaphor, it lowers the height of the hill between two energy levels.. But the relative energy levels before and after are still the same, and to move from one compound to another which has a higher chemical potential energy, you need to add energy, The second law makes it quite clear that the amount of energy you have to add will be more than you can possibly get by later burning the product.

    My reference to perpetual motion was in respect of their ridiculous claim that by afterwards burning the resultant methane they could increase the efficiency of the plant. I thought that was obvious.

  27. Where does the hydrogen come from ?

    Easy, use coal and the water gas reaction to produce CO and H, combine the H with CO2 from
    burned coal in the power plant and complete combustion of the CO generated in the water gas reaction to CO2 …. Uhh …. wait a minute

    /sarc

    It really is hard to believe that this got to the point of preparing an annoucement with no one asking some basic questions about where do the raw materials come from for the process in a real world application.

    One thing to prove it is possible in the lab where you have a handy bottle of hydrogen to feed the reaction of CO2 to Methane and water with a catalyst and voltage input but ——- to put it mildly “WTF”

    Larry

  28. AndyG55 says:

    Ahhh.. but if you use solar energy to power the converter during the day…. you can use the CO2 over and over again.. and never release it into the atmosphere

    Maybe..

    Perhaps.

    or not.

  29. johneb says:

    The question is whether the conversion of CO2 will be effective enough to keep the EPA off the backs of coal powerplants and be cheap enough that the coal powerplants can still compete with natural gas.

  30. Rob Crawford says:

    OK, so say they convert the CO2 to methane efficiently. When they burn the methane, don’t they get CO2 again?

  31. RobRoy says:

    Wow. If this stuff works, the greenhouse gas issue wouldn’t matter. That methane/methanol looks like low cost fuel to me. Who wouldn’t convert CO2 to fuel just for the economics of it.

  32. Michael J. Dunn says:

    @JuergenK re catalysts

    A catalyst does not alter the energy requirement of a reaction; it alters the reaction rate, an entirely different thing. Also, the melting of bauxite is not a chemical reaction, it is a change of state. Adding cryolite creates an “alloy” with bauxite that melts at a lower temperature. There are plenty of such alloys in use (e.g., NaK). And, finally, until and unless the researchers compare the mass of methane generated to the joules of electrical energy used to create it, we will not know the process efficiency.

    The implication of this discovery, however, is that one can take cheap nuclear energy, water, and carbon dioxide, and create literally limitless quantities of hydrocarbon fuels (methane can be polymerized into gasoline or kerosene). When the fuel is burned, we close the cycle back to CO2 and H2O and can start all over again. The total quantity of anthropogenic CO2 in the atmosphere cannot increase (as though that mattered). It could be an AGW nightmare.

  33. Urederra says:

    JuergenK says:
    April 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm
    @Dear Grant
    Did you read the whole thing?
    Catalysts or enzymes (the biologic pendents of catalysts) do reduce the energy necessary for transformation of a certain molecule into another one.

    See? that is the problem. That is not what catalysts do. Catalysts and enzymes reduce the free energy of activation for a certain reaction, meaning that the reaction goes at faster speed, but the energy needed for the transformation remains the same.

    If you need 30 kcal to convert the reactants into products without catalysts, you still need 30 kcal with catalysts. That cannot change, it would be against the first law of thermodynamics. What changes is the barrier you have to jump to convert reactants into products. Catalysts reduce the barrier and thus, increase the reaction rate.

  34. Scott Covert says:

    I can see how this scheme might work.
    Generate one GW of electricity by burning coal.
    Capture 25% of the stack CO2 emissions in a CO2 scrubber.
    use 400 MW of electricity to generate hydrogen from water and create methane from the H and CO2.
    Burn the methane in a “Green Energy Processor” (on site) generating 200 MW of electricity, let the CO2 escape the stack of the “GEP”.

    Claim a 25% reduction in CO2 emissions for your “Clean Coal” plant.
    Claim 200 MW of “Green Energy” from your “CEP”.

    Dump 200 MW of efficiency to the atmosphere as waste heat with a net loss of 20% in the total process.
    Sell the “Green Energy” at 300% markup (Subsidized).
    Pay the EPA for your CO2 processing permit.

    End global warming!

  35. Brian Adams says:

    Besides, EPA is mainly trying to kill Big Coal, so they don’t want an efficient, cheap, scrubber technology even if it really worked. This would muddle their plans. In fact, if technical solutions to all our “pollution” problems magically appeared overnight, that would obviate the very need for an EPA, wouldn’t it?

  36. Kasuha says:

    Doesn’t even seem to be meant as April Fools joke, unless the whole MIT news office has fallen to one:

    http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/hybrid-copper-gold-nanoparticles-convert-co2.html

    Well, yes. They invented a catalyst that can convert CO2 into methane using electricity and some unspecified substance providing enough hydrogen for the reaction.That may be useful if you have lots of CO2 and that unspecified substance, an electric outlet, and need some methane for your laboratory burner. Or maybe someone somewhere will figure out some other good use for it. I just don’t see how could it ever reduce emissions any other way than formally (in the sense we store them here, then handle it over to someone else who takes care of releasing them).

  37. Garry Stotel says:

    I agree with a number of comments here – laws of thermodynamics seem to be ignored in this article, which is so skewed it is almost a propaganda piece, or an alchemy recepie – welcome back to the 16th century, folks.
    To reduce CO2 one will need a reducing agent – H2. Which comes from another product of combustion – H2O, breaking up of which will require immense amounts of energy.
    And why the hell anyone would want to reduce CO2 emissions anyhow??
    FAIL

  38. RobRoy says:

    Catalytic converters on automobiles are also a “magic” gizmo. They convert complex, nasty hydrocarbon gasses and carbon monoxide into plant food and water. CO2 , of course, being the plant food.

  39. SandyInDerby says:

    From a non-chemist could it be (sorry don’t know how to do subscripts)
    2 H2O + CO2 + Catalyst + pixiedust => CH4 + 2 O2 + Catalyst?

    Which then becomes a perpetual motion machine as CH4 + 2O2 => CO2 + 2H2O + HEAT

  40. Rob Crawford says:

    “Which then becomes a perpetual motion machine as CH4 + 2O2 => CO2 + 2H2O + HEAT”

    Except that the energy used to get the CH4 + 2O2 is greater than that released by its combustion.

    This sounds like a neat physical chemistry experiment that was overheard by a bureaucrat who demanded they write up a press release explaining how it could be used to combat global warming.

  41. shrnfr says:

    What’s next. Something that reduces the entropy of the universe?? Having a PhD from MIT like I do, I am embaressed that somebody released this in this context. Interesting nanoparticle research and all, but as a way to turn CO2 into CH4 as a practical way to deal with CO2, never mind that dealing with it does not effect the climate, you gotta be kidding.

  42. I thought they were going to make cows stop farting because Methane was worse?

    Where will the energy come from to to make the conversion?

    I think the collective “we” are out of our rabid-assed minds!

  43. Urederra says:

    AndyG55 says:
    April 11, 2012 at 2:52 pm
    Ahhh.. but if you use solar energy to power the converter during the day…. you can use the CO2 over and over again.. and never release it into the atmosphere

    That is what we do when we plant trees and burn wood.

    And that is really 100% natural.

    Or, if you want, when we burn coal, release CO2, Plants eat CO2 and grow, they die, they get converted into coal and you have the longer cycle. That is ecology 101,

  44. AlexW says:

    This is the wind gas story. To store the fluctuating wind power you need a CO2 source and a hydrogen source (electrolysis). With this catalyst you might reach 50% to 60% effeciency…
    Better than fluctuating wind power, but even more expensive

  45. Justin says:

    This would be interesting if simply released as an innovative approach to stabilize the use of copper as a catalyst… even for the purposes of this particular reaction. In itself, this is probably legitimate research, and a respectable accomplishment. Nowadays, pure research is practically dead, and an unfortunate cycle that this truly exposes involves the use of unsubstantiated propaganda to latch on to the application that will drive the funding for continued research that may or may not be justified in itself. There seems to be a dillusion that marketing should drive technology even to the point of making claims never observed, nor particularly well founded.

  46. JJ says:

    ” Instead of being released into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide would be circulated through a copper catalyst and turned into methane — which could then power the rest of the plant.”

    This has to be a late April Fools joke. No one at MIT could be that damn dumb.

  47. Ally E. says:

    “Evil CO2″ might be the main focus now, but “evil methane” is already in the background. The idiots are already looking at cows in a funny way. It will soon give way to “evil meat” and then we will be stuck with “evil vegetarians”. Oh wait, we already are…

  48. samuellhall says:

    Let us say that in your coal plant, you convert amount X of CO2 into methane. It cost you 1 kw/hr of power to do that. Then you burn the methane ( 25% efficient) and it produces amount Y of CO2. That gives you a net cost of 1000 watt/hr – 250 watt/hr =750 watt/hr to reduce your CO2 emmisions X – Y. THe question is is it worth it?

  49. Katherine says:

    “You normally have to put a lot of energy into converting carbon dioxide into something useful,”

    They don’t considering photosynthesis “something useful”?
    No photosynthesis = No wheat/corn/rice/soy/vegetables/forage for animals = No meat
    What do they expect people to eat? Some exotic stuff that depend on chemosynthesis?

  50. Dr Burns says:

    Why not just go directly from coal to town gas and skip the CO2 generation ? It was all the rage when I was a boy. I still remember the gas spheres and filthy gas works.
    Coal + water + high pressure = 50% hydrogen + 20% methane.

  51. Rob Crawford says:

    “Let us say that in your coal plant, you convert amount X of CO2 into methane. It cost you 1 kw/hr of power to do that. Then you burn the methane ( 25% efficient) and it produces amount Y of CO2. That gives you a net cost of 1000 watt/hr – 250 watt/hr =750 watt/hr to reduce your CO2 emmisions X – Y. THe question is is it worth it?”

    Problem is, X-Y == 0.

  52. Owen in GA says:

    All the thermodynamics arguments aside…let’s put on our political thinking caps here. The EPA passed a rule that limits how much CO2 per megawatt hour a plant could emit, not CH4 in order to pay back powerful political backers in the natural gas industry (I shouldn’t mention Warren Buffett by name) . So if I can convert enough CO2 to CH4 to put my CO2 level under the rule, I can keep my plant running. I don’t even care at that point if it makes sense (which it doesn’t), I am working to rule. This useless application of this technology might actually make someone a good deal of money. Of course it is a little like putting a smog pump on a 1970s internal combustion engine to make the tail pipe numbers “look good”. It is all about making the number in the regulation to get the regulators off your back.

  53. Werner Brozek says:

    Copper is also one of the few metals that can turn carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuels with relatively little energy.

    As many have noted, something is very wrong or there is much information missing. The reaction for the complete combustion of methane is CH4 + 2O2 –> CO2 + 2H2O + heat. This heat can be expressed in different ways, and it terms of MJ/kg, it turns out to be 55.5 MJ/kg of methane. To drive this reaction in the reverse direction, one would still have to put in at least 55.5 MJ to get a kg of methane. What would be the point of that? Now copper and gold may well reduce the activation energy necessary to achieve this result, but in the end, you have to put in at least as much energy to get the fuel as you can get out of it later.

    “You normally have to put a lot of energy into converting carbon dioxide into something useful,” says Hamad-Schifferli

    But there does not seem to be a shortage of fuel. And if the object is to get rid of CO2, sunlight and plants are good at it.

  54. Rob Crawford says:

    ” And if the object is to get rid of CO2, sunlight and plants are good at it.”

    Good point — you have to wonder if it would be as effective and cheaper to bubble the exhaust through a shallow lagoon packed with aquatic plants and some cleaner fish.

  55. Werner Brozek says:

    max says:
    April 11, 2012 at 2:20 pm
    methane, a gas with a much greater green house effect (about 20 times that of CO2)

    So let me try to quantify things. Over the last 15 years, the CO2 concentration went up about 25 ppm while CH4 went up about 0.05 ppm. So the CO2 increased by 500 times the amount of CH4. But since the CH4 has a potency that is 20 times stronger than CO2, its overall affect is about 4% as much as CO2. According to RSS, the last 15 years and 5 months give a negative slope. The net effect of the added CO2 over the last 15 years is therefore 0. And since the effect of the added CH4 is 4% of 0, it also gives 0.

    http://www.woodfortrees.org/plot/rss/from:1995/plot/rss/from:1996.83/trend/plot/esrl-co2/from:1996.83/normalise

  56. samuellhall says:

    Rob Crawford says:
    April 11, 2012 at 3:41 pm
    “Problem is, X-Y == 0.”
    Doesn’t have to be. It just has to be below the EPA limit.

  57. thingadonta says:

    I thought gold was on the way out, and had no use in a modern, technological, democratic world. Execpt for things like the global financial crisis, excessive government debt, love, industrial applications…..

  58. Ray says:

    If you add the fact that the CO2 from a plant is quite diluted with nitrogen, water, and some other trace gases it might be hard to get high enough efficiency to make this process viable.

  59. Ian E says:

    Reminds me of that wind-driven craft in Barbarella which was pushed along by a fan held on the back of the craft.

    Mind you, I bet there will be some fantastic government grants that they can claim! Probably worth more than the energy they would have been producing, anyway, so it’s probably a sure-fire winner!

  60. Tsk Tsk says:

    Co-author Kimberly Hamad-Schifferli of MIT says the findings point to a potentially energy-efficient means of reducing carbon dioxide emissions from powerplants.

    “You normally have to put a lot of energy into converting carbon dioxide into something useful,” says Hamad-Schifferli, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and biological engineering. “We demonstrated hybrid copper-gold nanoparticles are much more stable, and have the potential to lower the energy you need for the reaction.”
    ——————————-
    I’m not buying that it’s an MIT press screw up. Seems like Kimberley is drinking the Kool-Aid herself. As so many others have pointed out the most efficient way to achieve these CO2 “savings” would be to simply burn less coal to begin with. The only two applications I can see for this would be to utilize CO2 feedstock along with a nearby nuke plant to manufacture methane for transportation fuel or as a precursor to more complex hydrocarbons, or as possibly a more efficient means of turning the Martian atmosphere into something useful like methane and O2. In the case of the former I wonder how this would compare to converting the coal directly into methane. It just seems stupid to convert it into low-energy CO2 first and then start adding energy back…

    Another MIT “double win” I guess.

  61. Werner Brozek says:

    Does the EPA just care about CO2? Is it all right if methane or mercury (from broken light bulbs) is released into the air instead?

  62. Rational Db8 says:

    Copper certainly isn’t cheap either – there are copper thieves being reported all over the place now. So they want to take 2 precious metals, both quite expensive, in order to mitigate something for which there’s currently no solid scientific evidence of harm. Sure, makes loads of sense. /sarc

  63. Colin Porter says:

    In Post Normal Science you are allowed to ignore the laws of thermodynamics if society deems it is for the common good.

  64. jayhd says:

    Hamad-Schifferl lost me at “You normally have to put a lot of energy into converting carbon dioxide into something useful”. She obviously forgot about photosynthesis, where green plants convert CO2 into something very useful using free solar energy. At no cost to man. So the whole research is a waste of money – just scientists defrauding the taxpayers in the name of CAGW.

    Jay Davis

  65. Gail Combs says:

    Rob Crawford says:
    April 11, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    ” And if the object is to get rid of CO2, sunlight and plants are good at it.”

    Good point — you have to wonder if it would be as effective and cheaper to bubble the exhaust through a shallow lagoon packed with aquatic plants and some cleaner fish.
    ___________________________________
    I was thinking greenhouses with hydroponics but essentially the same thought except mine would turn the CO2 into edible hydrocarbons which can then be sold.

    Plant photosynthetic activity can reduce the CO2 within the plant canopy to between 200 and 250 ppm… I observed a 50 ppm drop in within a tomato plant canopy just a few minutes after direct sunlight at dawn entered a green house (Harper et al 1979) … photosynthesis can be halted when CO2 concentration aproaches 200 ppm… (Morgan 2003) Carbon dioxide is heavier than air and does not easily mix into the greenhouse atmosphere by diffusion… Source

  66. Berényi Péter says:

    OMG. What a sh1tty bunkum. Of course, it “can turn carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuels with relatively little energy”. But that relatively little is still several times more, than the coal fired plant could possibly provide. And what’s the point of a power plant that needs more input power than its output?

    Oh, I see. One just pours any amount of taxpayer’s money into such a scam and even if it is doomed to failure from the beginning, some can still grab nice profits.

  67. Luther Wu says:

    Oh, come on! Can’t a guy believe in miracles? I mean, if this were real, don’t you think that the EPA would still let our power plants keep making power?

    Oh… nevermind… I forgot the POTUS promise to “shut down coal”.

  68. polistra says:

    And what about the CO2 created in mining, shipping and super-processing all that copper?

    It occurs to me that a really rich anti-Green activist could do a vast amount of good for the country by the following tactic: Pay the (mostly coal-powered) utility that supplies electricity to the Washington area to shut down for a year. Cover the lost profits and so on. Agree to start up when the EPA stands down on all CO2 regulations, and promise to shut down again if EPA shows the slightest sign of returning to evil.

  69. Robert of Ottawa says:

    Grant Shirreffs @ April 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm beat me to it:

    Doesn’t this sound suspiciously like a perpetual motion machine?

  70. Downdraft says:

    It may be possible for this idea to work. If the catalyst lowers the reaction conditions to near ambient conditions, then perhaps the waste heat from the turbines could be used to power the reaction. Assuming the conversion is done in an aqueous environment, there will be O2 released which can be used to improve the thermodynamics of the combustion process, which will likely need to be carried out using pure O2 since N2 in the waste gas stream would get in the way of the reaction step (similar to a plant that sequesters the CO2, which has terrible economics). The CH4 can be burned for fuel, reducing the specific energy requirements of the plant. Total CO2 emissions remain the same, but power generation per unit of fuel consumed increases, thus perhaps meeting the EPA efficiency requirement.

    Would this be economical? Probably not. The capital cost would be enormous. An integrated coal gasification combined cycle plant using O2 would be needed as a starting point, which I don’t think would every work economically. Not mentioned is the issue of oxides of sulfur, which would tend to blind the catalyst. Also not mentioned is how much current is needed. If the electrical current is used to supply the H2 by electrolysis or if a heat source other than waste heat is needed to drive the reaction, game over. And the price of natural gas is at a multi year low. Looks like an exercise in futility.

  71. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:

    Why not just cut to the chase? Take 1/4 of the CO₂ emissions, convert straight back to carbon, process into small nuggets, “sequester” in a shallow pit relatively nearby. Job done, EPA happy, go away you pathetic Green-plated tyrants.

    Then five years and two property swaps by shell companies later, start burning this high-quality coal you found in a relatively-nearby privately-owned mine, takes practically nothing to obtain and make ready for use except for loading it from a shallow pit into the trucks going to the power plant…

  72. Paul Westhaver says:

    Trees do this already. Also trees do not require the consumption of fossil fuels to power the reaction to produce less fossil fuels.

    I like science but there is no eureka here for the green zombies.

  73. Neil Jordan says:

    Re Dr Burns says:
    April 11, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    The coal-to-gas process was one of several developed. For example, see “Fischer-Tropsch Fuels from Coal, Natural Gas, and Biomass: Background and Policy” at

    http://www.policyarchive.org/handle/10207/bitstreams/19952.pdf

    This congressional report includes analysis of capturing the F-T CO2 for sequestration, but there is no reason why the CO2 couldn’t be piped to greenhouses or bubbled into ponds in order to toe some regulatory line. At least F-T and variants are proven technologies.

  74. “Is it all right if methane or mercury (from broken light bulbs) is released into the air instead?”

    Yes.

  75. Old John says:

    Providing optimum conditions for green plants to grow quickly including adaquet H2O, irrigation, enriched soil, WARM temperatures results in the use of atmospheric CO2 at minimum cost to produce the essential Oxygen we breathe and which fuels combustion plus carbohydrates which are the essential food we eat and products we use such as timber. EPA and scientists should be working on biology, agriculture and water conservation rather than expensive useless rubbish!

  76. kindasorta off-topic, but I need to get it down before I foget it again. Is the guy with the eyebrows still around? What does the UMW think about all this?

  77. RockyRoad says:

    Canada has dispensed with their penny–I suppose the US could do that too, and the metal used for this process–were pennies actually made of copper.

    Anybody notice that when the government gets involved, it creates a shortage in one sector of the economy, a surplus in another, and the taxpayer ALWAYS makes up the difference?

  78. Martin Hall says:

    This process might actually be useful, by increasing the efficiency of the fuel-manufacture stage of Robert Zubrin’s Mars Direct scheme: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Direct .

    It might even allow them to power the conversion with solar panels, rather than the proposed nuclear reactor.

  79. You guys drive me crazy.

    The EPA’s draconian rules are going to prevent coal plants?
    There weren’t any coal plants being built in America anyway, and there weren’t going to be any new ones in our lifetimes anyway. The economics just aren’t there for coal plants, any more than the economics will support nuclear power or windmills or photovoltaic. It’s called natural gas fracking, perhaps you’ve heard of it?

    A natural gas plant is way cheaper than a coal plant, fuel delivery is easier, and power companies are assured of being able to charge enough to pay for fuel, even if natural gas prices somehow went way up.

    And then consider, with natural gas you don’t need a fly ash pool or spent fuel containment at all – your spent fuel you dump into the atmosphere!

  80. Septic Matthew/Matthew R Marler says:

    To test the nanoparticles’ reactivity, Xu placed the electrode in a beaker of solution and bubbled carbon dioxide into it. He applied a small voltage to the electrode, and measured the resulting current in the solution. The team reasoned that the resulting current would indicate how efficiently the nanoparticles were reacting with the gas: If CO2 molecules were reacting with sites on the electrode — and then releasing to allow other CO2 molecules to react with the same sites — the current would appear as a certain potential was reached, indicating regular “turnover.” If the molecules monopolized sites on the electrode, the reaction would slow down, delaying the appearance of the current at the same potential.

    The team ultimately found that the potential applied to reach a steady current was much smaller for hybrid copper-gold nanoparticles than for pure copper and gold — an indication that the amount of energy required to run the reaction was much lower than that required when using nanoparticles made of pure copper.

    Well. One way or another energy is needed to sequester CO2 or reuse the carbon in the CO2. How much of the power plant’s output has to be consumed to make this CH4? If it is a coal-fired power plant, where does the H come from?

    Obvious questions, don’t you think? That does not mean there are no answers, but if they are in the report I missed them.

  81. Steve R says:

    As long as we are on the topic of catalysts…Is there anyone here that can think of a catalyst to drive this reaction?:
    9CH4 + 7C => 2C8H18

  82. Alvin says:

    I smell another EPA mandate, which the power companies will fight so hard to block /sarc

  83. Jack DuBrul says:

    Owen in GA says:
    April 11, 2012 at 3:44 pm
    All the thermodynamics arguments aside…let’s put on our political thinking caps here. The EPA passed a rule that limits how much CO2 per megawatt hour a plant could emit, not CH4 in order to pay back powerful political backers in the natural gas industry (I shouldn’t mention Warren Buffett by name) . So if I can convert enough CO2 to CH4 to put my CO2 level under the rule, I can keep my plant running. I don’t even care at that point if it makes sense (which it doesn’t), I am working to rule. This useless application of this technology might actually make someone a good deal of money. Of course it is a little like putting a smog pump on a 1970s internal combustion engine to make the tail pipe numbers “look good”. It is all about making the number in the regulation to get the regulators off your back.

    This is it in a well-writen nutshell. EPA passes ridiculous regulations, come up with a ridiculous way around them.

  84. Alvin says:

    Remember, this administration does not bother with “economicly sound” ideas. If this process does what they say it does, it does not matter if it causes “energy costs to necessarily skyrocket”.

  85. DirkH says:

    Martin Hall says:
    April 11, 2012 at 5:31 pm
    “This process might actually be useful, by increasing the efficiency of the fuel-manufacture stage of Robert Zubrin’s Mars Direct scheme: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_Direct .

    Oh. A NatGas powered rocket.
    Likes it.

  86. acparker79 says:

    Should we now include limestone deposits in our energy reserve estimates?

  87. Gail Combs says:

    polistra says:
    April 11, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    And what about the CO2 created in mining, shipping and super-processing all that copper?

    It occurs to me that a really rich anti-Green activist could do a vast amount of good for the country by the following tactic: Pay the (mostly coal-powered) utility that supplies electricity to the Washington area to shut down for a year. Cover the lost profits and so on. Agree to start up when the EPA stands down on all CO2 regulations, and promise to shut down again if EPA shows the slightest sign of returning to evil.
    _____________________________________
    A year is not needed.

    All they need to do is shut down ALL the coal plants for one or two weeks paid vacation for all employees. That shuts down 42% of US electric power. Do it the last two weeks in October of this year….

    Anyone want to start up a kitty for that project?

  88. Gail Combs says:

    duncanmackenzie says:
    April 11, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    You guys drive me crazy.

    The EPA’s draconian rules are going to prevent coal plants?
    There weren’t any coal plants being built in America anyway….
    _________________________________
    It is called creating a monopoly. As long as new coal plants are sitting in the wings as a viable alternative gas powered plants can not jack the prices sky high. By taking coal plants out of the picture energy from gas plants can be priced higher.

    The greenies are also taking aim at hydro plants because the dams might hurt the little fishies and Nuclear gives them screaming fits.

    So that leaves natural gas with a monopoly since solar and wind can not handle base load.

  89. edbarbar says:

    Gail Combs:
    All they need to do is shut down ALL the coal plants for one or two weeks paid vacation for all employees.

    Brilliant.

  90. DonS says:

    All y’all just don’t get it. I’m gone take this here paper to the EPA tomorrow and git me a grant. This here is better than Solyndra.

  91. Gail Combs and others the EPA opinion about CH4 is nonsense, The burning of natural gas (mainly CH4) gives more so-called greenhouse gases than coal because of the production of large amounts of water vapor which absorbs about ten times the radiant energy in the range 4 to 40 micron wavelength than CO2 per molecule. On the other hand CH4 does not burn/oxidise in the atmosphere and absorbs less than one fifth of the radiant energy of CO2. Someone should take the EPA to court and if they say that CH4 in the atmosphere is 21 times worse than CO2 they should be charged with perjury and jailed.
    Now on this subject. Probably, it is not viable. People have experimented and even operated gasification of coal. That is how domestic gas used to be supplied long ago. The gas produced could have a number of uses such as producing peak power with gas turbines or making chemicals. A process to convert Co2 to CH4 or CH3OH from oxygen enriched combustion of coal may possibly be more economic than gasifying the coal. A coal fired base load power station that has extra capacity for peak power is not that stupid.

  92. Zeke says:

    There is of course a super-catalyzer that would force this co2 converter to work. It is called a “mandate.”

    Cheer up. I am sure these researchers will be much better at “car technology.”

  93. David S says:

    So should I increase my gold holdings?

  94. G. Karst says:

    Gold and copper nano-particles. Isn’t that the mythical and magical Orichalcum of Atlantis fame and other ancient stories. It seems it might be useful on Mars to manufacture, a manned expedition’s, return fuel. GK

  95. alcheson says:

    Okay guys, as much as it hurt’s my head, I had to put on my “Greenie” hat here to look at how this works from their point of view. Here’s what I figured out:

    EPA rules say you can only produce 1000 lbs of CO2 for every MW of electricity produced. Well if a current coal power plant is producing 1200lbs for every MW of electricity produced then somehow they need to reduce their CO2 emissions by ~25% or so, such that they will only be emitting 900lbs of CO2 per 1000 MW in order to be in compliance.
    Now, you start with your 100MW coal fired power plant. A few hundred yards away from the power plant a separate company set up and funded by TAX dollars and tax credits builds the CO2=>Methane plant. This plant also has an electrolysis plant to convert water into hydrogen and oxygen. There is also a pipe running from the power plant to the C02=>methane plant that will transfer 25% of the CO2 produced by the power plant to the conversion plant. Amazingly, because of the use of these new catalysts they have developed, the conversion plant can reconvert the 25% of the CO2 from the plant into methane using only 40% of the power produced by the plant. Thus the conversion plant purchases (using the TAX dollars and government incentives and energy credits along with “profit” from the resale of the Methane produced) 40% of the 100MW of power produced by the power plant.
    NET RESULT: Power company is producing 100MW of power but only emitting 900lbs CO2 per megawatt into the environment. Company is in compliance and greenies, Lisa Jackson and Obama are happy.
    Consumers are now going to pay nearly 2x the cost for energy since the energy company is really only providing a net of 60MW from a 100MW power plant to the consumer.
    In addition, there will now be~ 1700 lbs of CO2 released instead of only 1300 lbs per MW of electricity provided to the consumer. However, the EPA/lefties won’t care because it has never been about CO2 anyways.

  96. Mr Lynn says:

    polistra says:
    April 11, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    It occurs to me that a really rich anti-Green activist could do a vast amount of good for the country by the following tactic: Pay the (mostly coal-powered) utility that supplies electricity to the Washington area to shut down for a year. Cover the lost profits and so on. Agree to start up when the EPA stands down on all CO2 regulations, and promise to shut down again if EPA shows the slightest sign of returning to evil.

    Gail Combs says:
    April 11, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    A year is not needed.

    All they need to do is shut down ALL the coal plants for one or two weeks paid vacation for all employees. That shuts down 42% of US electric power. Do it the last two weeks in October of this year….

    Anyone want to start up a kitty for that project?.

    I’m in. I really think the two weeks at the Washington, DC plant(s) alone would suffice. But if I were an executive in the coal-fired power business, I’d be giving serious thought to a ‘power strike’, maybe not a complete shutdown at first, but a ‘brownout’, and if that were not effective, a ‘dark brownout’, and then. . .

    /Mr Lynn

  97. Jean Parisot says:

    The trick here is to hide the CO2. You sacrafice a bit of your power and capital to get a permit. Then you burn the methanol off-premises under another permit or in an unregulated process.

    This where science and law meet.

  98. higley7 says:

    Burning a carbon-based fuel to make energy and then using the energy to make another carbon cased fuel is insanity. Every transformation of energy has losses—there is no free lunch.

    The problem is solved by the fact that there is absolutely no way that CO2 causes or contributes to warming of the atmosphere by violating the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. It’s freaking impossible. Good, that problem is gone. Now, how about addressing real problems, of the nonpolitical kind.

    This is no different from the Spanish solar energy company who was caught using electricity from their gird to shine spotlights on their solar panels at night to generate electricity that they could sell back to the grid at four times the cost of buying from the grid in the first place. They profited and wasted energy at the same time, quietly raping the customers, the eventual payer of the bills.

    Let’s not forget that the administration has decided to have the Spanish company Scytl handle the voting count in the Fall Presidential elections. Why in heck would we outsource our voting results to somebody else and let them have full control of the future of our country? This is just plain wrong. Perhaps this is why he is so smug about winning in November—the fix is in.

    The administration also suppressed the recent downgrading of out credit rating from AA+ to AA. Whose side are they on? Obviously not ours.

  99. TomT says:

    Ok so you can’t get more energy out of system than you put in, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t increase the efficiency. 100% of the energy stored in the coal is not turned in electricity by the power plant, there are losses. I thought the idea of this is capture some of those loses and reuse them, thus making the plant more efficant, not to create more energy than is put in, but rather not lose as much energy as would have been lost otherwise. Why isn’t that possible?

  100. kbray in california says:

    Start at the top of the smokestack.
    Install heat exchangers to cool the exhaust plume.
    Downdraft the cooled airflow back to ground level.
    Funnel the cooled exhaust through several miles of linked greenhouses.
    Some of the greenhouses would run on grow lights during the night.
    Propel the airflow with solar powered fans and “batteries” at night.
    Extend the length of the greenhouses as required to achieve the 25% reduction.
    Find where and how the mercury and other undesirables are precipitating out and capture that.

    The actual CO2 capture might be a big surprise, perhaps up to 80%.
    Someone could run the numbers on that.
    Use the process that mother nature gave us.
    It’s cheaper and easier.

  101. Septic Matthew/Matthew R Marler says:

    alcheson says:
    April 11, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    I think you have it about right, but the methane goes back to the power plant. So the result is not quite as bad as you portray.

  102. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:

    Steve R said on April 11, 2012 at 5:55 pm:

    As long as we are on the topic of catalysts…Is there anyone here that can think of a catalyst to drive this reaction?:
    9CH4 + 7C => 2C8H18

    Translation: Methane (natural gas) + carbon (coal) yielding gasoline

    An initial step is mentioned by this company:

    http://www.carbonsciences.com/

    Our Breakthrough Technology

    Innovating at the forefront of chemical engineering, Carbon Sciences is developing a breakthrough technology to make cleaner and greener transportation fuels and other valuable products from natural gas. The key to our highly scalable, clean-tech process is a breakthrough catalyst that can reduce the cost of reforming natural gas into synthetic gas (syngas), the most costly step in making products from natural gas.

    Valuable, Large Volume Products

    Our technology will help enable the world to reduce its dependence on petroleum by transforming abundant and affordable natural gas into the same types of products currently made from petroleum. In addition to transportation fuels (gasoline, diesel and jet fuel), natural gas can be transformed into other valuable, large volume products, such as hydrogen, methanol, ammonia, solvents, plastics, and detergent alcohols.

    2011 article about their “dry reforming catalyst” and process here:

    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2011/06/csi-20110606.html

    The relevant initial US patent, issued in 2011, describing the “nickel-cobalt bimetallic catalyst”:

    http://www.google.com/patents/US7985710?dq=Hui+Wang+saskatchewan+methane+reforming

    Credit for company link to fred berple, found in comment on WUWT here. Where it’s mentioned as the process uses carbon dioxide as the additional carbon source. You know, back during one of those other times when CO₂ to fuel to keep the Greens happy was being discussed?

  103. kbray in california says:

    Now that I’m thinking about it….

    Install a “Carbon Buster Booster Pump” in the side of the Smoke Stack.

    This is that American Smog Pump Trick where you just pump air into the exhaust air stream to make it look like you are lowering the numbers. It’s all about numbers isn’t it ?

  104. dp says:

    If this were both possible and true then you should easily be able to start the process from nothing but CO2. Coal/natural gas is not needed. Since this has no scale factor, and since the efficiency is now 100%, anyone with a cattle farm and run their entire operation with nothing but a shovel.

    Sounds like 100% BS to me.

  105. alcheson says:

    Septic Matthew/Matthew R Marler says:

    “I think you have it about right, but the methane goes back to the power plant. So the result is not quite as bad as you portray.”
    Have to disagree, I think it would be as bad as I portray. The methane can’t go back to that power plant because its a coal plant, plus it wouldn’t look PC (politically correct) because now it doesn’t have the appearance of saving any CO2 from being released by the plant.
    The whole idea of making methane from CO2, from an energy perspective, makes absolutely ZERO sense and it actually increases CO2 emmisions per MW of power provided to the consumer. It’s ALL about appearances, and sending the methane back to the plant is a BAD appearance.

  106. Norman Schroeder says:

    Soon as I saw this, I said perpetual motion. Be careful promoting this! you could lose credibility.
    It looks like a lot of readers have picked up onthis!

  107. Richard Patton says:

    Even if conversion from CO2 to CH4 was not an endothermic reaction and even if the second law of thermodynamics did not apply, Converting carbon dioxide to methane and then using the methane for energy production elsewhere which the article assumes will happen, just moves the CO2 production from the power plant to elsewhere. It would allow the plant to meet the emission requirements but just move them elsewhere. Exactly what a driver of an ‘emissions free’ electric car does.

    Let’s see, electric car owner shifts his “carbon” to the power plant, and the power shifts it’s “carbon” to…where?

  108. RockyRoad says:

    duncanmackenzie says:
    April 11, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    You guys drive me crazy.
    [...]
    And then consider, with natural gas you don’t need a fly ash pool or spent fuel containment at all – your spent fuel you dump into the atmosphere!

    Please, duncan–don’t say that or the EPA will wake up and find a way to stop natural gas production, too!
    /sarc

  109. pkatt says:

    MIT arent these the same folks that gave us “Wheel of Climate?” :) http://www.desmogblog.com/mit-researchers-unveil-climate-roulette-wheel… Hard to take anything that comes out of MIT seriously after that

  110. redc1c4 says:

    if we could just somehow tweak this reaction so that it turned out Nitromethane, the NHRA could go green!

  111. redc1c4 says:

    if we could just tweak the reaction to produce Nitromethane, the NHRA could go green, and wouldn’t that be a PR triumph?

    /white smoke

  112. Mark says:

    Grant Shirreffs says

    Doesn’t this sound suspiciously like a perpetual motion machine?

    No matter how good your catalyst, if the reaction is CO2 + ? => CH4 +?, and you can then burn the CH4 to give CO2+energy, then you must put more energy into the catalyzed reaction than you get from the subsequent burn.

    A possible reaction would be C02 + 2H2O => CH4 + 2O2. The opposite of combustion of methane. In the case of a methane plant you’d effectivly be trying to create a perpetual motion machine.

    In the case of a coal plant you most likely need to add stream. The other issue would be if there’s anything in existing coal power plants which uses methane in the first place.

  113. Mark says:

    Jimbo says:
    WTF! The propaganda has taken a deep root indeed. Co2 used by plants – very deadly. Greenhouse growers please reduce that 1,000 ppm to a safer 350ppm.

    Strange how few of these supposedly clever people have though about feeding the exhaust from a power plant into a greenhouse…

  114. PeterF says:

    I hope we will eventually learn that this is an April Fool’s joke, although it is dated April 11. But otherwise we would have to conclude that MIT has joined the ranks of nature (the magazine) when it comes to science.

    You can only have catalysts catalyzing a reaction from low energy (CO2) to high energy (CH4) when that delta of energy is provided by something else. Maybe by burning coal?

    This has got to be a joke. A oor one, though.

  115. Casper says:

    That’s electrocalatysis, nothing more! If you get some electricity by the using of reaction in the fuel cell, you may reserve that reaction if you put some electricityl into the system!

  116. softestpawn says:

    So obviously (for a given meaning of ‘obvious’) this is useless as (1) it requires more energy to run than it would get from burning the methane and (2) you get either methane or CO2 as outputs which doesn’t help with the EPA ‘pollution’ warning.

    More interesting though – isn’t this a way of generating hydrocarbons from electricity? So plug some of these into a nuclear power plant and you can generate stuff to run cars on, far more useful than trying to run cars on the relatively low power density of electric batteries.

  117. sadbutmadlad says:

    Mark says:
    Strange how few of these supposedly clever people have though about feeding the exhaust from a power plant into a greenhouse…

    It does happen. Tomato growers are starting to use CHP systems to generate electriciy using the waste output to provide CO2 in their greenhouses.

    http://www.britishtomatoes.co.uk/environment/index.html

  118. Pete in Cumbria UK says:

    Interesting research and potentially useful, perhaps for making high value products where energy input is of little or no concern – pharmaceuticals maybe.
    But, it’s such a shame these clever people then go on to reveal either how dumb (poorly educated) they are and demonstrate how far removed from reality they are by not considering the energy ins and outs of what they’re doing.
    Is it because the ‘drooling old farts’ mentioned elsewhere on here recently have reared up a generation so used to cheap and abundant energy that they (the youngsters) don’t even think about it. Then they have the arrogance to suggest that only ‘climate scientists’ can speak about the weather. Time for a reality check methinks.

  119. LazyTeenager says:

    Grant Shirreffs on April 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm said:
    Doesn’t this sound suspiciously like a perpetual motion machine?
    ————-
    Yep. While the chemistry is interesting the application as its described is bogus. You would need an external source of energy to run the reaction that converts CO2 to methane..

    Photovoltaics would be a plausible source. If that was done you would in effect get twice or more energy per unit of CO2 released to the atmosphere.

  120. Pamela Gray says:

    Wouldn’t it be cheaper on my taxes to just vote someone else in who will put the EPA on its ear? At this point in time, a dog would be preferrable to what we have in the White House. My dog is really smart. He knows what a flashlight is for. That’s more than I can say about Obama. He seems confused about what CO2 is for. So I deduce that he hasn’t a clue about a flashlight.

  121. LazyTeenager says:

    JuergenK on April 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm said:
    @Dear Grant
    Did you read the whole thing?
    Catalysts or enzymes (the biologic pendents of catalysts) do reduce the energy necessary for transformation of a certain molecule into
    ———–
    JuergenK You are sort of correct. The catalyst speeds up the reaction by reducing the energy barrier between products and reactants. However the catalyst, or any catalyst, has no influence on the actual energy difference between reactants and final end products.

    The CO2 to methane reaction described here has the same energy requirement as the reverse Methane to CO2 reaction so you gain nothing. To be useful this process needs an additional energy source of magnitude at least equal to that released by the combustion process.

  122. marchesarosa says:

    “Natural gas is so abundant that the intentional production of methane is relatively rare”
    says wiki, so it must be true!

    Only alarmists would be interested in this process since using the methane expensively produced by CO2 capture is just going to release the CO2 back into circulation. Isn’t it?

  123. LazyTeenager says:

    Dr Burns on April 11, 2012 at 3:39 pm said:
    Why not just go directly from coal to town gas and skip the CO2 generation ? It was all the rage when I was a boy. I still remember the gas spheres and filthy gas works.
    Coal + water + high pressure = 50% hydrogen + 20% methane.
    ————
    In my part of the world it had a large proportion of carbon monoxide. Quite dangerous but it makes more sense from a chemical point of view.

  124. LazyTeenager says:

    Steve R on April 11, 2012 at 5:55 pm said:
    As long as we are on the topic of catalysts…Is there anyone here that can think of a catalyst to drive this reaction?:
    9CH4 + 7C => 2C8H18
    ————
    Sounds similar to what the petroleum industry does all the time. I think this is called a reforming catalyst and it’s used to tweak the output of gasoline.

  125. Crispin in Johannesburg says:

    @ Paulo Z

    “Because it would require a source of hydrogen and hydrogen can come only from a catalysed partial oxidation of methane or from the electrolysis of water.”

    ++++++++

    Hydrogen can be liberated from coal using the water gas shift reaction by spraying water on hot coal. That involves neither methane nor electrolysis.

    I agree there is no net gain in energy, but there are other ways one might get lots of H2. If the method allows a fuel to be piped to another plant and burned at a lower CO2/MJ level, it might beat the 1000 pound rule. Technically the liquid fuel is not an ‘emission’ even though it contains carbon. If they are going to make stupid rules, then people will find stupid and perhaps energy inefficient ways to get around them. A combined coal-water power plant (1/2 – 1/2) could have net emissons under of 920 pounds.

  126. bacullen says:

    No mention of detecting Ch3OH/CH4!!? Or did I miss something in my scan? Certainly other non-gold/noble metal alloys will also work in this application. Alloys of Cu/Co on a ZrO2 support immediately come to mind.

  127. mkelly says:

    “You normally have to put a lot of energy into converting carbon dioxide into something useful,” says Hamad-Schifferli, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and biological engineering.

    Is food not useful? Plants do that for free.

  128. Patrick Davis says:

    “LazyTeenager says:
    April 12, 2012 at 5:57 am
    Grant Shirreffs on April 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm said:
    Doesn’t this sound suspiciously like a perpetual motion machine?
    ————-
    Yep. While the chemistry is interesting the application as its described is bogus. You would need an external source of energy to run the reaction that converts CO2 to methane..”

    No not at all perpetual because the article talks about producing methane from CO2 emissions from a coal fired power plant after the fuel is burnt. The power plant is your source of energy for the reaction.

  129. Ben Wilson says:

    To tell you the truth, this press release mystified me, because as 1) everyone else has pointed out, on the surface what is being reported is absurd, and 2) the author of the paper has real credentials as an engineer on the faculty at MIT. I will confess that I’m not quite sure what “biology engineering” is, even though I have two degrees in engineering (electrical and biomedical) and an MD to boot. But still, you would not think someone with the credentials the author had would produce a paper like this.

    Last night as I was thinking about this, one thing occurred to me. . . . .is it possible that they somewhat are using the exhaust stack heat from the power plant to provide the predominant energy required for the CO2 ==> CH4 conversion, and that the electric power required for the reaction is relatively minimal? If I recall correctly, at least 50% of the energy produced from coal wounds up in the environment as heat.

    If that is actually the case, this would be quite a breakthrough. Now having said that, I am still skeptical that it would “pencil out” at least on an energy efficiency/cost standpoint. I also don’t think strictly from a CO2 standpoint that power plants would be able to meet the proposed EPA requirements.

    I’m hoping that what I’ve described is actually the case. . . .

  130. Larry Ledwick (hotrod) says:

    The only remotely practical application I can think of for this, would be to use it as a form of chemical battery technology to convert excess wind generated power to a fuel that could be stored for a later use. Sort of the electrical to chemical equivalent of pumped storage. The question is would the infrastructure for such a use be cost effective given one of the required elements is gold and the the other is a highly useful raw material (copper) that has many other industrial uses.

    Secondly could a electrical to chemical storage system accept the peak power needed to tame the intermittent nature of wind power. I suspect it would be a case of throwing more good money after bad by creating yet another boondoggle to try to fix the inherent problems of another poorly thought out boondoggle.

    You would then have to build yet another layer of mostly idle infrastructure in the form of storage tanks and compressors for the generated methane and of course you need to have a natural gas fired generation plant handy to burn the methane when you tried to convert it back to electrical power.

    Net gain as far as CO2 “elimination” would of course be not zero it would be less than zero as you would necessarily get back less power than the excess power you tried to store due to system ineffeciencies.

    Larry

  131. David S says:

    Well they start with a reaction that is not balanced, CO2=>CH4. And it goes downhill from there.

  132. David Reese says:

    Gosh folks you are missing the big picture. I could purchase Green Electricity to convert CO2 into Green Methane. I could then take the Green Methane and feed it into a fuel cell to generate Green Electricity which I could sell to capture more Green Credits. Did I mention the fuel cell was Green which helps for more Green Credits? There is no doubt that the DOE would get a letter from the office of ‘Joe’ to provide funds for the construction of the plant to demonstrate the breathtaking technology, pronto. Think of all the green heading to my wallet!

    Also, very exciting, is the new technology for improving gas mileage on cars by putting larger diameter wheels on the back so the car can run down hill. You can augment that with an exploding battery electric car that has a windmill on top to generate the electricity as you drive down the road.,

  133. Norman Schroeder says:

    I am glad a lot of readers are picking up on the perpetual motion aspects of this idea. Just look at the simple themodynamics of the system. You start with coal that has a a high caloric value, burn it to produce CO2, a compound of a much lower caloric value. The energy relesed in the processed is used to make electrical power. Now to take the CO2 back to methane (CH4), a high caloric product nearly as energetic as coal, will require an input of energy that is more than what is relesed when you burned the coal! The catalyst only allows the conversion to methane to occur at a faster rate by lowering the activation energy of the reaction. Since the caloric value of coal and methane are about the same you have an energeticlly losing process. In addtion if H2 is required you need to make that which also cost you energy. This is energeticlly a non acceptable process. To make this work you need some cheap external sorce of energy. If we had that why would we bother burning the coal in the first place! The only efficient sorce for this power would be nuclear power. But if you had enough nuclear power plants to convert the CO2 back to CH4 why would be fooling around with coal in the first place!

  134. Alcheson says:

    Ben Wison says
    “If I recall correctly, at least 50% of the energy produced from coal wounds up in the environment as heat.
    If that is actually the case, this would be quite a breakthrough. Now having said that, I am still skeptical that it would “pencil out” at least on an energy efficiency/cost standpoint. I also don’t think strictly from a CO2 standpoint that power plants would be able to meet the proposed EPA requirements. ”
    …….
    Even if it is the case Ben, it still absolutely not a breakthrough in the slightest for improving efficiency and reducing CO2 emissions from power plants. The catalyst system requires electical energy to operate, not heat. Thus they have to convert the 50% waste heat to electricity to run the catalyst reaction. If they did that, they might as well just use that electrical energy they generate from the waste heat and pump it directly into the grid and bypass the CO2=>CH4 which is just an energy loss step. No matter how you slice and dice this…. you can only LOSE from an energy perspective.

  135. Ed Zuiderwijk says:

    This sounds like a perpetuum mobilae recipe. It will only work if the electricity used comes from another source, not from the burning of the coal or methane. So it could work as a way to convert windgenerated electricity plus flue gasses into liquid methane, for instance. Not very effective, I guess.

    And folks, don’t worry about Methane. That number of 21 times more powerful etc .. comes from people who are completely clueless about the workings of radiation transport in the atmosphere. In fact the effects of Methane are miniscule compared with that of CO2 which in itself is already small. A complete red herring.

  136. John Satterfield says:

    This is a great solution to EPA regulations. It reduces the CO2 and makes the power plant pass the new regulation requirements. You then sell the CH4 to another company that produces power under a different Title V permit. The EPA is happy, The coal fired power plant is happy and most of all, the customer buying electricty is happy. The way I see it, the only guy that is unhappy is the environmentalist and I really don’t care if he is unhappy. All this shows is that the new EPA regulations for coal fired power plants are stupid.

  137. Hu McCulloch says:

    Jimbo says:
    April 11, 2012 at 2:28 pm
    “……setting off an electrochemical reaction with carbon dioxide that reduces the greenhouse gas to methane….”

    Great! Problem solved – methane is now a non-greenhouse gas. Now what the heck do you do with the methane? Burn it? Release it? What?

    Obviously, you compress it and inject it into cattle. ;-)

  138. adolfogiurfa says:

    They don´t need any Gold. Nanocopper would readily oxidize if heated in a CO2 atmosphere:
    CO2 + 2Cu = 2CuO (cupric oxide)
    Nanocopper oxidizes easily in the air.

    http://www.giurfa.com/ultranano.htm

  139. adolfogiurfa says:

    Typo: It should read:
    CO2 + 2Cu= 2CuO +Cº

  140. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:

    Now that I thought about it, this technology would be GREAT for the future Green economy.

    Run the coal-fired plants flat-out for solid baseload electrical energy, convert part of the emissions to methane (natural gas) and store on site as compressed natural gas (CNG) or maybe liquefied (LNG).

    Then to cover peaks and the many frequent times when solar and wind flakes out, burn the methane in the gas turbine plant located right next to the coal-fired plant. All that’s needed is coal for dependable power as needed, and some water which could be recovered from the exhaust at both plants.

    That’ll conserve all those many abundant reserves of cheap from-the-ground natural gas for heating and CNG-fueled vehicles, which will also drastically reduce our need for crude oil.

    And the higher electricity prices will be offset by the increased use of the cheaper naturally-occurring natural gas for heating and transportation.

    Yup, a win-win all the way around. Let’s do it!

    (Or we could just admit the “Green economy” is a stupid concept all around, normal market forces have done quite well “greening” by rewarding increased efficiencies and reduced consumption. That’ll likely work better.)

  141. Ed Forbes says:

    You do NOT burn it at the plant. You sell it to someone else to burn. Not your problem then and your co2 burn rate in now within specs.

    A reasonable solution to a bad regulation.

  142. Hu McCulloch says:

    The paper is still in press, so it can’t have been published on April 1:

    http://web.mit.edu/bio-nano/www/publications.html

    Unfortunately, no working paper is linked.

  143. Burch says:

    John M Sez:
    >They’re going to have trouble patenting this, since last I checked, the USPO still dismisses perpetual motion inventions out of hand.

    Well, the USPTO might but I’m not sure about the US Post Office’s policy on PM.

    :-)

  144. Septic Matthew/Matthew R Marler says:

    Larry Ledwick: The only remotely practical application I can think of for this, would be to use it as a form of chemical battery technology to convert excess wind generated power to a fuel that could be stored for a later use.

    I agree with that.

  145. Septic Matthew/Matthew R Marler says:

    alcheson: Have to disagree, I think it would be as bad as I portray.

    After thinking a while after I wrote my post, I decided that I agree with you. As you go on to say, it would be worse than you portray due to the inefficiencies of the intermediate steps. So, in short, I agree with you.

    At best, it is one of a number of new catalysts for using surplus electricity (kind of a hypothetical construct, that surplus electricity) to make fuel for later use. Definitely not cheap now.

  146. Hu McCulloch says:

    The MIT journalist, Jennifer Chu, can’t be Energy Secretary Stephen Chu’s daughter, since has only 2 sons: http://chineseculture.about.com/od/thechinesediaspora/p/Stevenchu.htm .

    But still she might be related, perhaps a niece by one of his brothers.

  147. Why not just run CO2 through a few greenhouses of genetically engineered plants designed to absorb more CO2 than normal and grow at a crazy rate? Then dry out the plants and burn them– voila! Reused CO2!

    Now where’s my $1 million bucks, EPA?

  148. George Turner says:

    Actually, this reaction might be very useful on nuclear submarines or spacecraft where the CO2 could be converted to methane, which could then be converted to ethanol in subsequent reactions. The Russians might want to employ such technology on the ISS instead of CO2 scrubbers, converting exhalation into vodka.

  149. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:

    From Hu McCulloch on April 12, 2012 at 12:23 pm:

    The MIT journalist, Jennifer Chu, can’t be Energy Secretary Stephen Chu’s daughter, since has only 2 sons: (…)

    But still she might be related, perhaps a niece by one of his brothers.

    Thanks for clarifying that, since, you know, all those Chu’s look alike to us.
    .
    .
    .
    /sarc

  150. Johannes Kantelberg says:

    kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:
    April 12, 2012 at 10:38 am
    Now that I thought about it, this technology would be GREAT for the future Green economy.

    Run the coal-fired plants flat-out for solid baseload electrical energy, convert part of the emissions to methane (natural gas) and store on site as compressed natural gas (CNG) or maybe liquefied (LNG).

    ——————-
    And the energy needed to compress the gas will come from where?

  151. “Photosynthesis simply stated is 6CO2 + 6H2O + photons = C6H12O6 + 6O2″
    The Gas of Life, by Dr. Jim Goodridge, http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/02/29/the-gas-of-life/

    [C6H12O6 is D-glucose, dextrose, grape sugar, blood sugar. Cells use it as the primary source of energy and as a metabolic intermediate]

  152. Tsk Tsk says:

    TomT says:
    April 11, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Ok so you can’t get more energy out of system than you put in, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t increase the efficiency. 100% of the energy stored in the coal is not turned in electricity by the power plant, there are losses. I thought the idea of this is capture some of those loses and reuse them, thus making the plant more efficant, not to create more energy than is put in, but rather not lose as much energy as would have been lost otherwise. Why isn’t that possible?
    ——————————
    Because the maximum thermodynamic efficiency of a heat engine is dictated by the temperature of the heat source and the temperature of the cold sink. Given the present limits of materials technology and the practical limits of the reaction temperatures you get about 35% efficiency in a modern coal plant. A combined cycle gas plant can get up to about 50% if you work at it. Of course none of this considers cogeneration where the “waste” heat is actually useful and not simply dumped into a cooler environment. Look up Carnot for a more detailed explanation.

  153. Macbeth says:

    I assume they are following “the letter of the law”; CO2 from coal power plants is banned, the methane burner is not a coal power plant –>win still, a plague on both their houses.

  154. JMW says:

    The concensus from thinking people is that this is a nice observation of a useless development.
    But it includes several key words to attract funding: Nano technology, catalysts, gold, green.
    Nanotechnology is evolving into the new panacea. Catalysts are these magic agents that seemingly allow anything to happen.
    But everyone has picked up on the absurdity of the proposal.
    CO2 into methane will require energy. All the catalyst does is help make it happen.
    But the result is methane, a more powerful greenhouse gas if released but it is also a fuel. SO it will be burned to generate more CO2.
    This CO2 to CH4 to CO2 cycle will consume energy and it will have inefficiencies.
    No matter how you cut it, you don’t get any useful benefit from this discoverey.
    You burn fossil fuels to generate power which is used by people to run their electricaly goods. You get CO2. But to get CO2 into CH4 you need energy, something they seem not to highlight.
    That means that some of your energy will go into converting come of the CO2 into CH4. But how much?
    There is no way this can prove at all usefull unless we suspedn the laws of physics.
    But because of all the buzz words doubtless it will gaina share of Obamas Green handouts.

  155. Mr.E says:

    Twice times I read it over already yet and don’t know the meaning even half!

  156. kcrucible says:

    “Am I missing something, or does this whole process really accomplish nothing?”

    It moves the CO2 emissions from the coal plant to whomever is burning the methane. The Coal plant won’t be burning it because of the regulations on THEM, but gas-fueled golf carts and whatnot aren’t regulated.

  157. Mr.E says:

    On a serious note, unfortunately if you go to uspto.gov and and do a search for “perpetual motion” you will get a list of 119 patents. If you want a laugh take a look at some of the schemes. I remember one electric vehicle that had a plurality of wheel driven generators extended on arms around the vehicle that were supposed to generate the electricity to propel the vehicle. It had a battery to store the excess energy and a port to to offload excess energy.

    I started to do a web search to see what was really happening with nanocopper CO2 catalyst research and so far I have found nothing that sounds like this article. Like others I checked the issue date and it does have two ones in it. Is that a double April Fools?

    I keep reading the article hoping to find some semblance of reason but if it’s there I’m missing it. That’s why I spouted my father’s humorous quote in my previous post.

  158. Betsy says:

    This is not needed for solving the nonexistent terrestrial CO2 problem. Human generated CO2 is not a driver of climate change. If the climate is changing, we aren’t doing it, and it’s not clear it’s changing.

    It is, however, BRILLIANT science that could prove useful for space travel, or for submarines. Reduce the CO2 from human respiration to methane that can be used later.

  159. Beau says:

    It seemed that the whole point is to be able to keep the coal plants running before the EPA turns off most of the electricity in the US.
    Hasn’t the global warming hoax already been disproven?
    This is political now. Keep the coal burning so we still have power to run our computers.

  160. Beale says:

    This is pointless. If you meet the EPA requirements, it will impose new ones.

  161. Axel says:

    Nobody should take this seriously as any kind of solution to any problem.

    They intend to make a gain for themselves based on
    information that they know to be false. This is simply
    a Fraud !!! Report these people to the Police and have
    them all charged with concocting a fraudulent scheme.

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