USC: we can make fuel directly out of Carbon Dioxide

From the UNIVERSITY OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA and the “fuel out of thin air” department comes this announcement that says right off the bat it can’t compete with oil, especially when gasoline is now under $2 a gallon in some parts of California.

Carbon dioxide captured from air converted directly to methanol fuel for the first time
Research could one day create a sustainable fuel source from greenhouse gas emissions

They’re making fuel from thin air at the USC Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute.

For the first time, researchers there have directly converted carbon dioxide from the air into methanol at relatively low temperatures.

The work, led by G.K. Surya Prakash and George Olah of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, is part of a broader effort to stabilize the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by using renewable energy to transform the greenhouse gas into its combustible cousin – attacking global warming from two angles simultaneously. Methanol is a clean-burning fuel for internal combustion engines, a fuel for fuel cells and a raw material used to produce many petrochemical products.

“We need to learn to manage carbon. That is the future,” said Prakash, professor of chemistry and director of the USC Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute.

The researchers bubbled air through an aqueous solution of pentaethylenehexamine (or PEHA), adding a catalyst to encourage hydrogen to latch onto the CO2 under pressure. They then heated the solution, converting 79 percent of the CO2 into methanol. Though mixed with water, the resulting methanol can be easily distilled, Prakash said.

The new process was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society on Dec. 29. Prakash and Olah hope to refine the process to the point that it could be scaled up for industrial use, though that may be five to 10 years away.

“Of course it won’t compete with oil today, at around $30 per barrel,” Prakash said. “But right now we burn fossilized sunshine. We will run out of oil and gas, but the sun will be there for another five billion years. So we need to be better at taking advantage of it as a resource.”

Despite its outsized impact on the environment, the actual concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is relatively small – roughly 400 parts per million, or 0.04 percent of the total volume, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. (For a comparison, there’s more than 23 times as much the noble gas Argon in the atmosphere – which still makes up less than 1 percent of the total volume.)

Previous efforts have required a slower multistage process with the use of high temperatures and high concentrations of CO2, meaning that renewable energy sources would not be able to efficiently power the process, as Olah and Prakash hope.

The new system operates at around 125 to 165 degrees Celsius (257 to 359 degrees Fahrenheit), minimizing the decomposition of the catalyst – which occurs at 155 degrees Celsius (311 degrees Fahrenheit). It also uses a homogeneous catalyst, making it a quicker “one-pot” process. In a lab, the researchers demonstrated that they were able to run the process five times with only minimal loss of the effectiveness of the catalyst.

###

Olah and Prakash collaborated with graduate student Jotheeswari Kothandaraman and senior research associates Alain Goeppert and Miklos Czaun of USC Dornsife. Their research was supported by the USC Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute, and their paper can be found online here: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jacs.5b12354

185 thoughts on “USC: we can make fuel directly out of Carbon Dioxide

    • Wow and they can run the machine five times before the catalyst craps out. Well that should take care of the startup demonstration.

      So we are going to need all the CO2 we can muster so we can get corn to grow for the ethanol.

      g

      • At least five times, with minimal loss.

        Pity that CO2 is harmless. All that money wasted developing a process that does nothing but pound sand.

      • Matt, you are ignoring the final issue: where is the energy going to come from? This requires several heating steps and is definitely require more energy in than it gets out. It’s the same issue as we get with FIscher-Trops. We can make hydrocarbons fairly easily, but it requires a lot of energy.

      • Yet another mindbogglingly stupid perpetual motion idea. Yes, it is possible to produce a smaller Gibbs Free energy from a larger Gibbs Free energy, but it is a one way process.

        Unless in the future, renewable energy can be harvested far more cheaply than it is today, the only time this process will be used is if fossil fuels ( perpetual motion) or nuclear are used to reduce the CO2.

    • Well actually, you make fuel out of CO2 by the exact same proven process by which indigent hobos make “Stone soup.”

      You go to some farmer’s house (maybe in Iowa), with your five pound river pebble neatly wrapped in its gunny sack, and you ask the lady of the house, if she could provide a pot of hot water so you could make some stone soup for lunch (the Iowa farmer is out planting ethanol). So you drop your polished river rock in the pot of boiling water over the fire, and proceed to stir some scrumptious taste into it. After tasting the delicious concoction, you ask the house maam if she agrees that it needs a bit of potato to give it more body, and you continue with your cheffing. Next time it is likely to taste like it needs a bit more carrot to add some color as well; perhaps some onion.

      Well you get the picture; with nothing but a little gourmet advice from the farmfrau, and just a pot of pure water, and of course the magic boulder, you can concoct a delectable delight by just stirring your granite in a pot of hot water.

      And after you and Betsy have had your fill of stone soup for lunch, you just need to wash off the gourmet gadget, and carefully wrap it in its swag bag, and bid adieu to the wife who can’t wait to tell her ethanolic husband how you made a delicious dinner for him out or practically nothing but a river pebble.

      How many times do I need to tell you; I don’t make this stuff up. I’m sure I read it somewhere in a peer reviewed journal, pretty much the way I described it here. Mebbe I got some parts of it rong !

      g

    • Actually, the chemistry behind this is pretty well established. Given CO2 + H2O + energy and the right catalysts, you can make any liquid hydrocarbon fuel you want. This has been demonstrated with both ethanol and gasoline.

      The only real issues are with scaleability of the process and where you get the energy from.

      • Biology has done a good job of turning CO2 into a source of energy and tweaking biology will make energy out of atmospheric CO2 economical, perhaps even before we run out of oil. This only means that putting as much CO2 into the atmosphere as possible is crucial to the future of mankind.

  1. And then, with help of a catalyst, some pressure, heat and amonia, they can use the methonol to make more pentaethelenehexamine and repeat the process

  2. My plant friends have asked me to register their extreme objections to such a proposal and are aghast at such blatant species discrimination. If we insist on starving them they will have to re-examine our million year symbiotic relations with Anthro. GK

      • Why am I suddenly thinking about Maxwell’s demon when I read this? Surely you must invest at least as much energy in the process as there is in the difference between the CO2 + H2O and methanol energy levels, or did I sleep through this part in my thermodynamics class?

      • The point is to convert the energy from a nuclear power plant into a liquid which can fuel a portable power source such as a car. (It will take cheap nuclear power to create enough energy to actually use such a process in industrial scales.)

      • So as the plants voraciously soak up the CO2 – bring it on, the more the better- providing us with some useful oxygen and keeping our vegetarian friends happy in the process, where’s the CO2 going to come from to make the next batch of methane to burn to produce the CO2 in this asinine circular reasoning ivory tower solve-a-problem-that-doesn’t exist proposal.

      • @Trebla.

        No, you didn’t sleep through part of your thermodynamics class.

        However, electricity is impractical for use as a transportation fuel because transport losses and storage losses over time(aside from leaks, gasoline is perishable and will go bad if stored for too long), are much higher than for liquid fuels,

        If you really want to run our transportation systems on electricity, this kind of process (assuming it can be scaled up enough) is the way to do it.

        1. It eliminates the cost of converting the existing vehicle fleet.
        2. It eliminates the need to build a new fuel transport infrastructure. Yes, this would need to be done as the existing electric grid would be unable to handle the load of converting more than 10% of the existing vehicle fleet to electricity.

      • Marcus
        February 3, 2016 at 8:26 am

        LOL…Then what is the point ??

        Well, after applying the proper filter so that they only harvest the CO2 from fossil fuels being burned (the kind responsible for Global Warming), then they’ll use wind and solar power to make non-fossil fuel to burn thus converting the evil, Global Warming type of CO2 into good, non-Global Warming CO2.
        (I don’t know what they’ll do about the actual heat generated from burning the non-fossil fuel. Perhaps for funds are needed?)

    • G. Karst February 3, 2016 at 8:10 am
      re: your plant friends

      G, perhaps you could do more good by donating to ASPCP, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Plants. I would gladly accept that donation on their behalf and forward it to them while only taking out an appropriate administration fee.

      • Exactly. When I say stoichiometry, I mean to include the enthalpy, not just mass balance. I think we all know where this is going. Rainbows and unicorn farts.

      • Not quite. Cold fusion has never been conclusively demonstrated even in the small scale. Processes to take CO2 and H2O and synthesize liquid hydrocarbons have been cleanly demonstrated in small scale.

        There is no issue with can it be done. The only questions are can it be done at industrial scales and at what cost.

  3. Nothing like putting a lot of energy into something and getting a little energy out. I suppose, if you are into energy storage of “stranded energy” this has slight appeal. but otherwise…

    • I just wonder if it is more energy efficient (compressors/liquifiers, etc) than using electricity to crack hydrogen from water, and then burn the hydrogen as fuel.

      • Liquid methanol is far easier to store, distribute and use than hydrogen. I think the better comparison is to look at how this process stacks up against cellulosic ethanol from waste biomass. Any of these options seems better than ethanol from food crop sugars.

        At present, I think cyanobacteria and the like are the most promising kind of answer for carbon-neutral liquid fuels:

        http://biotechnologyforbiofuels.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1754-6834-6-69

        I also think all options need to be on the table. We can’t always anticipate which nascent technologies have the most promise in very early stages, and I like the idea of having more than one egg in the basket.

    • Well energy is neither created nor destroyed.

      So they are just going to put it where YOU can’t get at it; shure ’nuff friend !

      g

  4. That pesky conservation of energy thing might get in the way here. It’s not about fuel, its about energy, and energy density.

    • Fuel is all about energy density. Why are electric cars crap? The energy density of batteries is crap compared to hydrocarbon fuels.

      The problem is that this method (of getting hydrocarbons from CO2) is crap from an EROEI point of view and that plants do this really, really well. So even by the time we do have issues with fossil hydrocarbon availability, it will still be better to grow plants to get your hydrocarbons.

      Yes, bioethanol and biodiesel are a boondoggle today, but IF (a very big IF) the time ever comes when we do begin running low on oil, they are the most efficient method of making liquid hydrocarbon fuels. We are not going to need a method as ridiculously over-complicated as this as long as the sun is shining.

      • In terms of day-to-day usable energy density nothing beats diesel / bunker C.

        And in terms of overall “well-to-wheels” energy efficiency nothing beats the turbo diesel-electric combination -which is why its everywhere from locomotives to cruise liners.

  5. Dare them to reveal how bad the negative efficiency is for this, after apply heat to the process, distilling the water out of methanol, and refreshing the catalyst (tons of it I imagine).

    That catalyst (pentaethylenehexamine) sure sounds environmentally friendly, the safety info for handling it says: Faceshields, full-face respirator (US), Gloves, Goggles, multi-purpose combination respirator cartridge (US), type ABEK (EN14387) respirator filter.

    • As a non-scientist, the first question that came to my mind was how much energy was consumed in heating the liquid and creating the ethanol. After that, you have to reset everything to start the cycle all over again. I also don’t understand the rush to produce ethanol, which does not have the energy content of plain old gasoline and is corrosive to boot. I know the corn-based ethanol production is lining the pockets of our elected representatives and their cronies as we are forced to burn it along with gasoline during the summer at a higher cost and lower mpg.

      • Fortunately, if they pass the liquid on to a distillation stage after this processing, the water at over 100C is eager, not merely ready, to start doing distillation.

  6. So I guess we need China, India et al to keep pumpin’ out the CO2 or we’ll have no fuel for the future.

    • There you go, right on target!
      We have been removing trees from the face of the earth for many years and are looking for “technology” to take excess CO2 from our atmosphere???
      Just plant trees!

  7. Simply said: the whole process has a negative yield: if they use the current source of hydrogen (99.6%) they use natural gas and produce more CO and CO2 than they capture as CO2 in this catalyzed process. If they use hydrogen from the electrolysis of water (currently 0.4% as byproduct of chlorine production), then they use more energy than they produced from burning fossil fuels where the CO2 was captured from…

    And electrolysis charged by renewables? Besides hydro, the rest is simply too unreliable for a real plant…

      • Pat Frank,

        My reading is that the hydrogen comes from the aqueous portion of PEHA catalyst solution, implying that oxygen gas is one of the other reaction products.

    • Ferdinand Engelbeen,

      I think you’re probably correct that this process would be less efficient than electrolytic hydrogen from water, but as I mentioned elsewhere, methanol is easier to store, transport and use than hydrogen. Renewable intermittency is most problematic for electrical generation, as an energy storage process, this kind of liquid fuel production from wind/solar might make more sense.

      If you track energy yield for fossil fuels all the way back to the Sun instead of the normal accounting starting from when we extract them from the ground, they also have a negative yield, and we are using them faster than their natural rate of replenishment. It’s a problem we’d need to solve irrespective of CO2 warming concerns, and problem-solving needs to start somewhere. This is but one starting point of many.

      • The problem is that every time we think we have hit peak oil, we find a lot more. The last estimates I read about were in the 250-500 year range at current use levels. Assuming that we worst case it to 100 years, we will still probably find a good amount more between now and 2116. For a chunk (if not all) of that, we can have economically feasible oil. The pricing of oil on the market for the decade before it dropped to cheap as dirt was not due to scarcity but due to political and economic interference.

        But at the same time, we have a huge supply of radioactive material that can be used in lieu of the sun for everything we need. We simply refuse to use it because of political and economic interference. That is where we should go instead of trying to do things like turn CO2 into methanol.

        If you run out of oranges, you should eat your apples – not the wild almonds.

      • I wonder how the ROI of a Saturn 5 rocket might work out vs windmills, as far as usable energy is concerned ?

      • Arsten,

        The problem is that every time we think we have hit peak oil, we find a lot more.

        Peak oil only considers the supply curve. As you note, at the very least we need to look at the supply curve, and also as you note, macroeconomic factors. What that adds up to me from a purely “what’s GDP going to look like over the next election cycle?” standpoint is that it makes a lot of sense to have alternatives already going and ready to scale when demand exceeds ability to supply and oil prices begin their inevitably inexorable rise.

        As it stands now, producers still have enough excess capacity to generally keep market prices at levels which are more competitive than even the most mature alternatives. Whenever external price shocks happen, renewables often get a bump, only to later get wiped out when the shock fades and oil prices fall back to previous low levels. As such, I think renewables get a worse rap than they deserve … which is not to say they don’t have problems.

        The last estimates I read about were in the 250-500 year range at current use levels.

        Was that proven reserves, or estimates? That time frame looks more like the numbers for proven coal reserves to me.

        The pricing of oil on the market for the decade before it dropped to cheap as dirt was not due to scarcity but due to political and economic interference.

        I agree, and price volatility due to those kind of geopolitical macroeconomic forces is one economic risk which figures prominently in my thinking.

        But at the same time, we have a huge supply of radioactive material that can be used in lieu of the sun for everything we need. We simply refuse to use it because of political and economic interference. That is where we should go instead of trying to do things like turn CO2 into methanol.

        As I’ve written elsewhere, I think all options need to be on the table, fission is one of them, has been for a long time. Nukes don’t solve the liquid fuel problem. Electric airplanes really aren’t an option anywhere, it doesn’t work for long-haul road transport, electric cars are inconvenient and only have a dubiously positive total environmental impact, which mostly leaves electrified heavy and light rail. I’m of the opinion the US needs to figure out transport that doesn’t mainly rely on wired electric power, batteries or onboard hydrogen. That means alcohols, alkanes and/or alkenes.

        That the most vocal opposition to fission in the US overwhelmingly comes from the left is not subject to dispute, IMO, and I’m openly critical of it. OTOH, NIMBYism knows no political alignment. On balance, I think nukes are one of the more tractable alternatives — we just need about a zillion tonnes of duct-tape to muffle the din from Greenpeace et al., some strong marginally sane bipartisan horse-traders in DC to light a fire under their colleagues’ posteriors, and prayers and/or other good-luck incantations that the pork barrel triumphs over “ZOMG, Fukushima!”.

        For a chunk (if not all) of that, we can have economically feasible oil.

        If it weren’t for those dratted highly uncertain (and therefore highly disputed) external costs of CO2, I’d be in better agreement with you.

        If you run out of oranges, you should eat your apples – not the wild almonds.

        Just don’t overdo it on eating whole cores, seeds and all, amirite?

      • u.k(us),

        I wonder how the ROI of a Saturn 5 rocket might work out vs windmills, as far as usable energy is concerned ?

        Deciding factor might be whether you mean just the motors themselves, or the whole system. OTOH, a rocket-powered car does sound like fun.

      • Brandon Gates,

        As it stands now, producers still have enough excess capacity to generally keep market prices at levels which are more competitive than even the most mature alternatives. Whenever external price shocks happen, renewables often get a bump, only to later get wiped out when the shock fades and oil prices fall back to previous low levels.
        I agree, and price volatility due to those kind of geopolitical macroeconomic forces is one economic risk which figures prominently in my thinking.
        Yes, but why do you think that will necessarily stop being the case? Oil was $30 a barrel before and it probably won’t go up until we’ve exhausted the reserves that are incredibly easy to get. But that’s Saudi, Iranian, Venezuelan, and Russian oil fields all going dark. The minute we hit $55 a gallon, the US and every other frack-heavy country in the world will flood the market six months after the pricing stabilizes at or above that amount. That’s still fairly cheap. As is $100 a barrel, in the overall scheme of things. And that is where the price cap from fracking negates those geopolitical macroeconomic forces.

        As such, I think renewables get a worse rap than they deserve … which is not to say they don’t have problems.
        That is because you seem to look at it from a purely financial and market viewpoint. Look at it from Energy Return on Investment. Solar and Wind are 0-5x EROI, depending on all of the factors (e.g. perfect sun or wind conditions will net you 5x energy for every unit put in….until it’s no longer perfect). Oil, depending on the type, is 30-45x EROI (fracking is closer to 30x, Saudi oil is closer to 45x). Nuclear is something crazy like 100x EROI (or possibly more, but I may be thinking of energy density on Uranium).

        Solar and Wind are ridiculously under-performing. On top of that, they destroy the environment. Burning oil products helps the environment. Everyone will acknowledge that plants are more lush and green now than 100 years ago. The Sahara and Sahel are both having green encroach on them because the CO2 additions have helped plants survive with less water.

        As I’ve written elsewhere, I think all options need to be on the table, fission is one of them, has been for a long time. Nukes don’t solve the liquid fuel problem. Electric airplanes really aren’t an option anywhere, it doesn’t work for long-haul road transport, electric cars are inconvenient and only have a dubiously positive total environmental impact, which mostly leaves electrified heavy and light rail. I’m of the opinion the US needs to figure out transport that doesn’t mainly rely on wired electric power, batteries or onboard hydrogen. That means alcohols, alkanes and/or alkenes.

        Except that we could use coal and nuclear to create liquid fuels if, for some reason, all the oil vanished in 20 years. It would also be a lot less energy intensive to do so – there are even engine designs that allow use of a coal particulate and water slurry instead of resorting to liquifying the coal.

        Failing that, we could even directly use Stirling engines powered by coal (or even some of the smaller salt nuclear reactor options in development) if we really had absolutely no other way. No matter what we decide to do, we’d need to convert our driving fleet to the new fuel type. Very few vehicles overall are flex fuel capable and able to switch to something like ethanol.

        If it weren’t for those dratted highly uncertain (and therefore highly disputed) external costs of CO2, I’d be in better agreement with you.
        All of those “external costs” of CO2 are calculated by assuming that the GCMs are 100% correct and that no other benefit comes from CO2. Since none of us would exist, today, without it, I ignore those. Until I see a seriously thought out C:B review of CO2, it’s not even something I’ll consider. I’ve read at least four “How much does carbon cost us?!” reports and I only half-jokingly expect the author to tell us that CO2 killed their parents in a drunk driving accident. The state of the subject is truly that comically bad.

        Just don’t overdo it on eating whole cores, seeds and all, amirite?
        It’s a step down of evils. Oranges don’t really harm you, even if you eat the peel (although that’s gross). Apples, if you cram a lot down the hatch in their entirety, could make you sick (though it’s possible to die on domesticated apples, it’s an effort to do). Wild almonds, however, will kill you with about a handful (and if you eat them along with the shells, to continue the theme of the oranges and apples, they will shred your intestines….if you live long enough).

      • My first impression was that this process was intended to get rid of CO2, which is simply stupid. If it is meant to get rid of surplus power from intermittent sorces, it has some merit, as indeed H2 needs a lot of pressure to give it some energy capacity or a lot of energy to make and keep it liquid…

        Even so, the overall yield is only around 50% for hydrogen (electrolysis + recombination in fuel cells), thus even less for this process. The main advantage is the energy storage which is much more compact…

      • Arsten,

        Yes, but why do you think that will necessarily stop being the case?

        For oil? I don’t. Renewables as a hedge against foreign oil dependence and the price volatility that entails has been around since I was old enough to vaguely understand the concept (think 1979 oil crisis). Instead, the US has done that by increasing domestic production. Not a horrible strategy, but obviously not one I particularly like.

        As is $100 a barrel, in the overall scheme of things. And that is where the price cap from fracking negates those geopolitical macroeconomic forces.

        I have very little idea what will happen in the near term, but …

        … that’s what the past looks like. Today’s Brent Crude price is $35/bbl. That kind of price volatility for what is arguably the most important worldwide commodity is something that I think is, well, nuts. At the same time, it’s a testament to our ingenuity how well the rest of the economy absorbs those shocks. Upshot of all this is, I think we can do better, and I’m dubious of arguments that weaning ourselves off the fossil-fuel train before they begin to run out is doomed to fail.

        That is because you seem to look at it from a purely financial and market viewpoint. Look at it from Energy Return on Investment.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_returned_on_energy_invested

        There’s a healthy amount of fudge in those numbers I’m sure, but wind is quite competitive with oil according to the list … but intermittency. Hydro, coal and nukes are king. I’ll take the nukes.

        I’m more familiar with LCOE figures: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_electricity_by_source

        Lotsa fudge in those as well, I’m sure, but you’re correct — they do largely inform my opinions. I’ll still take the nukes, but would actually rather have geothermal. We know a lot about drilling deep holes in the ground, boring for heat seems one of the more obvious next moves.

        Solar and Wind are ridiculously under-performing.

        Taking the figures for the two metrics cited above at face value, I’m not seeing it. The biggest problem with wind (of which I’m not a huge “fan”) and solar (which I like better) is intermittency. Not suitable for baseload power, and I’m increasingly of the opinion that storage as presently discussed isn’t viable. Wind and solar to power a liquid fuel production scheme with a respectable EROI might be viable. I don’t know, I don’t think anyone is going to know until we start tinkering with it in earnest, which frankly we’re not. Crude at $35 can’t be helping matters.

        On top of that, they destroy the environment.

        Everything we do “destroys” the environment to one degree or the other.

        Burning oil products helps the environment.

        All else being equal, it does help plants grow.

        Everyone will acknowledge that plants are more lush and green now than 100 years ago.

        I’m not so sure about that, but speaking for myself, yes that appears to be the case.

        The Sahara and Sahel are both having green encroach on them because the CO2 additions have helped plants survive with less water.

        Won’t do squat for places where there’s virtually no water for consecutive growing seasons. You’re a long way from demonstrating that CO2 is a net benefit on the whole biosphere. Anecdote really doesn’t cut it with me. As I’ve been enjoying this discussion thus far, I’ll let you know I’m a long way from being able to confidently demonstrate a net negative either. My main argument on that point would be that I’m not comfortable about waiting to find out the right answer empirically.

        Except that we could use coal and nuclear to create liquid fuels if, for some reason, all the oil vanished in 20 years.

        Nuke plants require 5 to 7 years to build and bring online. I think coal gasification is a method of very last resort. I just did a quick google for its EROI, couldn’t find one, maybe you have a figure from somewhere? Straight burning it with CCS might be the better option, but CCS is only at the conceptual stage. Without CCS, coal is a really bad idea for reasons that don’t have a thing to do with global warming:

        http://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-deathprint-a-price-always-paid/#78fbfb6949d2

        Nukes win again.

        Very few vehicles overall are flex fuel capable and able to switch to something like ethanol.

        Which is why I’m more a fan of the cyanobacteria route. Photosynthesis is very efficient, the lipids they produce become essentially drop-in replacements for what’s in crude oil with none of the toxic compounds — from refinery to end use with retrofits required only for the refining. But growing and harvesting them is a complex process, only being done on a barely commercial scale, I’ve no idea how close to being competitive it is.

        All of those “external costs” of CO2 are calculated by assuming that the GCMs are 100% correct and that no other benefit comes from CO2.

        Nobody who knows what they’re talking about “assumes” that AOGCMs are 100% correct. In my opinion the IPCC does a more thorough job of throwing their own models under the bus than the articles and comments on this blog does. AR5 discusses CO2 fertilization: https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_Chapter06_FINAL.pdf

        Start around p. 57 of the .pdf.

        Since none of us would exist, today, without it, I ignore those.

        Same as above, nobody I respect is seriously suggesting that entirely removing CO2 from the atmosphere is feasible or desirable.

        Until I see a seriously thought out C:B review of CO2, it’s not even something I’ll consider.

        Unless you’re prepared to accept uncertain estimates of lowered pH in the oceans, the uncertainty implications of what the published CO2 climate sensitivity between 1.5-4.5 K/2xCO2, all of the economic uncertainties, the sheer complexity of issues of biodiversity, habitat encroachment due to population growth, changing weather patterns (too much rain, not enough rain) etc., you’re not going to get a believable CBA for CO2. You simply won’t accept one, so do me a favor and don’t pretend that you would.

        I’ve read at least four “How much does carbon cost us?!” reports and I only half-jokingly expect the author to tell us that CO2 killed their parents in a drunk driving accident. The state of the subject is truly that comically bad.

        As I was saying ….

        Wild almonds, however, will kill you with about a handful (and if you eat them along with the shells, to continue the theme of the oranges and apples, they will shred your intestines….if you live long enough).

        I can probably still think of worse ways to go. Thanks for the chat. Cheers.

      • Brandon Gates,

        … electric cars are inconvenient and only have a dubiously positive total environmental impact …

        I disagree with your judgement of the environmental impact of EVs. See here: http://www.afdc.energy.gov/vehicles/electric_emissions.php

        Right now with energy production the way it is EVs result in about 50% the emissions of conventional gas vehicles in the US as a whole. Assuming we improve our sources of energy, in the near future the gap will widen further. See the data for NY state, for example, where EVs have less than 1/4 the emissions of gas vehicles. I think that people switching to EVs (or at least PHEVs) would have a decidedly positive environmental impact.

      • Jon Keller,

        I disagree with your judgement of the environmental impact of EVs. See here:

        Thanks for the link. The full report is here: http://www.ipd.anl.gov/anlpubs/2009/03/63740.pdf

        Right now with energy production the way it is EVs result in about 50% the emissions of conventional gas vehicles in the US as a whole. Assuming we improve our sources of energy, in the near future the gap will widen further.

        Taking that figure at face value, even without present emissions reductions or expectation future reductions, one argument for EVs is that most electricity generation takes place away from major population centers. So there’s an air quality argument for major urban areas which EVs would stand to better improve than biofuels.

        See the data for NY state, for example, where EVs have less than 1/4 the emissions of gas vehicles. I think that people switching to EVs (or at least PHEVs) would have a decidedly positive environmental impact.

        When I first wrote that, I was thinking more about batteries than electrical supply, which clearly I would prefer to come from non-CO2 emitting sources. This study does NOT support my argument: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/full/10.1021/es903729a

        I’m still dubious. Doesn’t mean I’m wholly opposed, nor unprepared to upgrade to merely skeptical or even cautious support. My overall opinion is that liquid fuels would be the easiest transition due to infrastructure already in place to handle them. It’s all contingent on the viability and net impacts of the liquid fuel(s).

      • Brandon Gates,

        When I first wrote that, I was thinking more about batteries than electrical supply, which clearly I would prefer to come from non-CO2 emitting sources.

        Ah, for some reason (probably the context of WUWT) I thought you were referring to carbon emissions originally. I’ve seen people claim here and similar places that since EVs get their energy from the grid, and the grid gets energy from coal, and coal is dirtier than gas, that EVs are therefore dirtier than gas cars. Convincing bit of logic if you don’t think too hard about it. Anyway, I thought you meant to repeat that claim, my mistake.

        I haven’t seriously thought about the environmental impact of all those batteries before. That will be interesting for me to look into as I’m generally very excited about the rise of EVs. Fortunately from my reading NiMH batteries already have economic incentive attached to being recycled. Li-Ion batteries can be recycled almost completely as well but at the moment there isn’t the same incentive because it would cost more than their material value. So the disposal of batteries doesn’t have to be a problem in the future [1]. The environmental impact of the manufacture of batteries I admit I am less familiar with.

        My overall opinion is that liquid fuels would be the easiest transition due to infrastructure already in place to handle them.

        You make a good point, and I’m sure you’re correct here. However, I haven’t been convinced by any alternative liquid fuel sources. In general they seem costly, inefficient and even dangerous. In addition, infrastructure for EVs has been in the works for years (albeit, slowly). Plus there’s the “draw” (ha) of being able to simply recharge from home if you’re not doing too much more than commuting.

        I’d be interested to see if you have a specific case for an alternative fuel source.

        [1] http://www.edmunds.com/fuel-economy/what-happens-to-ev-and-hybrid-batteries.html

  8. It is interesting chemistry, probably, but will of course not be a viable fuel source. To improve the chances of success, put the reactor in a power station where the feed gas is 25% CO2 and there is plenty of heat that needs getting rid of and they might be on to something.

  9. I’ve discovered a process for converting pixie dust into gold. It will require gigantic vacuums with special filters to trap the pixie dust, and the conversion process runs on clean, green electricity (lots and lots of it). Costs will be somewhat high at first – roughly $100,000 per ounce, but they could probably be brought down to half that or less. With Peak Gold coming, this will be important, so time is of the essence.

  10. Making Methanol competitive with oil
    Defeatist Prakash said:

    Of course it won’t compete with oil today, at around $30 per barrel

    Instead the important question is “HOW we make methanol for ~ $30/barrel from sustainable resources!”

    It begins by innovation to cut the costs of renewable energy below the cost of coal.

    We need innovators and investors willing to tackle that challenge – not those who believe it can’t be done!

    PS I detailed ways to make methanol from renewable resources in 1976.
    Methanol: its synthesis, use as a fuel, economics, and hazards
    Now to get the costs down.

    • I know, right? I have the same problem with my pixie dust-to-gold idea; getting those costs down. It will happen eventually, though. I just know it will!

      • No, no, no,

        you dont need to get the costs down … you need to drive the costs of the competition UP.

        Eliminate 70% of gold mining permits outright. Make the remaining others cost 500% more. Require a $2-gazillion bond for the other peoples operations, convince the sheeple of the world you are doing this for the good of their grandchildren, and viola … you are profitable in your gold dust endeavor.

      • We just have to all join hands, sing Kumbaya, and believe! A few hashish brownies would help, too. Maybe some ‘shrooms. Sweep under the beds and pulverize everything that rolls out from under. Viola!

        Nothing is impossible to the man who doesn’t have to do it himself.

    • It is a bad solution to a non-problem. Only if you can demonstrate beyond any discussion that CO2 is the actual master driver of climate on earth and therefore a problem does it make any sense at all to recycle it.

      Since 25 years of alarmist CAGW/CACC hand waving and “adjusted” data notwithstanding there is no verifiable evidence that CO2 is said master climate driver, and in addition the world is awash in centuries of hydrocarbon energy sources, this proposed CO2 conversing process is a classical example of ivory tower intellectual masturbation.

      • tetris
        Forget CO2 and look at LIQUID FUEL FOR TRANSPORT – currently 95% from petroleum. AND
        >> 95% vehicles require liquid fuel.
        To keep civilization afloat THAT must be supplied FIRST.
        Exxon sees a 30% growth in transport fuel to 2040 while conventional oil (+ condensates) has been DECLINING since 2005 and to 2040 per Exxon’s 2016 Outlook fig on pg 62.
        Wake up and look at the real looming problem.

    • Why would you want to perpetuate the continued existence of the internal combustion engine, by making any more sources of hydrocarbon ” fuels “.

      Gasoline is not the cause of our transport energy consumption problems.

      I drive a two litre Subaru Impreza, now going on 4 years old. It has just over 23,000 miles on it; a mixture of driving around silicon valley and some open road driving. When driving along local roads, at between 25 and 50 mph, I can get 50 mpg routinely.

      But the recorded average mpg for my car is right around half of that; about 25mpg. Subaru says I should get 27 round town and 33 on the highway.

      So what’s wrong. Well the overall average in motion speed for my car is 14 mph.

      Well my car won’t go 14 mph. at its computer set idle speed, with my foot off the gas pedal, the car goes 15 mph. I have to hold my foot on the brake pedal to get down to 14 mph, and remember that is the average; so it spends a lot of time with my foot on the break doing less than 15 mph.

      It’s traffic lights that does it. Going to work on the freeway, I’m not going anything like as fast as 14 mph, and my instantaneous gas mileage is more like 4-6 mpg (I have instrumentation that tells me these things constantly.

      Meanwhile there is a whole freeway lane, and sometimes two that never have any cars in them.

      Petroleum fuel usage has nothing to do with automobile engine efficiency; it is mandated by bureaucrats, and software engineers who can’t solve a traffic control algorithm to save their lives.

      g

      • George Smith, I agree. Seems like traffic “engineering” has not only stood still, but regressed. More & more time is wasted sitting at intersections w/cars idling & looking at each other while the green-light lane is empty. Roundabouts are a better solution for intersections, or at least faster-reacting lights.

    • People have been producing methanol on an industrial scale since the 19th century. The feedstock is synthesis gas which is a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen, this was originally produced by alternatively blowing steam and air across beds of hot coke. When you blow air across in the right proportion you get an exothermic reaction producing CO this raises the Coke temperature to white hot, then you blow steam across the coke and the endothermic reaction produces hydrogen. This was superseded after WW2 by using oil or natural gas as the feedstock which is cheaper. Given the size of the global methanol market there has been ample incentive to reduce costs and a hell of a lot of research by global oil and chemical companies done into improving the processes.

      ‘Renewable’ sources are as usual MORE expensive AND utilise products that would otherwise be available as food. There are two main sources right now. Iceland uses cheap geothermal electricity and heat which is fine if you are an island on a oceanic ridge and the Netherlands where they produce it from vegetables and animal fats left over from food production.

      Global methanol production is around 100 million tonnes per annum whith production being dominated by maunufacturers using natural gas as a feedstock. The big producers are China, Europe, the USA, Saudi Arabia and Central Asian gas producers. The renewables proportion is so small as to not be visible on a graph.

      While 100 million tonnes may seem a large amount you need to recall that world wide petroleum production is around 4,220 million tonnes er annum. This represents a 2.3% INCREASE in one year and of course prices are still dropping, Source : BP Statitisical review 2015

      Lots of luck attracting investors to compete with $30 per barrel oil..

  11. Why are you all so negative ? Granted the process described is, at present, impractical and involves hazardous materials , but in essence it is similar in sustainability and renewability to the wood for biomass system , and does not involve destroying the forests of the SE united states to fuel the power stations of England.
    The really significant point is that people are beginning to think outside the politically closed box of CAGW and once that process begins who knows where it will stop.
    I sort of knew it would be up to chemists to rescue the situation: comes the hour , comes the chemist.

    • It’s a great idea as long as you leave thermodynamics out of it. The problem is that you can’t get more energy out of a process than you put into it and when there is some kind of energy conversion then the losses get much higher. It doesn’t make sense to spend 1,000 joules of energy, regardless of what the source, to generate fuel that contains 400 joules of energy that when burned in a car generates 100 joules of useful work.

    • “Why are you all so negative?”

      I don’t know about the others, but six years of university education in chemical engineering, two degrees, and 49 years of working in industry give me a jaundiced view of off-hand statements like “…in essence it is similar in sustainability and renewability to the wood for biomass system…” when it’s clearly anything but.

      I did my first alternative energy studies in 1962. Things have not changed much since then; nuclear is still king, petroleum fuels still have the second best energy density to nuclear. Solar and wind are vastly inferior. They aren’t even “sustainable” for 24 hours, so what does it matter that they’re allegedly sustainable for 1000 years?

      What you’re looking for is people who think outside the box of reality and science and who believe in free lunches, something-for-nothing, magic crystals and assorted woo-woo.

    • It would be cheaper and safer to use plants to achieve this goal. I’d prefer they not use human food to feed our energy needs. I wonder what the energy conversion rate is for kudzu. If it is viable it would solve multiple problems. Kudzu bounty hunters could clean up a lot of square miles of otherwise wasted land.

  12. Am I missing something? Isn’t this a plan, first and foremost and simply, to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmoshphere, but with some benefit?

    • At best it would only hope to stabilize CO2, but with some benefit. Compare CCS which does aim to draw down atmospheric CO2 but does not produce a usable product.

    • But there is NO benefit in spending ANY money, time, effort, materials, energy (from ANY source) nor resources nor space towards reducing CO2 in the atmosphere.

      Yes, this theoretical process uses an (expensive) catalyst in its scheme. But why waste time and money creating that catalyst? Why waste energy heating the CO2 in the first place just to turn it back into fuel. Use that energy and budget in doing the primary good: Providing something that will benefit people, that will benefit the planet.

      • RACookPE1978,

        But there is NO benefit in spending ANY money, time, effort, materials, energy (from ANY source) nor resources nor space towards reducing CO2 in the atmosphere.

        How nice it must be for you to have a fully functioning crystal ball which makes perfect predictions.

  13. I like the idea of storing solar energy.
    Be it water, hydrogen or methanol. In Switzerland, we have a lot of water energy where we pump water up at night with solar energy and reuse when needed.
    I can also imagine rows of cheap, long-lived microplants in a very sunny place, that produce hydrogen at day and burn this to produce electricity later.
    But I could also imagine a fridge-sized micro atomic power plant in my cellar. It would produce enough energy for my house and be replaced after 20 years of use ;-)
    Regards, Lorenz

    • I have several dozens of solar energy storage devices on a few acres which have supplied my home with reliable efficient heating through 35 long cold Wisconsin winters. They are known around these parts as ‘trees’.

    • In Switzerland, we have a lot of water energy where we pump water up at night with solar energy and reuse when needed.

      Hey, I want one.

  14. Economics aside, from the chemistry standpoint “5 runs without significant loss of activity” doesn’t really address what would be one of the major tong term problems. Catalyst poisoning by nitrogen-containing and sulfur-containing molecules in the atmosphere usually destroy these type of expensive catalysts over time.

    Five thousand runs without significant loss of activity would be interesting.

  15. Nice piece of research – but I can’t see the use of it, unless we want to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere – and why would we do that? Good plant feed – no climate impact – expensive. Maxwell’s demon just whispered in my ear: “get on with Nuclear”

    • Get on with nuclear – OK. I’m with you so far. Now how do you run your car off it?

      Batteries aren’t there yet. They’re getting there. Give me a nuke plant, the right catalyst – this one is a step in that direction – and 400 ppm CO2 in air, and I’ll give you auto fuel. We wouldn’t be pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere, we’d just be borrowing it for a bit.

      • The idea of reducing CO2 to CH4, while expensive in energy terms, would be a way to reprocess CO2 from a CO2 capture system. It doesn’t make any economic sense. The energy efficiencies aren’t high enough. Trying to concentrate CO2 and reduce it with air using nuclear power would also be wasteful. Separating CO2 is not cheap. Off the cuff calculation would be a cost equivalent to $1000 a barrel of oil

  16. Well, the energy in is free and everywhere since it is solar and wind and falling water. It doesn’t have to be efficient if the energy doesn’t cost you anything. Just set it out in the parking lot and voila, you have methanol!

    I still like Steven Hawking’s idea of using a black hole the size of a mountain to power the earth. Best idea yet. Just a little hard to catch one of those pesky devils and park it somewhere. I guess a slight miscalculation and it might just gobble the Earth up though. I’m sure NASA can figure it out.

    • Solar, wind, and hydro power are not free. The capital cost of producing electricity is high, especially for solar, wind less so. But nobody figures in the environmental costs. They are high for all three- losing land are and ecosystems for solar, health effects and dead birds for wind, and lost land and ecosystems for hydro. Environmentalists complain about the impact of fossil fuels. All the current renewables, except may nuclear, have many negative impacts.

    • Shall I turn off sarcasm for you? Okay.

      /s

      There we go.

      [Always more clear that way. Thank you. .mod]

  17. Some of these objections miss the point.

    It is true that if you turn CO2 to fuel, then burn the fuel, you are not on balance taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. That’s fine: The purpose isn’t remediation. It is also true that you get no more energy out (and in practice, of course, less) than you put in. They’re not claiming to have discovered a source of energy.

    Hydrogen itself isn’t a source of energy, it’s a currency. It’s also inconveniently low in density, and low-boiling. Methanol is really easy to store, dispense and burn. CO2 would be a great hydrogen storage medium, if you could interconvert the two readily.

    There are practical objections: Even at 2,000 turnovers per run and five runs, there isn’t enough ruthenium in the world to scale this up to the “methanol economy” these PIs have previously sketched out. As pointed out, someone had to make that amine solvent and that isn’t free, either financially or energetically. You’d take a small but non-trivial hit energetically by distilling out the methanol.

    Add it all up and it’s not viable. Still, it’s interesting chemistry, and a step in a practical direction.

    • Great comment. It sums up everything I’d been thinking about after reading the article and the comments above.

    • JPS,

      I think most of your comments are on the mark except one: they did five runs with minimal loss of catalyst. That does not mean they only got 5 runs because of loss of catalyst to decomposition.

  18. Climate change aside, I find this interesting. Fuel from thin air? Kind of neat, and a technological step forward.

  19. At $110 a liter for pentaethylenehexamine, what could go wrong?

    http://www.sigmaaldrich.com/catalog/product/aldrich/292753?lang=en&region=US

    ‘the resulting methanol can be easily distilled’

    Oh, yeah, easily. Probably taking as much energy as would be derived from burning the methanol. I envision burning methanol to run the still to get the methanol. Neat!

    ‘We will run out of oil and gas, but the sun will be there for another five billion years. So we need to be better at taking advantage of it as a resource.’

    No. We will not run out of oil and gas. There will be plenty for centuries. The distant future will deal with their needs. Think people in 1850 designing our energy systems of today. They would not have helped us. These profs aren’t helping anyone, either.

    ‘Research could one day create a sustainable fuel source from greenhouse gas emissions’

    Sleight of hand. The CO2 is not the fuel source. Using energy from other sources,
    their processes will convert CO2 into a fuel. Their “sustainable fuel source” is only as sustainable as their other energy sources. This is surely going to be a net loss of available energy.

  20. One way you could get around the first law issues is if you are using a coal fired plant’s waste heat to run this process, then convert the plant’s CO2 emissions. You might be able to eek out a little more efficiency from a coal fired plant, although of course CO2 emissions will ultimately be the same once the methane is processed.

    • There’s a reason that they call it ” waste heat “.

      That’s what is left over after you have used the useful energy to do some work. It’s the garbage dump of the energy industry, and you can’t turn it all back into useful energy.

      Brownian Motion of atmospheric dust demonstrates that the molecular motions of heat, go in every which way at random, and they aren’t likely to co-operate with each other in moving the ball in just one direction.

      It’s hard to get lower on the stored chemical energy totem pole, than CO2 gas and H2O water. Well you can get a bit lower by adding salts to the water to make sea water. But we already have plenty of sea water, and it has a lot of CO2 in it as well.

      g

      • You could, conceivably, using a new design of boiler for the coal plants use the same water you are already heating and driving turbines with in a secondary chamber that gets both a CO2 bubbler added as well as pentaethylenehexamine to generate the methane as the water cools.

        The real engineering issue would be creating a distiller that was effective at separating the methanol.

        [To save money, the mods recommend submitting this patent proposal in the same envelope as the next perpetual motion machine. .mod]

      • Years back I saw a story on a fish farm that was diverting some of the water that was headed [from] a power plants cooling pond and used it to warm the water in the fish ponds.

        There are a few uses for such low density energy, but not many, and not all of them can be located close enough to the power plant to take advantage of it.

      • I was speaking of using the waste heat to help heat the working fluid temperature up to the 165 C level that their process operates at. Even if it’s just used to preheat the fluid, and additional energy is needed to get it up to 165C, it’s still useful work that can be extracted from the waste heat. Thanks for the condescending lecture though…harkens me back to my Mechanical Engineering study days.

  21. An “simple” process to produce Methanol from CO2? Sound like it’s ideal for Mars! Just read Zubrin’s “The Case for Mars” where he suggested using methanol/oxygen fuel cells for Mars Rovers. You could even use it for rocket engines. One drawback compared to the production of Methane was according to Zubrin that it was more difficult to produce.

    Of course we need to wait to see how (and if!) this lab demonstration can be transitioned to real life flight hardware…

  22. I cannot see a difference between this and the work of PhD students working under Prof Biswas at Washington University in St Louis. The difference seems to be that Biswas is working on a system than works using solar power at 70 C, a much lower temperature. They are also using an exhaust stream, not open air, so it is far more efficient. Instead of letting the emitted CO2 loose and trying the gather it again, it takes the emissions as they emerge and use solar energy and a catalyst to create methanol.

    There is more than one way to skim a catalyst.

  23. There are at least 2 thermochemical paths to convert CO2 and water into hydrocarbon fuel:
    (1) Use CO2 and hydrogen in the reverse water-gas reaction to form carbon monoxide. Use water and hydrolysis to form hydrogen. Use CO and H2 in the Fischer-Tropsch reaction to make whatever hydrocarbon you like.
    (2) Dissociate CO2 into CO and oxygen (heat will do nicely), then follow with hydrolysis and Fischer-Tropsch.
    There will be quite a bit of heat flowing to and from these various reactions, so it is best performed all in one facility.

    It is simply a way to convert otherwise directly-useless nuclear heat into transportation fuel. Be mindful of the fact that thermal watts from a nuclear power plant are cheaper than electrical watts, due to the conversion efficiency. (Another way is with coal and water, but that is almost too simple.)

    The CO2 can come from the atmosphere or from pyrolysis of junk organic matter. This is a process that can produce essentially unlimited quantities of fuel without straining natural resources or altering the atmospheric composition (assuming that you actually burn the fuel for use). Because the Greens are fundamentally anti-industry and anti-energy, I think you will find that this prospect sets their hair on fire.

    • Either process is a net energy loss. Have you overlooked the energy requirement involved in harvesting 400+ ppm of CO2 from the air? The most effective way to do it (and still get a usable product) involved refrigeration below -109.3°F (-78.5°C), which needs a LOT of energy.

  24. It will work if they throw enough taxpayer subsidy at it. See ethanol and biodiesel for business models.

  25. What are the byproducts of the reaction? I am no chemist but I am certain that there is more to the reaction than:
    air + nasty chemical + heat + catalyst = clean air scrubbed of CO2 + clean water + methanol.

    • Ray H: You forgot to leave the catalyst on both sides (it is not supposed to be consumed in the reaction) and there is probably some residual “nasty chemical” on the right hand side (incomplete reaction) and some residual CO2 for the same reason.

      Why would you be “certain that there is more to the reaction” if you are no chemist?

      • Michael J, you are correct that, by definition, the catalyst should not be consumed during the reaction. Likewise, at any given time the portion of nasty chemical that is not consumed will remain. Beyond that, yes, I am certain that there is more to the reaction (ie. there will be byproducts created).

        The process requires that hydrogen be stripped from the PEHA (nasty chemical) to combine with carbon stripped from CO2 to produce methane. The remaining elements will certainly combine to form new compounds that would be considered byproducts to the reaction. Since I am not a chemist, I have no idea what these compounds will be. I just know they will be created and my point is that the reaction output will not be limited to clean air, clean water, methanol, and a benign (not toxic) catalyst.

        Beyond disposing of the resulting liquid waste, the byproducts could pose a real problem if any of them have an evaporation temperature lower than methanol as they would be released first in the distillation process.

        To answer your second question, I am an engineer with rudimentary chemistry education from many, many years ago.

  26. If, by some miracle, this turned out to be a widely adopted technology, the UN would immediately form a “scientific” commission to study how its use is starving plants of carbon dioxide.

  27. Methanol is really too difficult to handle. What you really need to do is get to ethanol. How much is the distillation at the end of the process going to require?. What is the energy in vs the energy out for the whole process. I myself have been experimenting with a biochemical process that turns H2O and CO2 under sunlight into a solid fuel that is easy to burn. The fuel is identical to wood. The process is as easy as growing trees and also generates O2.

    • Why do you say that methanol is too difficult to handle? The main issues are materials compatibility and flammability. Preventing toxic exposure is relatively easy, and if it’s spilled it isn’t the dire disaster that many would have us believe. Methanol disappears very quickly from the environment through a number of mechanisms, including both aerobic and anaerobic bio-degradation.

      The toxicity of methanol to humans and some other animals is largely a result of species-specific metabolism pathways that can result in formaldehyde buildup in the system.

  28. The basic idea is a dream: Let’s turn ashes back into fuel. CO2 is a product of combustion, and so is water. Why don’t they turn water into fuel? BTW, water is a much worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

    The College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences is a nice incubator of dreams.

  29. There is already an efficient process for turning CO2 into fuel. It’s called photosynthesis. So we let the trees do the conversion, then we burn the trees as fuel, releasing CO2 for the next generation of trees.
    What next? How about splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. Oh wait, that takes energy. Both CO2 and H2O are the products of combustion. Reversing the process takes up more energy than it can produce – isn’t that a basic law of thermodynamics?
    The British scientist and author C.P. Snow had an excellent way of remembering the three laws:
    1. You cannot win (that is, you cannot get something for nothing, because matter and energy are conserved).
    2. You cannot break even (you cannot return to the same energy state, because there is always an increase in disorder; entropy always increases).
    3. You cannot get out of the game (because absolute zero is unattainable).

  30. Massive reduction reaction (removal of oxygen/addition of Hydrogen).

    Where is the energy coming from? (Remember that catalysts lower the activation energy, not the total energetics).

  31. This is just another energy scam and has no merit as a practical idea.

    Where does the hydrogen come from? H2 does not exist in nature for very long. Bacteria turns it into methane. Hydrogen is an important industrial chemical. It is a huge industry. H2 for industry is mainly produced from natural gas or methane. Because of chemical properties of H2 we are not worried about energy efficiency. One example of a useful chemical is ammonia. The by product is CO2, lots of it.

    The fist point is there are plenty of concentrated sources of CO2.

    Second, methanol is not a good transportation fuel. It is always fun to watch the debate on who pet bad idea is better. I am sticking with corn ethanol. For the record there was no rush to get there. There is no corn ethanol mandate. The 2005 Energy Bill did require that some transportation come from renewable sources. Farmers in places like Iowa beat the competition with a practical product.

    The second point is that you have to beat the competition in the market place.

    I worked in nuclear power. Not that I am worried about CO2 but is much more practical to not burn fossil fuel to make electricity that it is scrub it out trace amounts for the air.

    • In all fairness, this is not an “energy scam.” They very clearly acknowledged that they needed source energy to drive the process–though their selection of “renewable” energy is, admittedly, laughable. Even so, their approach is no rejection of known thermodynamics. In their playbook, it would be an energy storage approach.

      But methanol? Brand Yechhh as a fuel, but not unreasonable if used in a fuel cell. I’ve read that methanol fuel cells are being investigated to supersede lithium-ion batteries in small consumer electronics.

      • “They’re making fuel from thin air at the USC ….”
        Scam! The fuel is hydrogen. I went back and read the press release and the ACS abstract. It is not clearly acknowledged.

        If you can not see the scam, would you be interested in a bridge in NYC?

  32. It seems to me that GOD invented a way to convert CO2 and H2O into fuel a few billion years ago. Really low tech if I remember correctly, just requires sunlight for energy to power the catalysts and they replicate themselves during the processes. Any patents ran out long ago and the seed stock is freely available. 8-) …pg

  33. For the first time, researchers there have directly converted carbon dioxide from the air into methanol at relatively low temperatures.

    Interesting science but what a waste. Why not let plants pull the CO2 out of the air for nothing, and then turn the plants into fuel? It is easy to turn organic material into fuel, and some processes are getting close to being commercially viable.

  34. It might work with plentiful nuclear energy if it was too cheep to meter, but from Rud Istvan:

    Methane round trip energy efficiency would be about 0.75 (hydrolysis) * 0.95 (catalysis yield) * 0.9 (net [half] methanation exothermic loss) * 0.8 (minimum CC parasitic load) * 0.6 (flexed CCGT) or ~31%— no better than hydrogen alone, after all the chemical complications. Methane storage avoids the technical hydrogen storage challenge, but at the expense of much additional chemical plant capital, operations, and maintenance cost. It worsens the chemical storage economics.

    https://judithcurry.com/2015/07/01/intermittent-grid-storage/

  35. Tilting at windmills.

    It is not fossil fuel. It is hydrocarbons. It is renewable. It is created deep in the
    earth and rises until it hits resistance, such as a layer of sedimentary rock
    which allows it to accumulate, causing some people to come to the conclusion
    that is “fossil”. When the pressure is relieved, more will perk up, continuously
    renewing.

    Nothing can compete with hydrocarbons for portable energy. The idea that
    they are rare or should be expensive or are running out is an idea perpetuated
    by big oil and the IPCC types to further their own interests, big oil to
    be able to charge more than their product is actually worth and the IPCC
    to take over world governance.

  36. CO2 is in the energy valley. You can push it back up the hill (methanol) and roll it down again, but all you get back is SOME of the energy you spent pushing it up.

    • Steve Case,

      Did you just do a word search? You should have actually read the posts. A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. Photosynthesis was mentioned by name several time and by inference (plant/tree growth) many times.

      I read the posts because there were a few points I considered making but discovered great minds think alike – others had already made those points.

      SR

  37. Quote

    Carbon Recycling International has built an adjacent plant that converts the carbon dioxide into methanol, a fuel and feedstock for making plywood, paints, and other products. It may be the first company anywhere to demonstrate a commercially viable way of making liquid fuel directly from carbon dioxide, something that could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    https://www.technologyreview.com/s/521031/company-makes-co2-into-liquid-fuel-with-help-from-a-volcano/

    Unquote

    If you read the link, you will note that Iceland generates at USD 4 cents per kilowatt hour. That is the global base price. Compare that with free renewable energy in Germany at USD 40 cents.

    Case closed

    Note also all electricity generating fuels. oil, gas and coal plus transport are at record lows.

  38. As someone who examined hopefully the prospect of methanol as an alternative fuel (i.e. making methanol from coal), human heath issues raise their heads. As we know, ingesting methanol in any kind of significant amounts (as in bad moonshine) can have deleterious effects on humans, including affecting the brain and causing blindness (because methanol damages the optic nerve).
    Though small amounts of methanol are processed by the body routinely (such as in orange juice) without any damage at all, even amounts people would be exposed to such as sitting in rush hour traffic on a highway with many methanol-fueled cars, or even being in a garage where a methanol-fueled car was recently parked (as methanol evaporates) can cause damage to people, especially smaller children.
    Changing the parts of a car out that would be damaged by methanol is not an expensive proposition, but there are issues with water in the fuel since the methanol is hydrophilic.

    USC has designed a method of turning a harmless gas into a non-safe fuel by a multi-step process using large amounts of energy (requiring much more energy – and therefore fuel of some type – than produced), a toxic catalyst, and a pile of money.
    If we want methanol, we could make it from coal as well as oil, where at least the feedstock is also the fuel.

  39. Amazing. Simply amazing.

    But if you ask me, Hans Erren has a better proposal for turning CO2 back into C and O2.

    • Except some USC Trojans might be getting a bit huffy about your reference to the UCLA Huggie Bears, who had nothing to do with this. Although some Trojans might be wishing that this could be pinned on UCLA.

  40. Okay. You reduce CO2 to CH3OH, and then distill. Let’s say that you burn methanol to run the boiler to supply the steam to power the distillation. How much methanol would you have left over? If you care about energy efficiency, you are not going to like the answer.

  41. “right off the bat it can’t compete with oil, especially when gasoline is now under $2 a gallon”
    So basically that is why energy rates have “necessarily skyrocket” so these un-viable ideas become viable.

  42. Since I have worked in the energy business for over 50 years including CO capture which is expensive, one can imagine how many similar claims have been made over the years from the universities et. al. that have contributed ZERO net energy. Clearly now that the taxpayer is funding this activity the number of claims for viable alternative energies have increased geometrically. For example, numerous failures have been associated with using catalyst that is too expensive, rare, and has a short activity life.
    I don’t know the particulars on this claim but here is some info on the catalyst mentioned. It may cost more than the value of the product?

    “Ruthenium is a chemical element with symbol Ru and atomic number 44. It is a rare transition metal belonging to the platinum group of the periodic table. Like the other metals of the platinum group, ruthenium is inert to most other chemicals.”

    Ruthenium Price 42.00 USD/ozt (37.92 EUR/ozt) 03 Feb 2016 – 52 Week Low 42.00 USD/ozt 52 Week High 56.00 USD/ozt ..

    Why would you spend tax dollars on RARE elements as your catalyst? This issue among the many other limitations already mentioned including the energy required many be greater than the energy provided. Of course this is the huge problem with ethanol from corn which the Dept of Agriculture distorts to mislead the public and the politicians.
    I’m not ready to invest in this claim from the university. It probably cannot compete with $100/bbl oil and likely cannot be commercialized based on past experience with other University projects.
    Would like to be wrong once, but I have no confidence in those handing out other peoples money. Let the free market decide as long as we have ample fossil fuels.

  43. I’m intrigued by the number of respondents who have so quickly and correctly identified that there’s nothing ‘free’ in this process in terms of energy/Laws of Thermodynamics. It contrasts with the seeming majority on WUWT who believe that heat flows the wrong way, from a cooler atmosphere to the warmer surface and makes the surface yet warmer, because magic.

    • ‘It contrasts with the seeming majority on WUWT who believe that heat flows the wrong way, from a cooler atmosphere to the warmer surface …’
      ————–
      I haven’t a clue how you came up with that statement. If you ask me, you are somewhere near 180 degrees off with your attribution of belief.

    • Heat doesn’t flow, it radiates.
      Big difference.
      Heat radiates from any object that is above absolute zero. The higher above, the more it radiates.
      Thus heat can radiate from a cool object to a hot object, while at the same time heat is radiating from the hot object to the cool object.
      The rate at which the hot object loses energy is heat radiated minus heat absorbed. Hence by making a near by cool object warmer, you can slow down the rate at which the hot object looses heat.

      Please try to learn something about thermodynamics.

      • Let me more precise, heat does flow, but only so long as the two objects are in physical contact.
        The ground is only in physical contact with the molecules of air that are at the lowest layer of the atmosphere, and that layer is only one molecule thick.
        For surface and atmosphere interactions, it is the relative radiations that you need to examine.

      • @ MarkW Feb 4, 09:28 & 10:41 am

        “Let me more precise, heat does flow, but only so long as the two objects are in physical contact. …
        “Please try to learn something about thermodynamics”

        How interesting.

  44. Let’s keep in mind that there are 3 forms of heat transfer that are normally considered in the Engineering world including Conduction, Convection, and Radiation. It seems that most discussions seem to be centered on radiation (only) which does not make sense to me.
    Objects do not have to be in physical contact to have heat transfer between them as long as there is a temperature difference. Heat transfer is often a combination of Conduction and convection and radiation in the real world. Often a different material (insulation) is used to reduce heat transfer between to mediums to reduce conduction. The other major factor that can significantly affect heat transfer in the real world is convection. Even though two objects are separated by a gap the fluid between the objects transfers the heat. Empirical Heat transfer coefficients are used to calculate heat transfer via convection to simplify the calculations.

    “Heat energy transferred between a surface and a moving fluid at different temperatures is known as convection.”
    “In reality this is a combination of diffusion and bulk motion of molecules. Near the surface the fluid velocity is low, and diffusion dominates. Away from the surface, bulk motion increase the influence and dominates.”

    “Convective heat transfer may take the form of either

    forced or assisted convection
    natural or free convection”

    It’s hard to believe that wind blowing across the earth or sea surface is not an important factor in transferring a significant amount of heat energy which may be convected upward with negligible impact of CO 2.
    What have I missed?

  45. So many comments here saying that the process needs energy input so therefore it is not viable. The main point is not that it needs energy input, rather it is the quality of that heat that matters. Being able to run at 165 degrees centigrade means that this process can piggy back on many forms of waste heat that currently needs to be vented. Think power station cooling towers (especially nuclear which like to stay at full output over night) or just straight solar thermal. Same for the distillation step.

    Being able to make fuel from waste heat and CO2 in places that don’t currently have access to hydrocarbons has the potential to significantly reduce world political instability related to oil production and use. For that reason alone this research should be strongly supported. The fact that it could help produce peace in our times is exactly why it won’t be funded of course…oh, and the nay sayers…

    • Mike,
      Your first paragraph makes a lot of sense. The second one seems a tangled web. Some writers claim various countries need oil at 100USD to operate, Russia is one, I think, but not the only one. You do say “places that don’t currently have access to hydrocarbons” and so such a process might be good for some. For others, anything that keeps the price close to 30USD is detrimental. Therefore, it is not clear how “world political” stability would come about.

  46. Yes and to go massive these things will require a massive source carbon-neutral non-intermittent electricity or process heat source to accomplish, which LFTR advocates (CO2 lovers and haters both) have been shouting from the rooftops, for awhile.

    There is also the challenge of capturing nitrogen from the air to make the fertilizer used in large scale agriculture without the use of oil or natural gas. Be wary of the move afoot to bring into being genetic solutions to this problem. The oxygen depletion problems which stem from chemical fertilizer runoff largely stem from extreme over-use, not mere use.

    Anything man does chemically and industrially, man can voluntarily scale down by any degree. But tailoring microbes and splicing ‘superior’ attributes into them carries the potential to bring about an Unmentionable Bad Thing that no one can control or unintended consequences we cannot live with. Because we’d be dead or dying.

    PRESERVE THE ENVIRONMENT using ONLY applied energy, machinery, chemistry and industry.
    Because molecules do not breed. So long as we use do it this way we retain complete control.
    Hand control to bio-engineers and they might lose control of their critters.
    Perhaps bio-ethics is not about morality after all, it’s just common sense applied.

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