Another pie in the sky green scheme for using that excess atmospheric CO2

From the “there’s a shedload of carbon on the surface” department comes this “green solution” that will “overcome the environmental sins of our past”. Oy.

Converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into batteries
A green solution for a global problem


The Solar Thermal Electrochemical Process (STEP) converts atmospheric carbon dioxide into carbon nanotubes that can be used in advanced batteries. CREDIT Julie Turner, Vanderbilt University

The Solar Thermal Electrochemical Process (STEP) converts atmospheric carbon dioxide into carbon nanotubes that can be used in advanced batteries. CREDIT Julie Turner, Vanderbilt University

An interdisciplinary team of scientists has worked out a way to make electric vehicles that are not only carbon neutral, but carbon negative, capable of actually reducing the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide as they operate.

They have done so by demonstrating how the graphite electrodes used in the lithium-ion batteries that power electric automobiles can be replaced with carbon material recovered from the atmosphere.

The recipe for converting carbon dioxide gas into batteries is described in the paper titled “Carbon Nanotubes Produced from Ambient Carbon Dioxide for Environmentally Sustainable Lithium-Ion and Sodium-Ion Battery Anodes” published in the Mar. 2 issue of the journal ACS Central Science.

The unusual pairing of carbon dioxide conversion and advanced battery technology is the result of a collaboration between the laboratory of Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Cary Pint at Vanderbilt University and Professor of Chemistry Stuart Licht at George Washington University.

The team adapted a solar-powered process that converts carbon dioxide into carbon so that it produces carbon nanotubes and demonstrated that the nanotubes can be incorporated into both lithium-ion batteries like those used in electric vehicles and electronic devices and low-cost sodium-ion batteries under development for large-scale applications, such as the electric grid.

“This approach not only produces better batteries but it also establishes a value for carbon dioxide recovered from the atmosphere that is associated with the end-user battery cost unlike most efforts to reuse CO2 that are aimed at low-valued fuels, like methanol, that cannot justify the cost required to produce them,” said Pint.

The project builds upon a solar thermal electrochemical process (STEP) that can create carbon nanofibers from ambient carbon dioxide developed by the Licht group and described in the journal Nano Letters last August. STEP uses solar energy to provide both the electrical and thermal energy necessary to break down carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen and to produce carbon nanotubes that are stable, flexible, conductive and stronger than steel.

“Our climate change solution is two fold: (1) to transform the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide into valuable products and (2) to provide greenhouse gas emission-free alternatives to today’s industrial and transportation fossil fuel processes,” said Licht. “In addition to better batteries other applications for the carbon nanotubes include carbon composites for strong, lightweight construction materials, sports equipment and car, truck and airplane bodies.”

Joining forces with Pint, whose research interests are focused on using carbon nanomaterials for battery applications, the two laboratories worked together to show that the multi-walled carbon nanotubes produced by the process can serve as the positive electrode in both lithium-ion and sodium-ion batteries.

In lithium-ion batteries, the nanotubes replace the carbon anode used in commercial batteries. The team demonstrated that the carbon nanotubes gave a small boost to the performance, which was amplified when the battery was charged quickly. In sodium-ion batteries, the researchers found that small defects in the carbon, which can be tuned using STEP, can unlock stable storage performance over 3.5 times above that of sodium-ion batteries with graphite electrodes. Most importantly, both carbon-nanotube batteries were exposed to about 2.5 months of continuous charging and discharging and showed no sign of fatigue.

Depending on the specifications, making one of the two electrodes out of carbon nanotubes means that up to 40 percent of a battery could be made out of recycled CO2, Pint estimated. This does not include the outer protective packaging but he suggested that processes like STEP could eventually produce the packaging as well.

The researchers estimate that with a battery cost of $325 per kWh (the average cost of lithium-ion batteries reported by the Department of Energy in 2013), a kilogram of carbon dioxide has a value of about $18 as a battery material – six times more than when it is converted to methanol – a number that only increases when moving from large batteries used in electric vehicles to the smaller batteries used in electronics. And unlike methanol, combining batteries with solar cells provides renewable power with zero greenhouse emissions, which is needed to put an end to the current carbon cycle that threatens future global sustainability.

Licht also proposed that the STEP process could be coupled to a natural gas powered electrical generator. The generator would provide electricity, heat and a concentrated source of carbon dioxide that would boost the performance of the STEP process. At the same time, the oxygen released in the process could be piped back to the generator where it would boost the generator’s combustion efficiency to compensate for the amount of electricity that the STEP process consumes. The end result could be a fossil fuel electrical power plant with zero net CO2 emissions.

“Imagine a world where every new electric vehicle or grid-scale battery installation would not only enable us to overcome the environmental sins of our past, but also provide a step toward a sustainable future for our children,” said Pint. “Our efforts have shown a path to achieve such a future.”


64 thoughts on “Another pie in the sky green scheme for using that excess atmospheric CO2

  1. “The end result could be a fossil fuel electrical power plant with zero net CO2 emissions.” And if pigs had wings they could fly. This sounds like one of those “save the world” theories born out of a bong.

    • “Imagine a world where every new electric vehicle or grid-scale battery installation would not only enable us to overcome the environmental sins of our past, but also provide a step toward a sustainable future for our children,” said Pint. “Our efforts have shown a path to achieve such a future.”

      Ignores the environmental nightmare that lithium mining is. So much for sustainable.

      • In Nevada they pump it out of the ground. let the water evaporate and process the salts. not a nightmare at all.

      • The best of thread award to SMC.

        Now, the subject of turning ambient co2 to batteries – it leaves me wordless because I’m incapable of thinking how, in simple terms without higher mathematics or complicated logic, one can explain why the idea is insane. I mean, yes, it’s stupid, but how explain it to a literature student. Or your grandma, for starters.

    • Yet another instance of a scheme to make a perpetual motion machine of the 2nd kind. There is this little thing called entropy. It is a ONE WAY ratchet.

  2. Good stuff, until CO2 reaches below 150 ppm. But they’ll have a substitute for all plant life by then, right? Clever Greenies.

    • First will come the “peak CO2” argument, then the “how are we going to maintain levels of CO2 to continue” argument, followed by government grants to study how to put more CO2 into the atmosphere, followed by the “discovery” that burning fossil fuels can do the trick, followed by more government subsidies to build fossil fuel burning energy producing technology, followed by …….

      • NAW…
        This process produces Carbon Nanotubes AND O2. With a process that creates Oxygen from CO2, we won’t need Trees anymore. No need to use fossil fuels to produce CO2 just burn those unnecessary trees

      • Eventually the free money’s going to run out. Then this nonsense will stop. Of course so will everything else.

      • Barbara commented: “…Dealing with all these papers is like trying to swat flies in a horse barn….”

        +1 :-)

  3. From the same University that gave us Algore

    “Notable alumni from Vanderbilt University’s School of Engineering include Dennis Bottorff, chairman of Council Ventures, a venture capital firm; and David Dyer, former president and CEO of Tommy Hilfiger Corp.”

    If these are the most notable alums from a School of Engineering then one might ask “are they really teaching engineering?”

  4. It still does not do anything about the minor little tendency of lithium-ion batteries to catch fire. BFD really as a real part of a utility-scale “green” power cycle/

      • Since the cathode is carbon and non-reative as an electron collector, it in fact could be diminishingly small. ( am assuming quite a bit.)

  5. While reading the article I had the feeling a unicorn was looking over my shoulder. All the quackmobiles were sold with out a downside. Another quackmobile?

  6. This can work and on a large scale. All it needs is a large pile of trade-able tax credits and a well-connected management team consisting of former political leaders or donor bundlers with superior knowledge of gaming the system and the programs for interconnected loans, grants, and the tax credits. It’s so easy Terry McAuliffe could do it.

    • Yup. Just like Solyndra worked on a large scale. Blew $500 million. And Range Fuels. Blew $250 million. Vandy just has to think big.

  7. Ok, technically feasible. Just two problems. 1. Very energy intensive. Where does that come from? 2. CNT are very, very expensive compared to the natural and synthetic graphites used in LiIon today. Cheapest anywhere is about $100/kg for multiwall CNT grown at CAER, University of Kentucky. Sold mostly to US government for research.
    This complete waste of time inane ‘breakthrough’ makes unaffordable electric vehicles more unaffordable. Sure hope Vandy did not do this work using government funding.

    • ” Sure hope Vandy did not do this work using governemnt funding.” I’ll put my $100/kg on RED. O.K. Dealer, spin the wheel (RED is for Debt… more Government money spent on ridiculous studies of inane, pie-in-the-sky studies)

  8. Looks to me like they’re missing a lot of necessary information and costs of each process step.

    Then there is the CO2 to carbon nanotubes via solar cell power.
    – I have doubts that intermittent solar power, especially power under usage needs, like powering a car or radio, can produce clear carbon nanotube anodes.

    Want to bet most of this is based on models?

    • Yup!

      Guff, fluff and news announcements pretending to be science.

      “STEP uses an electrolysis cell consisting of molten lithium carbonate (Li2CO3) as the electrolyte. Using the thermal energy of the sunlight, the cell is heated to a temperature above the melting point of lithium carbonate. Atmospheric carbon dioxide is then bubbled through the cell. The CO2 reacts with the lithium carbonate, and depending on the reaction temperature attained, either solid carbon is deposited at the cathode or carbon monoxide is produced. This conversion of carbon dioxide into solid carbon is facilitated by the visible rays of the sun that drive the reaction, when the visible rays are converted to electricity through photovoltaic techniques…”

      “…Stage of Development
      – •Thorough testing at the laboratory scale
      – •Carbon capture and iron production demonstrated…”

      Laboratory scale tests with molten lithium carbonate and they discovered carbon and iron in their end products… probably by qualitative analysis, not by directed product output.


      Dream a little dream…

      Fools with empty paper, too many fantasies and lazy dolts for news reporters..

      • This sounds like a partial solution to a partial solution. It’s worth it’s weight in paperclips.

        Lithium Carbonate melts at 723C. The only way to do that is build huge steel and concrete structures in desert areas surrounded by hundreds of acres of mirrors. Production of said structures emits enormous amounts of CO2 from transportation, assembly and curing of the structures.

        But then PETA steps in and shuts them all down because they kill birds.

        Another bright idea: electric cars will take us off gas… except the total environmental impact of a Prius is the same as a Hummer H2 because of the transportation of parts, toxicity of the batteries and cost in producing the electricity in the first place.

        Has anyone considered all the power requirements for all the servers running various inaccurate climate models and dubious studies is in fact driving up CO2 production? Just by talking about climate change to the public increases server activity which increases power requirements which produces more CO2.

  9. Utter bunk !

    That very small amount of carbon “captured” is a one off. To ‘unburn’ CO2 to get some carbon will take yet more energy.

    Neither the production of the car battery nor the mileage of the vehicle will be “carbon neutral”. This is about as stupid as carbon-free sugar.

    Is there no end to this crap?

  10. This report from the Vanderbilt “interdisciplinary team of scientists” reminds me of a conversation I had with a fellow, years ago. He thought that a wind charger mounted on an electric car was a great idea- charge the car as he went. After I pointed out the most rudimentary facts about friction and other losses, he thought for a moment and said: “it could work, just have to figure out the details”. Clueless.

    • I can go one better. I had a chat with someone who said wind gennies on a airplane would work. Not clueless, just plain dumb!

      • A number of planes have wind turbines that are built to pop out in the event of a total engine failure, in order to provide enough power to keep the computers that fly the plane powered.

  11. Great idea! Now just find some investors to plop down a few hundred thousand in seed money. Gallup over to some big banks for some financial backing. Scurry over to Wall Street to announce an IPO.

    And, get the ball rolling without the taxpayer footing the bill. I’m sure you’ll have no trouble.

  12. Why not just use the process to create O2 and giant piles of carbon? If enough of this is done, there will be no need for photosynthesis to effect CO2 conversion and we will create a new surplus of coal instead of a pile of bothersome biomass. Then we can cut down all of the remaining trees and convert them to pellets for sale to the UK for energy generation.

    Everybody wins and we don’t need to make all of those polluting batteries. Win, win, win, win………..

  13. Splitting CO2 back into Oxygen and Carbon has to be very energy intensive. My car does the reverse, only captures 25% of the energy and gets propelled 40 miles per gallon down the highway at 60 mph. Plants have been working on it for millions of years, and even they are extremely inefficient at doing it. I wish these guys luck, but let’s wait a while to see if this perpetual motion machine can get off the ground. I doubt it.

    • Some interesting numbers. The actual annual photosynthetic efficiency of Indonesia’s Lore Lindu National Park on Sulawese (mountainous tropical rain forest) is 1%. Carefully spaced crops can do 4% but only during the growing season. Actual crops run 2% during growing season because more densely planted (shading). Theoretical maximum for C3 plants is 4.5%. Discussed in Gaia’s Limits concerning biofuel implications.

    • Trust me, I generally agree with you. But, the new Toyota Prius is said to achieve 40% efficiency. Now, I don’t drive a Prius, nor would I. I drive a classic Porsche 911S.

      Oh hell, I might as well come clean. I drive a dinky, first generation Honda Insight. I also park two blocks from my home and wear a Groucho Marx disguise while I’m in it.

      BTW: The huge (up to 117,000hp) 2 cycle, turbocharged, Wartsila marine diesels are actually achieving 50% efficiency.

  14. “Licht also proposed that the STEP process could be coupled to a natural gas powered electrical generator. The generator would provide electricity, heat and a concentrated source of carbon dioxide…the oxygen released in the process could be piped back to the generator where it would boost the generator’s combustion efficiency ….”

    Whoa! I wonder how long a gas turbine’s going to last with pure oxygen added to the combustion? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Fifteen? Place your bets now. One thing’s for sure, though: It’ll be cool watching a slow motion film of it coming apart with glowing pieces being hurtled out at 50,000 rpm and punching through a disintegrating red hot casing.

    • Given the efficiencies of their conversion process, I doubt the boost in O2 concentration will be more than about 1%.

  15. Carbon cathode batteries and carbon cathode fuel cells work. They have been around for years. The use of the words “carbon nanotube”, likely to create high surface area in the battery is money-scam buzz-word.

    Oh well.

    So where does the energy come from? Assume the world is awash in carbon black.
    The anode and the O2?
    In this case lithium. Lithium –> lithium oxide and this chemistry is non-reversible.
    It seems to me that every battery maker on earth would be doing this already if it was worth it.
    Ground-up carbon in a porous cookie or carbon fiber mat already exists in batteries and works fine.Ground-up powder has a high surface area. The nano tubes will likely have to be covered with a angstrom-thin coating of chromium or something. I don’t see what is new here.

  16. Any “conversation” that starts with something to the effect of: “The (atmospheric) carbon or carbon dioxide problem…” should immediately be factually rebutted with, “there is no carbon or carbon dioxide problem, atmospheric or otherwise”. It is a false narrative, or false premise from the get-go.

  17. This article brings up so many issues that are not mentioned and should have been discussed:
    Solar Thermal technologies are expensive
    Reducing CO2 to C is energy intensive and that energy may be put to better use somewhere else
    Yes, Carbon Nanotubes are worth more than fuel, but the fuel market is millions fold larger and only a tiny amount of carbon will be needed for battery applications
    Solar Thermal processes have huge negative issues such as land area use, bird kill, insect kill, not to mention displacement of desert turtles
    The life cycle assessment of this process was not discussed, and all of the energy used to build the facility has to be assigned to the product and compared to other methods of producing that product
    No mention is made of how CO2 is removed from the atmosphere which is a very energy intensive process in itself

    More issues could be added to this list, but this is a good start for questions for the authors. I doubt they have considered them in an depth or at all.

    I would conclude that the authors were working on carbon nanotubes and couldn’t get funding until they dreamed up this scheme to connect their work to CAGW. Cynic that I am.

    • Dr. Bob commented: “…This article brings up so many issues that are not mentioned and should have been discussed…”

      Anything that supports the AGW meme is printed. This is another shoot, ready, aim scheme that does more harm than good yet all the Eco fanatics will support it because the promises “sound good”. Economics, side effects, negative impacts, and practicality mean nothing as long as the goal is met. The end justifies the means even if the ‘cure’ may not work. More Eco/Socialist dogma.

    • Exactly.

      “Carbon Nanotubes Produced from Ambient Carbon Dioxide for Environmentally Sustainable Lithium-Ion and Sodium-Ion Battery Anodes”

      A use for nanotubes produced from CO2 does not create validity for producing nanotubes from CO2. The issue is “Are nanotubes created from ambient CO2 competitive with other sources of carbon nanotubes?”

      The battery tech is independent.

  18. just looks to me like the continuing search for the perpetual motion machine until we have 110% efficiency in chemical conversion to useful results. We should call it “best mega perpetual motion evah!”

  19. Perhaps this idea is confirmation of the assertion that the cost of higher education is too high in relation to the quality of its output. This may be a consequence of the increased efforts worldwide to suppress the ivory trade thereby making academia’s ivory towers too expensive to build or maintain. A shift from ivory to carbon towers may be in order. Then those nanotubes wouldn’t be depleting the limited lithium resources of the planet; resources that would be much better employed in the treatment of various mental disorders.

  20. What if there is already a sneaky way the gov has plotted to reduce CO2 in your backyard?
    My house has a newer hi eff gas furnace with the intake/exhaust set next to each other out the basement wall. My side yard this exhausts/draw in is below the rest of the yard so is subject to air inversions where a cold overnite air overlays the previous warm air trapping it close to the ground. And thus the furnace draws in mostly exhaust air. Deadly for inhabitants of the house. Nearly fatal for me.
    And now I wonder why this lower intake/exhaust instead of the previous chimney use? Looking at the results, this requirement for homes means that the air higher up is more or less available for industrial/commercial use to a greater extent as the homes are venting low to the ground. Could it be that this requirement for homes is a way to give the commercial entities more leeway for air exchange? Better your house be contaminated with exhaust air than the local hospital or jail?
    Is this a behind-the-scenes adjustment to subtly reduce carbon dioxide as CO plus water vapor equals CO2

    • I’ll bet it is mostly Nitrogen and the cost of separation is astronomical.
      Batteries are now much more expensive than currently which already kills the economic viability of the electric car along with the short range.

  21. If you assume the moon is made of green cheese, then it might make sense to fly rockets to the moon to harvest said cheese.
    Except a) said cheese doesn’t exist, and b) even if it did, harvesting moon cheese would produce extremely expensive cheese, which no one would want anyway, let alone buy.

  22. Or if we want to value carbon at higher prices, we could convert carbon dioxide to diamonds where the carbon is worth several thousand dollars for a fifth of a gram!!

    Oy! is right. These nimrods that see reversing the reaction of burning carbon to make it back into carbon as a paying proposition!! Let the trees do it. They do it for nothing and give us oxygen as a bonus plus the fuel or lumber. Perhaps this argument can be used to defeat the war on coal. Heck, coal is giving us a valuable feedstock for this genius of an idea. Maybe they could volatolize the lithium in a coal fired plant so that we can manufacture lithium ion batteries from the air!! ldiots.

  23. I stopped reading at “An interdisciplinary team” !

    Their first red “arrow” in the dramatized picture shows WATER IN VAPOUR FORM and that vapour is incorrectly marked as CO2.

    Their so-called “team” is therefore NOT interdisciplinary.

    Julie Turner has destroyed their so-called “process” with just one click of her box-brownie.

  24. With all this talk of battery powered cars, has anyone figured out how much electricity will be needed and where it is coming from given all the coal fired power stations are going to be closed down. The other small matter is the number of recharging stations required, the average refilling time for petrol or diesel is about 6 minutes, electric cars, 3 times as often and 50 times as long.

  25. Did these people do any calculations as to how many batteries they would have to produce yearly to provide for the EV industry, assuming 100% electric? Without cost estimates for batteries , one cannot even hope to calculate the EV penetration of the auto market and therefore have any basis for calculating how much carbon it would consume. What about the used batteries with all that carbon? Once all the cars are suplied, I would expect a low yearly need for carbon nanotubes for batteries. Doesn’t sound sustainable. Of course, only an idiot would go thru all this when all you have to do is to build molten salt reactors to provide our power, including power for EVs. And the cost of li ion battiers is lower than that 2013 figure of $325 per kWhr – that would make the Tesla battery pack cost about $32,000. That is NOT a car that can replace much of the market.

  26. I was once asked to evaluate a technology that was intended to react CO2 from power plants with a common chemical to produce the precursor to carbon nanotubes. The problem was that for each ton of CO2 removed, you needed 1.5 tons of the common, but toxic chemical. The process worked as a batch, but when I asked questions about how they would make it a continuous process that a real power plant needs, they failed open. And the product of even one power plant would flood the carbon nanotube market, reducing their value to a waste product. The final straw was the process was later developed to use pure CO2 that had been separated from the power plant stream, thus incurring the energy penalty of the CO2 separation. Oy vey!

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