A system for CO2 capture/conversion and electric power generation

Cornell scientists convert carbon dioxide, create electricity

ITHACA, N.Y. – While the human race will always leave its carbon footprint on the Earth, it must continue to find ways to lessen the impact of its fossil fuel consumption.

“Carbon capture” technologies – chemically trapping carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere – is one approach. In a recent study, Cornell University researchers disclose a novel method for capturing the greenhouse gas and converting it to a useful product – while producing electrical energy.

Lynden Archer, the James A. Friend Family Distinguished Professor of Engineering, and doctoral student Wajdi Al Sadat have developed an oxygen-assisted aluminum/carbon dioxide power cell that uses electrochemical reactions to both sequester the carbon dioxide and produce electricity.

Their paper, “The O2-assisted Al/CO2 electrochemical cell: A system for CO2 capture/conversion and electric power generation,” was published July 20 in Science Advances.

The group’s proposed cell would use aluminum as the anode and mixed streams of carbon dioxide and oxygen as the active ingredients of the cathode. The electrochemical reactions between the anode and the cathode would sequester the carbon dioxide into carbon-rich compounds while also producing electricity and a valuable oxalate as a byproduct.

In most current carbon-capture models, the carbon is captured in fluids or solids, which are then heated or depressurized to release the carbon dioxide. The concentrated gas must then be compressed and transported to industries able to reuse it, or sequestered underground. The findings in the study represent a possible paradigm shift, Archer said.

This graphic explains novel method for capturing the greenhouse gas and converting it to a useful product -- while producing electrical energy. CREDIT Cornell University
This graphic explains novel method for capturing the greenhouse gas and converting it to a useful product — while producing electrical energy. CREDIT Cornell University

“The fact that we’ve designed a carbon capture technology that also generates electricity is, in and of itself, important,” he said. “One of the roadblocks to adopting current carbon dioxide capture technology in electric power plants is that the regeneration of the fluids used for capturing carbon dioxide utilize as much as 25 percent of the energy output of the plant. This seriously limits commercial viability of such technology. Additionally, the captured carbon dioxide must be transported to sites where it can be sequestered or reused, which requires new infrastructure.”

The group reported that their electrochemical cell generated 13 ampere hours per gram of porous carbon (as the cathode) at a discharge potential of around 1.4 volts. The energy produced by the cell is comparable to that produced by the highest energy-density battery systems.

Another key aspect of their findings, Archer says, is in the generation of superoxide intermediates, which are formed when the dioxide is reduced at the cathode. The superoxide reacts with the normally inert carbon dioxide, forming a carbon-carbon oxalate that is widely used in many industries, including pharmaceutical, fiber and metal smelting.

“A process able to convert carbon dioxide into a more reactive molecule such as an oxalate that contains two carbons opens up a cascade of reaction processes that can be used to synthesize a variety of products,” Archer said, noting that the configuration of the electrochemical cell will be dependent on the product one chooses to make from the oxalate.

Al Sadat, who worked on onboard carbon capture vehicles at Saudi Aramco, said this technology in not limited to power-plant applications. “It fits really well with onboard capture in vehicles,” he said, “especially if you think of an internal combustion engine and an auxiliary system that relies on electrical power.”

He said aluminum is the perfect anode for this cell, as it is plentiful, safer than other high-energy density metals and lower in cost than other potential materials (lithium, sodium) while having comparable energy density to lithium. He added that many aluminum plants are already incorporating some sort of power-generation facility into their operations, so this technology could assist in both power generation and reducing carbon emissions.

A current drawback of this technology is that the electrolyte – the liquid connecting the anode to the cathode – is extremely sensitive to water. Ongoing work is addressing the performance of electrochemical systems and the use of electrolytes that are less water-sensitive.


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Alan Ranger
August 5, 2016 3:09 am

Opening sentence:
“While the human race will always leave its carbon footprint on the Earth, it must continue to find ways to lessen the impact of its fossil fuel consumption.”
I find no evidence to support this position, whatsoever.
“I submit that much of society has been collectively misled into believing that global CO2 and temperature are too high when the opposite is true for both. Does anyone deny that below 150 ppm CO2 that plants will die? Does anyone deny that the Earth has been in a 50 million-year cooling period and that this Pleistocene Ice Age is one of the coldest periods in the history of the planet? I issue a challenge to anyone to provide a compelling argument that counters my analysis of the historical record and the prediction of CO2 starvation based on the 150 million year trend. Ad hominem arguments about “deniers” need not apply.”
… Patrick Moore.
I find the arguments in his excellent lecture https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0Z5FdwWw_c to be most compelling.

William Yarber
Reply to  Alan Ranger
August 5, 2016 7:37 am

I agree. Dr. Moore’s article is a must read. Unfortunately, the people who need to read and digest his arguments will never read it for fear of contamination.

Max Dupilka
Reply to  Alan Ranger
August 5, 2016 9:42 am

Before the CO2 hysteria the Ontario Government in Canada did a study on the benefits of CO2 for plants and greenhouses.
And we want to sequester CO2?

Reply to  Alan Ranger
August 5, 2016 11:35 am

Phlogiston Alan. It all comes down phlogiston. If the moronic 21st century chemists understood the true nature of phlogiston instead of denying it, we wouldn’t be in this pickle.
And perpetual motion; they need to embrace perpetual motion and toss thermodynamics. we can get free energy from the ashes of combustion if we only believe in phlogiston. Learn to master it.
Cornell used to have a decent science department.

george e. smith
Reply to  Bartleby
August 5, 2016 12:11 pm

I think I found the skunk in the woodpile.
They say that Aluminium is the perfect anode material. that’s the red metal thing on the left end of their machine.
Next comes the grey cloud described (as an aside) as ” Metal Ions ”
that would in all likelihood be Aluminium Ions, that being the perfect metal for the anode as they are quick to point out.
Voila ! The blue crap that emerges is a substance known as ” Reaction Products ”
That would be garbage made from Aluminium ions, which might lead some readers to conclude that the perfect Aluminum Anode is getting eaten up.
That would be a correct conclusion.
But in the process of eating Aluminium, the machine makes electricity. (Good place to insert fireworks video).
Now the reaction products effluent may not be as good as Bauxite to use as a source of Aluminium metal to make perfect anodes, but why not reprocess the garbage anyway so you can re-use the Aluinium you already have, so you don’t need any more bauxite.
Think of all the electricity you can save by not mining bauxite to turn into Aluminum metal which is also perfect for making aeroplanes.
You could just make planes out of the Aluminium you recover from the reaction products.
It’s good that we have smart people thinking up new ways to obtain valuable materials like Aluminium; such as recovering it from a CO2 eating battery that makes electricity as well.
Please sir; if you sequester carbon dioxide, do you lose the Oxygen as well ??

Reply to  Bartleby
August 5, 2016 12:36 pm

“the true nature of phlogiston”
As agreed by 97% of all alchemists (:-))

Alan Ranger
Reply to  Bartleby
August 5, 2016 4:15 pm

” … and toss thermodynamics.”
The IPCC have already made a pretty good start on that one. Using their climate “science” you can stick a poker into a fire till it glows red hot, and becomes too hot to hold by the handle, but it will stay nice and cool somewhere in the middle.

Reply to  Bartleby
August 6, 2016 1:31 pm

Hey – give Cornell a break. After all, we did give you “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” OH – WAIT ! ! ! ! ! Never mind!

Reply to  Bartleby
August 6, 2016 2:04 pm

George: I thing the trick is to mix the aluminum with iron oxide in a 27:80 ratio then light it with a burning strip of magnesium. Viola! Fireworks! 🙂
That’s my recipe anyway…

August 5, 2016 3:10 am

“[t]he fact that we’ve designed a carbon capture technology that also generates electricity is, in and of itself, important[…]”
Right, once we put in more energy, we get less back. That is an achievement.

David L. Hagen
Reply to  Hugs
August 5, 2016 5:53 am

Marvelous misdirection of focus. What is the efficiency of the larger power cycle? And how does that compare?
“He said aluminum is the perfect anode for this cell, as it is plentiful, safer than other high-energy density metals and lower in cost than other potential materials”
Where comes the energy to convert Alumina to aluminum?
If all vehicles converted CO2 to C2 product – what would we do with all that C2 product?
Isn’t that converted to CO2?
Would it not be more efficient and more cost effective to first make sustainable energy cheaper than fossil fuels? Then to directly convert H2O + CO2 to methanol, ethanol, gasoline or diesel fuel?

Reply to  David L. Hagen
August 5, 2016 7:13 am

As far as I recall, aluminum production is incredibly energy-intensive. Am I incorrect or has this changed?

Pat Frank
Reply to  David L. Hagen
August 5, 2016 8:53 am

You are entirely correct PiperPaul. Aluminum is made by electrolysis of alumina (Al2O3), which requires copious electricity. In claiming carbon capture, the article ignores the Second Law. They’ll be generating more CO2 in making the aluminum than they ever will capture using their electrochemical cell. The carbon-capture breakthrough message of the article reflects either dishonesty or incompetence.

Reply to  David L. Hagen
August 5, 2016 9:12 am

What you talking about Willis?
Everybody knows that aluminum comes from the hardware store.

Reply to  David L. Hagen
August 5, 2016 9:42 am

Piper, that can be done in China where the CO2 emissions don’t count.

Reply to  David L. Hagen
August 5, 2016 9:56 am

I’m curious about the reaction, but C2 would not be the end product. The intermediate product looks like it is some sort of aluminum carboxylate. If you put aluminum in contact with air (in the presence of an electrolyte), it would form aluminum oxide. We already have such a thing as an aluminum air cell. So, you need pure CO2 or at least oxygen free CO2 to fuel the cathode.
As electrical generation, it would be pretty inefficient. It would never work for cars based on the carbon dioxide in the air. You would need a pure CO2 fuel. Yet, just the waste of a CO2 pumping station would eliminate any benefits.
Others have explained the costs. You can’t mine pure aluminum, you have to make it from bauxite.

David L. Hagen
Reply to  Hugs
August 5, 2016 10:05 am

Aluminum has 440% the embodied specific energy of steel: i.e., Aluminum has an embodied energy of 170 MJ/kg compared to 38 MJ/kg for steel. For exhaustive quantitative details see: U.S. Energy Requirements for Aluminum Production 2007 150 pp

Reply to  Hugs
August 5, 2016 12:43 pm

Some years ago, I wrote to a university in Australia that was setting up a very expensive full-scale trial of a very fancy machine that generated free energy from gravity. I explained the whole thing to them in detail, with all relevant equations, and for good measure said they could test a small-scale version first using the output energy to generate the consumed inputs. They didn’t reply, and I later learned that they went ahead. Silly me, I thought it mattered that energy out was less than energy in. Simple fact is, dollars in (a grant) were higher than dollars out.
Cui bono.

August 5, 2016 3:12 am

Somebody please … just shoot me. Oh, and by the way, introduce these jokers to the second law of thermodynamics.

Reply to  Robert
August 5, 2016 5:12 am

Second that, Robert. The only efficient way to make pure aluminum requires relatively huge amounts of electric power. US production ranks right up there after paper, gasoline, steel and ethylene in total energy consumption with aluminum consuming the largest amount of electricity per pound and the largest electricity consumer of any manufactured product,(US Dept. of Energy, 2007, US Energy Requirements for Aluminum Production). Based simply on the amount of electrical energy involved using aluminum metal for carbon capture would produce 3-4 times as much CO2 as is captured unless the electricity is produced by nuclear reactors or hydro power. Not surprisingly, the amount of aluminum produced in the Pacific Northwest has dropped dramatically because the hydro power produced there is now more valuable for the electric grid. Aluminum is one of those items being outsourced to other countries that can produce it more cheaply.
Monumental ignorance of thermodynamics. The only sensible use for aluminum if for products that require it for its low density, high strength, relative ease of forming- i.e, aircraft and weight reduction in vehicles. Scrap aluminum is highly valued because recycling it saves some 90+% of the electricity used to produce it.

Reply to  philohippous
August 5, 2016 5:27 am

But we use to hold soda right now. Is that a bad use?

Brett Keane
Reply to  philohippous
August 6, 2016 12:09 am

But we do make Aluminium using gravity. Just nee3d to do away with our hydro dam, and it will be too cheap to meter…

Reply to  Robert
August 5, 2016 6:19 am

Just what I was thinking about two sentences into the story. How do people call themselves scientists and get away with this stuff?

Reply to  Robert
August 5, 2016 7:22 am

This is just a case of a badly written press release.
Their scientist’s paper is actually pretty sensible:
The technology is an aluminum air fuel cell that happens to use CO2 from the air instead of the more typical designs that use oxygen. It is an energy storage device that absorbs CO2 during one part of its cycle and emits it during another. Round trip, 0 CO2 is captured.
They look at how they could use their cell on a primary basis. Take aluminum, absorb CO2, produce electricity, sell aluminum that has been reacted with CO2. It compares favorably to the existing way of supplying these chemical markets. Unfortunately, these chemical markets are a few orders of magnitude too small to matter if you’re trying to capture CO2 on an economy-wide basis.

Reply to  Robert
August 5, 2016 9:32 am

I have personally evaluated a number of such schemes, and it is a running joke with my colleagues, “Does it obey the Laws of Thermodynamics?” More than one project has come in that strips off the oxygen from CO2 and then uses the products in various ways. I always say, “Then why burn the carbon in the fist place?” You HAVE to put in at least as much energy as you took out and then you loose more due to efficiency and entropy. What is so hard about that?
And vboring, read the above. It doesn’t matter how well the release was written. If the scientist doesn’t understand the above, then he’s a poor scientist or else he is a charlatan.

Reply to  oeman50
August 5, 2016 10:17 am

Oops, “first place.”

Science or Fiction
Reply to  oeman50
August 5, 2016 3:17 pm

Don´t students learn about eternity machines anymore?

Reply to  oeman50
August 5, 2016 7:23 pm

I can’t comment on the relative economic validity of this idea but considered simply as a battery or sorts, something to use where a connecting source of energy is not available, it would need to be evaluated against other batteries. Surely the materials for all batteries have costs. I doubt that the cost of producing the battery has to compare to other costs of the same amount of power directly from an primary source (e.g. a gas fired power plant) to be useful. A primary source of electricity can’t supply energy to your flashlight during a camping trip in the great north woods.
Yes, I realize that they seem to be suggesting his device could be used in other modes, as primary power producer, but that part doesn’t necessarily say the device isn’t worthwhile for some other use, maybe even better than some currently used batteries.

August 5, 2016 3:12 am

That sketch has the worst explanatory power ever. What goes in? what goes out? How much? Why not a simple chemical formula to begin with?

Reply to  philipcolet
August 5, 2016 3:45 am

“Why not a simple chemical formula to begin with?”
They can not do that because you would see instantly how stupid this is.
Anode: Al(0) {metal} –> Al(3+) and presumably –> Al2O3 {Al oxide}
Cathode: CO2 + H20 –> HOOC-COOH {oxalic acid}
Note that oxalic acid is a double carboxylic acid, so both carbons are still pretty heavily oxidized.
As a laboratory experiment, it might be an interesting way to make oxalic acid. Get some Oooh’s and Ahhh’s from the students, maybe.

Ben of Houston
Reply to  TonyL
August 5, 2016 5:07 am

I might see the financial utility of it as oxalate production. However claiming that they make electricity off of reducing CO2 using oxygen undercuts the whole idea.
If you can get energy out of both ends, it’s a perpetual motion machine.

Reply to  TonyL
August 5, 2016 6:13 am

And the other problem is that Al(0) is consumed. and it is not found reduced in nature. So the formula is not completed and the energy needed to reduce aluminum is not taken into account. So, yeah, if you do not count the energy you need to generate aluminum, you produce energy.
Contrats TonyL, I was wondering what this mistery C2 compound is. You are right it most likely is oxalic acid, which, btw, I believe it is not very stable and decomposes to CO2.

Reply to  TonyL
August 5, 2016 6:39 am

silly me, it says in the article that C2 is oxalic acid.

Reply to  TonyL
August 5, 2016 6:52 am

Maybe the end product is something like Aluminum Oxalate

Reply to  TonyL
August 5, 2016 6:52 am

Aluminum Oxalate is a dicarboxylic acid used as an analytical reagent.

Reply to  philipcolet
August 5, 2016 5:03 am

It involves a process that scientists call “magic.” The equation is simple: 1 + ? = profit.

gary turner
Reply to  comradewhoopie
August 5, 2016 12:43 pm

Or, as climate “scientists” hypothesize, 2+2=5 for a sufficiently large value of 2.

August 5, 2016 3:16 am

“While the human race will always leave its carbon footprint on the Earth, it must continue to find ways to lessen the impact of its fossil fuel consumption”
Again this STUPIDITY !!!
The current level of atmospheric CO2 is actually very LOW for its purpose.
In time, this MORONIC anti-CO2 farce must surely come to an end. !
Probably one of the STUPIDEST things humans have ever done was to try to restrict the atmospheric CO2 levels.

Thomas Homer
Reply to  AndyG55
August 5, 2016 5:39 am

With this new “Environmentalist” movement to sequester CO2, it only takes a moment to update all those old bumperstickers:

Reply to  Thomas Homer
August 5, 2016 10:18 am

I always preferred:

Reply to  Thomas Homer
August 5, 2016 2:35 pm

Oi !!
leave the whales alone ….they belong to the welsh (:-))

george e. smith
Reply to  Thomas Homer
August 6, 2016 12:53 pm

No ! Save the whales.
I collected a complete set.

August 5, 2016 3:17 am

Great! Someone has finally found a way to break the 2nd law of thermodynamics, the first step needed to build a perpetual-motion device. (sarc)

Reply to  Frederick Colbourne
August 5, 2016 4:42 am

AS far as they are concerned, they have. They want people to perpetually throw money at their folly.

Reply to  ShrNfr
August 5, 2016 11:10 am

Shr, + many, good laugh and sooooo true!

August 5, 2016 3:27 am

Cosmically stupid.
As near as I can tell they are oxidizing Al to reduce CO2. OK, so they are making Al2O3 electrochemically. Given the high electricity requirement for Al production, I wonder how all this would pan out with an Al production plant powered with a coal electric plant.
Sort of like mounting a photoelectric panel under a street lamp for extra output at night.

Reply to  TonyL
August 5, 2016 3:38 am

Oxidizing Al Gore to reduce CO2? Well, why not…?

Reply to  ConTrari
August 5, 2016 3:46 am

I did not think of that.

Reply to  TonyL
August 5, 2016 4:02 am

TonyL – the obvious and immediate question – also note this sleight of mind, ” aluminium is the perfect anode for this cell, as it is plentiful”. As you point out it is Al2O3 which is plentiful from which Al is extracted with large input of energy!
mind you, there is always this source –

Reply to  diogenese2
August 5, 2016 4:24 am

Yes, that is what appears to be going on , although despite all the fanfare they do not actually SAY what they are doing.
My instant reactions to such scams is to try to see where the energy for the electricity is coming from. CO2 is already burnt so it cannot be combusted to produce energy. Obviously the energy source here is the metallic Al, so the energy needed to create that needs to be part of the audit.
All the chemistry is a red scarf distraction technique.
If you get rid of the dumb-assed idea that we need to capture carbon dioxide from the air, the whole thing is a waste of time, and energy.

Johann Wundersamer
Reply to  TonyL
August 5, 2016 4:29 am

Easy! Cool windelecs for street lamps.

Reply to  TonyL
August 5, 2016 4:45 am

Didn’t I see something published about that? The paper was called “A Novel Way To Provide Nighttime Power Using Solar Panels” or something similar.

Reply to  TonyL
August 5, 2016 5:13 am

Totally agree. I remember an eco-friendly movie from 1971 called “Silent Running”. A crazed scientist played by Bruce Dern was in a spaceship preserving the Earth’s plants, but he noticed they weren’t doing well, as the spaceship moved away from the Sun. It dawned on him that the plants needed light! His solution? String up light bulbs to keep the plants happy…..

Reply to  rogertaguchi
August 5, 2016 6:14 am

Kinda like feeding the plants gatoraide in Idiocracy I suppose.

Myron Mesecke
Reply to  rogertaguchi
August 5, 2016 7:49 am

In Silent Running, the ships were care takers of terrarium pods as humans on Earth were trying to reverse ecological damage so that they could be used to repopulate the Earth with plants and animals. But through technology humans realized they could make do without them. The crews were ordered to jettison and explode the terrarium pods and return to Earth.
Bruce Dern moved his ship away from the others so those crews could not destroy his pods.
If Bruce Dern’s character had moved his ship closer to the Sun man might have intercepted it and destroyed the last plants and animals.
So lights were his only choice.
His solution may have been dumb but understanding the back story explains why he chose it.

Reply to  TonyL
August 5, 2016 10:01 am

It would appear that when used as a fuel cell, you would apply electricity to the Al2O3 (charging the cell), and it would be converted back to Al and CO2. When used as a CO2 sequestering device, you would apply the electricity, and then pipe the CO2 to a sequestration location. So all those sequestration problems they mentioned would still exist. And, where do you get that electricity? Either from using this as a perpetual motion machine, or from the power grid. So you are really back to square one.

Tim S
August 5, 2016 3:29 am

The text and diagram seem oddly silent on what happens to the aluminium, though the diagram shows a flow of metal IONS from the metallic anode. So pardon me, but isn’t this just a convoluted way of burning (oxidising) aluminium metal?
Where does the aluminum come from to replenosh the cell: refined elctrolytically by some of the energy generated by this cell perhaps /SARC

Dr. Dave
August 5, 2016 3:35 am

They should attribute the author of this article… ‘From the Marketing Department at Cornell University.’
All too frequently, we see press releases from universities concerning groundbreaking research that is so promising that you never again hear about it.
I hate being a cynic…

Reply to  Dr. Dave
August 5, 2016 4:44 am

Oh, I find that being a cynic is one of the easiest ways to be correct most of the time. 🙂

Reply to  Roy Spencer
August 5, 2016 4:50 am

& I find it tends to upset a lot of the idiots, so it’s a win win

Dr. Dave
Reply to  Roy Spencer
August 5, 2016 9:30 am

Maybe it’s a Yooper/Sault Ste Marie thing 🙂

george e. smith
Reply to  Roy Spencer
August 5, 2016 6:03 pm

Or at least less incorrect. Glad to see you still have time to take a breather from your more serious daily chores Dr. Roy. We always need to know where at least one stable node of sanity is.

Reply to  Dr. Dave
August 5, 2016 5:49 am

Don’t knock the marketing department of Cornell University – they do a great job and bring in lots of dollars. Probably the most successful department there. Just don’t think that this is anything to do with the science!

Bloke down the pub
August 5, 2016 3:43 am

I suppose that a cell capable of producing graphene as an end product would be of use.

August 5, 2016 3:48 am

A system using carbonate fuel cells is also being researched jointly by ExxonMobil Corp, (Dallas, Texas; http://www.exxonmobil.com) and Fuel Cell Energy Inc, (FCE; Danbury, Conn; http://www.fuelcellenergy.com). Power is generated in the cells but a conc CO2 stream still has to be compressed and disposed of requiring energy and capital.

Reply to  chemengrls
August 5, 2016 9:36 am

It also requires the input of energy via natural gas. You get a concentrated stream of CO2 and power out to boot. No magic, here.

Reply to  oeman50
August 6, 2016 10:38 am

‘Fuel cell based carbon capture system can augment power generation’ – this article was in the July issue of Chemical Engineering under Chementator.
Quote – Since carbonate fuel cells require CO2 to form carbonate ions power plant exhaust gas – containing 5% CO2 in the case of a natural gas plant – can be used as a CO2 source, and the fuel cell then becomes a means of separating and concentrating CO2 from the exhaust. There is an internal CO2 cycle within the carbonate fuel cell which can be co-opted to separate CO2 for carbon capture without the need for a regeneration step as is the case in amine based carbon capture.

Pete of Perth
August 5, 2016 3:56 am

They left off the hand taking money out of our pockets as an input.

Robert from oz
August 5, 2016 3:58 am

On an unrelated note , I see Wikileaks has emails proving Hillary supplied arms to Isis .

Coach Springer
Reply to  Robert from oz
August 5, 2016 5:27 am

True, but journalists around here have found a way to recapture the harmful elements of that story through chemistry and replacing it with nothing but good things.

Pop Piasa
Reply to  Coach Springer
August 5, 2016 9:17 am

Apparently the captured harm is the released on Trump via the media.

Johann Wundersamer
August 5, 2016 4:18 am

A current drawback of this technology is that the electrolyte – the liquid connecting the anode to the cathode – is extremely sensitive to water. Ongoing work is addressing the performance of electrochemical systems and the use of electrolytes that are less water-sensitive.
So forget about onboard capturing in vehicles.

george e. smith
Reply to  Johann Wundersamer
August 5, 2016 6:08 pm

Well you could always use gasoline as the electrolyte, since you’ve decided not to burn that any more.

August 5, 2016 4:20 am

This scheme will work perfectly once we find an abundant source of metallic aluminium on Earth. Until then, we will simply have to make the metal by the extremely energy-intensive Hall-Herault method, which requires huge amounts of electricity to electrolyse Al2O3.
All the authors have shown is that it is possible to reduce carbon dioxide with Al. Hardly novel.

Reply to  Graemethecat
August 5, 2016 4:37 am

“This scheme will work perfectly once we find an abundant source of metallic aluminium on Earth.”
Look no further than the local grid 1,000s of miles of it hanging on pylons, totally useless when the ‘greens’ have got us of grid !!

george e. smith
Reply to  Graemethecat
August 6, 2016 12:57 pm

Well you can probably find some native Aluminium ores down in the Hydrogen mines.

August 5, 2016 4:27 am

If I’m reading the paper correctly then the production of 1kg of Aluminium generates 7.88kg CO2.
With that 1kg of Al this process abates 1.97kg of CO2 via the electricity produced and 2.45kg of CO2 via oxalate product. It then assumes that a further 4.89kg of CO2 (that has been separated) is then stored somewhere which results in 9.31kg CO2 removed.
A net removal of 1.33kg (9.31-7.88).
The problem with this is 4.89kg of CO2 being stored somewhere. It still needs to be compressed, transported and, presumably, pumped underground for permanent storage.
Without this storage there is a net addition of CO2 to the atmosphere of 3.56kg of CO2
Using recycled Al results in a net addition of 1.47kg of CO2

Reply to  TerryS
August 5, 2016 4:55 am

They are not producing Aluminum….
“The group’s proposed cell would use aluminum as the anode “

Reply to  Marcus
August 5, 2016 5:31 am

They are using aluminium. The aluminium has to be produced and is consumed in the process. Producing (or even recycling) the aluminium generates more CO2 than is saved from the electricity generated and oxalate produced.
All the figures I use are from the paper itself.
For this process to remove CO2 from the atmosphere it has to physically store CO2 otherwise it adds more CO2 to the atmosphere than it takes out.

Reply to  Marcus
August 5, 2016 5:36 am

..Sorry, I misunderstood you…Yes, I agree..it’s dumb !!

August 5, 2016 4:38 am

“While the human race will always leave its carbon footprint on the Earth, it must continue to find ways to lessen the impact of its fossil fuel consumption.”
The earth is literally awash in hydrocarbons. CO2 is an essential component in all photosynthetic plants. Methane hydrates are produced by the biosphere of the ocean floor and contain an immense about of carbon.
The above statement shows the danger to human prosperity and liberty when ideology overwhelms science. Ideology is the mortal enemy of truth. On the topic of climate, ideology was been winning. But happily, that is not “sustainable” and as Stein’s Law states, something that cannot continue forever, won’t.

August 5, 2016 4:52 am

It’s a taxpayer-poverty generator. Just give them more grant money.

August 5, 2016 4:55 am

But, but …
CO2 is essential for all life, and [geologically] there has NEVER been too much of it, even at 5000 ppm

August 5, 2016 5:29 am

I have a great idea for converting CO2 to Oxygen.
Plant a tree.

Reply to  cragulas
August 5, 2016 6:27 am

well, technically, the O2 produced by plants comes from the hydrolysis of water. Then plants take the remaning hydrogen and convined with CO2, they form glucose C6H12O6, and 6H2O, which can be converted into O2.

August 5, 2016 5:31 am

I guess people no longer wait for the research to be finished before proclaiming the idea dead. No wonder skeptics are vilified. Apparently, there is absolutely no reason to develop new methods of creating energy because the ONLY way to do it is burn hydrocarbons. Which means we would never use hydro, nuclear, etc. Doesn’t matter though—stop even suggesting new ideas and burn that oil.

Reply to  Reality check
August 5, 2016 5:40 am

Maybe people are tired of wasting taxpayers dollars on dumb ideas that obviously can’t work when ALL things are considered…

Reply to  Reality check
August 5, 2016 5:51 am

You have no requirement that an idea be a good idea?

Reply to  Reality check
August 5, 2016 6:14 am

Reality check: The problem with all these “solutions” is that they don’t confront the 400 pound gorilla of energy density. in 2015, $350 billion was spent on so-called green or renewable energy. The result? The contribution to the world’s energy needs from wind, solar and biomass went up from 2.4% to 2.6%. At that rate, we’ll never get off fossil fuel dependency unless we go nuclear.

Bruce Cobb
Reply to  Reality check
August 5, 2016 6:28 am

Only a half-brain would suggest the idea of not using hydro or nuclear, where appropriate, and only a total idiot would think that this “system” is about creating a new, economically-viable form of energy. The essential component of this is the doubly- idiotic idea of getting rid of CO2; it accomplishes nothing, and is a complete waste of money.

Bob boder
Reply to  Reality check
August 5, 2016 6:30 am

So the sceptics are the ones against nuclear and hydro power? Think you better read more non-sceptic blogs.

Reply to  Bob boder
August 5, 2016 3:27 pm

Bob—Where did you get “sceptics are against nuclear and hydro”? I used those two energy sources as an example of new technology that people who are stuck on oil and gas would have rejected. As far as I can see, any ideas that reduce CO2 are bad according to skeptics in comment sections.

Reply to  Reality check
August 5, 2016 6:34 am

Nope, the problem here is that these guys have omited some facts in the press release. Like the fact that Aluminum is consumed and the regeneration of aluminum metal needs more energy that the energy produced in the process. Anybody who understands the second law of thermodynamics knows that.

Reply to  urederra
August 5, 2016 6:58 am

These people very carefully left out crucial details in a manner which suggests there is some serious science illiteracy around, or even worse, somebody is trying to deceive on purpose.
I believe in human ignorance in this case, even though the press release suggests otherwise.

Reply to  Reality check
August 5, 2016 6:44 am

I’m guessing you have not read the paper. If you had you would realise that for this process to permanently remove CO2 from the atmosphere it has to compress, store transport and pump underground 4.89kg of CO2 for every 3.58kWh of electricity and 0.49kg of oxalate produced.

Leo Smith
Reply to  Reality check
August 5, 2016 7:34 am

you cant make a silk purse out of a sows ear. energy balance is negative here. it cant work to make net energy AND fix CO2. that’s basic physics and phsical chemistry.

Reply to  Reality check
August 6, 2016 12:16 pm

“I guess people no longer wait for the research to be finished before proclaiming the idea dead.”
Oh dear.
There always has to be one, doesn’t there?

Dermot O'Logical
August 5, 2016 5:40 am

The full paper is open source, available here: http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/2/7/e1600968.full
Final few sentences of the abstract are:
“Chemical reaction of the superoxide with CO2 sequesters the CO2 in the form of aluminum oxalate, Al2(C2O4)3, as the dominant product. On the basis of an analysis of the overall CO2 footprint, which considers emissions associated with the production of the aluminum anode and the CO2 captured/abated by the Al/CO2-O2 electrochemical cell, we conclude that the proposed process offers an important strategy for net reduction of CO2 emissions.”
So it does appear that they have considered the embedded energy cost of the aluminum metal. Whether they’ve done it right or not, I’m not smart enough to be able to follow the paper to be able to tell. I’ll leave that to better qualified peers.

Reply to  Dermot O'Logical
August 5, 2016 5:53 am

..Where does the Al2(C2O4)3 come from ?

Reply to  Marcus
August 5, 2016 6:49 am

2·Al(0) + 6·CO2 —–> Al2(C2O4)3 (aluminum oxalate)
So, CO2 is reduced but Aluminum is oxidized and, as many people said already, is consumed in the process.

Reply to  Dermot O'Logical
August 5, 2016 6:20 am

What they fail to highlight is that one of the outputs of this process is CO2!
Here is the full CO2 budget based on the consumption of 1kg of Aluminium by the process.
Bauxite mining: +0.07kg
Alumina refining: +2.01kg
Aluminium electrolysis: +5.67kg
Aluminium production: +0.12kg
Generated Electricity: -1.97kg
Oxalate produced: -2.45kg
Total: 3.56kg
This process will add 3.56kg of CO2 to the atmosphere for every kg of Al consumed.
The process also results in 4.89kg of CO2 being extracted from the air and they assume that this CO2 will be permanently stored somewhere.

george e. smith
Reply to  Dermot O'Logical
August 5, 2016 6:18 pm

“””””….. which considers emissions associated with the production of the aluminum anode anode ANODE ANODE ! …..””””
Please sir; duz it also consider the emissions associated with the production of the ALUMINUMM METAL.
Even I can pound a slab of Aluminum into an anode once I have that slab of aluminum metal.

August 5, 2016 6:02 am

“find ways to lessen the impact of its fossil fuel consumption”
but no empirical evidence of an impact of fossil fuel consumption

August 5, 2016 6:16 am

The new laws of thermo seem to be: 1) You can’t win, 2) You can’t break even, 3) They will never quit their game.

August 5, 2016 6:23 am

This article is a joke, right?

August 5, 2016 6:25 am

This process is eerily similar to the whole energy from water through Hydrogen concept that keeps raising its ugly head amongst those unfamiliar with the laws of thermodynamics. For heavens sake, H2O and CO2 are products of combustion and it is not possible under any conditions to use them as a fuel and generate energy without dumping in much more energy somewhere else. Stop looking for ways to violate the laws of thermodynamics already and work on doing something possible and potentially useful!

Reply to  CLRII
August 5, 2016 6:39 am

Yeah, they Carnot work.

Reply to  ShrNfr
August 7, 2016 1:38 am

I agree but the purpose of the process is to concentrate the CO2 from 5% to reduce the volume of gas to be handled/stored.

August 5, 2016 6:44 am

This is great news, now we don’t need those awful trees!

Leo Smith
August 5, 2016 7:27 am

as long as we have enough nuclear energy to smelt the aluminium, I guess we can carry on burning fossil fuel…..

August 5, 2016 7:34 am

Is the aluminum consumed during the reaction?
If not, where is the energy necessary to break the carbon oxygen bond coming from?

Reply to  MarkW
August 5, 2016 7:37 am

August 5, 2016 at 6:49 am
2·Al(0) + 6·CO2 —–> Al2(C2O4)3 (aluminum oxalate)
So, CO2 is reduced but Aluminum is oxidized and, as many people said already, is consumed in the process.
Thanks for that urederra…

Steamboat McGoo
August 5, 2016 7:37 am

I’m sure that Anthony tosses articles like this at us knowingly (of course!) – just to entertain us on a slow Friday.
Thanks AW! 🙂

August 5, 2016 7:39 am

It’s from Cornell, so keep the red caution flags out for an extended period and push for further research to check it by a different group, and one that audits cost feasibility in the process.

Bruce Cobb
August 5, 2016 7:42 am

This is an excellent way of both getting rid of excess financial resources and a pesky plant food at the same time. Win-win!

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
August 5, 2016 8:13 am

Best comment yet ! Many stars ……

Reply to  Bruce Cobb
August 5, 2016 9:00 am

It wins the Carl Sagan Award too.

August 5, 2016 7:47 am

I have hard time believing this could possibly generate more electricity than what’s needed to create the Aluminium used in the reaction.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Kasuha
August 5, 2016 8:56 am

‘Kasuha’ is Hausa word (lingua franca of West Africa and derived from Arabic) for marketplace. “Na tafi kasuha.” – I’m going to the marketplace. A Nigerian connection?

Reply to  Gary Pearse
August 5, 2016 10:00 am

> A Nigerian connection?

August 5, 2016 7:56 am

Thermodynamically, this is an energy CONSUMER, not a producer.
The net reaction for converting carbon dioxide to oxalate is (in acidic conditions):
2e- + 2H+ + 2 CO2 -> H2C2O4 (-0.386 V)
The ultimate source of the electrons is the metal on the far left of the diagram. This gets consumed and converted into metal ions in the electrolyte.
The energy required to produce the metal (unless one is using an active ‘native metal’ such as iron from the earth’s core) will exceed the energy produced by the cell itself. A metal at least as active as iron
Fe++ + 2 e- ® Fe (-0.44 V)
will be necessary. The nitrogen is irrelevant. The oxygen will also gather electrons, stealing some of the energy provided by the raw metal.

Reply to  tadchem
August 5, 2016 8:16 am

..In the original paper it also mentions requiring 100% Oxygen…?

Reply to  tadchem
August 5, 2016 11:16 am

An energy consumer compared to separation, compression, transmission and sequestration? I don’t think so, but they didn’t make that argument and that’s the only comparison that might make the energy look even marginally favorable. They allude to Life Cycle Analysis, but that one looks selective.
Until someone refutes the work they did, I believe that in an AlCl3 molten salt with a feed that is 80/20 CO2/O2 they get what they said. I suspect that their electrical production might be less favorable in scale up and even less in the “real” world. This is ought to be worth several grants and a few more post graduate degrees. We ought to check back in 2020 or 2025 and see how it’s coming along.

August 5, 2016 8:00 am

Overall, the article is simply saying, “it looks like a possible possibility, so please send money so we can continue to investigate the possibility.”

Gary Pearse
August 5, 2016 8:04 am

Aluminum production (not counting mining and transportation) 30yrs ago was around 7 -8 kWh/lb. The mining, processing and transportation was ~ about the same amount (added on), since 4 tons of bauxite were required to make one ton of aluminum and the processing of the bauxite yielded 2 tons of Al2O3 to be fed into the electric smelters.
Look, at a glance, to scale this thing up to where it efficiently can process a significant amount of CO2 coming from a coal-fired electricity plant, I’ve little doubt that it would dwarf the thermal plant. Also, it is sensitive to water in the stream. The set up to clean and prepare the gas for this process would also likely be more than half the size of the thermal plant.
The aluminum probably has a low efficiency in cheap configurations. I would require creating an anode with nano scale aluminum having multi acres of area exposed to the electrolyte (perhaps having a risk of explosion). Finally, a liquid electrolyte of giant proportions would be likely impractical on cost, handling and safety. They should be looking at solid electrolite materials.
So much pie in the sky and no ice cream.

Craig Loehle
August 5, 2016 8:07 am

Clearly they “want to believe”. What a great fisking of a stupid idea by the commenters here. Combine ignorance of the second law with ignorance of the manufacture costs of aluminum with wishful thinking–you get garbage.

Reply to  Craig Loehle
August 5, 2016 8:40 am


August 5, 2016 8:07 am

Ah, wonderful, PHD Research grade B.S. If we could only capture the energy (wasted) on such products, we could LIGHT L.A. (Lah-Lah) land and New Stupid City with this power. Coming soon (like HOT FUSION) to a fantasy near you. Only people in Lah Lah land and STUPID cities need apply.

Tab Numlock
August 5, 2016 8:17 am

Wow, a perpetual motion machine that purports to reduce life-giving CO2. Let’s get right on this.

August 5, 2016 8:19 am

I think reading the article would clear up some questions for the expert chemistry scholars responding and should create a few more. Trying to get past the apparently obligatory save the planet by removing CO2, the chemistry seems to work in the laboratory. Is it energy efficient? Depends on comparison. If it is compared to sequestration, it might look really good. They didn’t do that. I have some qualms with AlCl3 (anhydrous) being particularly practical, useful or economical in any real application. Also, they claim aluminum oxalate is a valuable product. In what quantity? And are we collecting it from my car? Power from 80/20 (CO2/O2) streams? Where do we get those?
Basic research is always interesting, but as Dr. Spencer says, being a cynic is an easy way to be right most of the time. And this one is very easy to be cynical about outside of the lab.

Eugene WR Gallun
August 5, 2016 8:24 am

Alexander Pope wrote a great poem on a ridiculous subject. It is called “The Rape Of The Lock”. Or is it really a great poem? Can the sublime arise from a ridiculous premise? What purpose has poetry if it is just high sounding words about utterly inconsequential things?
But the argument can be made that in the poem, Pope, tongue in cheek, exposes the misdirected priorities and consequent utter uselessness of the British upper classes.
What of “carbon capture”? Is it “tongue in cheek”? By doing ridiculous science is the real agenda of the authors to expose the misdirected priorities and utter uselessness of a large part of the world’s “intellectual elite”? It has to be. No sane person could publish crap like this unless the true motivation was to expose the rot that has taken hold in our universities and institutions.
The authors are to be commended. One must look beneath their silly premise to behold the sublime accusation actually being made.
Eugene WR Gallun

Curious George
August 5, 2016 8:27 am

The law of the Conservation of Energy be damned. The New Progressive Era is beginning.

August 5, 2016 9:38 am

Alas, another Tax Revenue scheme to be exploited.

August 5, 2016 10:26 am

There is a good case to be made for boosting CO2 emissions to increase Plant Growth, rain and agricultural output. There are scientifically proved links in this chain, unlike the wild spectualtion in CAGW and Water Vapour reinforced CO2 effects.

August 5, 2016 10:44 am

I guess you can take the Carbon and Oxygen discharge and then run it back through the power plant. And voila! Perpetual motion!…. or maybe not.

August 5, 2016 11:05 am

When, as a registered chemical engineer, I see press releases like this from supposedly trained engineers and scientists I immediately view the information with the following terms in mind.
“Pork Barrel addict”, “Scam artist”, “Incompetent idiot”, “Rent seeker”, “Grant abuser”, “Spineless coward”, “Publicity seeker”, “Spin doctor”.
I’m sure others trained in the real world application of the principles of thermodynamics, chemistry, heat transfer, mass transfer, reaction kinetics etc. could add a virtual Lexicon of terms to my abbreviated short list.

August 5, 2016 12:14 pm

My carbon capture into electricity scheme still sounds more feasible.
The plan is to let the CO2 enter the atmosphere where some of it is converted into glucose and sugar, that is fed to hamsters, then the hamsters run on wheels to generate electricity. Now all we need are bigger hamsters.

JJM Gommers
August 5, 2016 1:38 pm

Don’t take it serious, it’s meant as an exercise for students.

Michael J. Dunn
August 5, 2016 2:06 pm

Very sad. Almost blithering idiocy. They do not deserve respect.
Look, there is a very direct way to do this, if “carbon sequestration” is an objective. Just equip a liquid air manufacturing plant onto a ship and go out into the briny deep. In comes air, cooled down to the sublimation point of carbon dioxide. Scrape off the dry ice and water ice on a continuous basis, and mix it into seawater which is pumped down several thousand feet. Where the CO2 can join with its fellows in the pools of the stuff that have been found on the sea bed.
But this is all nuts. The level of CO2 in the air is the result of an equilibrium between the oceans and the land, which for some reason has been steadily increasing. Those who have no understanding of chemistry cannot seem to grasp the idea of LeChatlier’s principle, which is that reaction rates will always ADJUST to maintain whatever the equilibrium condition is. This means that we can all stop producing CO2 tomorrow, and there should be little difference in the result. (It is interesting to note the annual ups and downs in the concentration trend, which roughly amounts to the “breathing” of the biosphere.)

Reply to  Michael J. Dunn
August 5, 2016 4:20 pm

How about we just plant 200 million tree’s…? Creates simplistic jobs for the uneducated (me). doesn’t cost 1.8 Trillion dollars AND the “greenies” could not possibly find anything to complain about…All of this can be done in the now unfrozen Canadian Shield…A massive area of uninhabited land that I’m sure Justin T. will be happy to donate to “Save The Planet” … .Whats that……it is still FROZEN ?? Well, I guess we have to wait a few more years until Canada gets a real Prime Minister that knows how to make a Frozen Tundra..ummm, unfrozen… ?..

David A
Reply to  Marcus
August 5, 2016 10:53 pm

Yosemite recently had a large fire. After St Helens blew millions of trees were planted.

August 5, 2016 3:55 pm

Aluminium metal is such a powerful chemical agent. Remember that chemistry experiment at school? The one in which a mixture of powdered aluminium metal and powdered iron oxide are made to combine in a crucible? The reaction started by a burning strip of magnesium ribbon, used as a fuse, to produce a pool of molten iron and a crust of aluminium oxide?
As this reaction produces metal iron, but does not require that we decompose limestone as a flux to remove silicate contaminants, we have here the means of creating a carbon free iron smelting industry without any carbon dioxide emissions at all. What a tremendous benefit that would be. /sarc.

John Michelmore
August 5, 2016 4:15 pm

Great idea, the energy required to produce the metal anode from the original oxide can come from my perpetual motion machine, or alternatively the electricity generated from the renewable schemes. I see no reason why a few billion dollars should not be spent developing this process in view of the extreme climate emergency. The plans to my machine are quite inexpensive!

August 5, 2016 7:52 pm

Is not onboard capture of co2 an incredibly stupid idea?
Why would you want to transport such a system everywhere you went? Surely it would be better to concentrate your co2 recapturing in one massive plant somewhere, using all that excess solar and wind power when it has no other purpose.

Dr. Strangelove
August 6, 2016 2:43 am

How to consume 1.94 kJ of energy to produce 1 kJ of energy? Easy. Use the amazing carbon capture battery invented by Cornell mad scientists
They claim 13 A-h (1.4 V) = 18.2 wh or 65.5 kJ energy produced from 1 gram of carbon reactant
2·Al(0) + 6·CO2 —–> Al2(C2O4)3
How much aluminum reactant?
1 g/(12 g/mol) = 0.083 mol C
1 mol Al = 3 mol C = 0.028 mol Al (27 g/mol) = 0.75 g Al
How much energy needed to produce 1 g Al? 170 kJ (0.75 g) = 127.5 kJ
Input energy / output energy = 127.5 / 65.5 = 1.94
Yes! Let’s waste twice more energy than we produce and convert aluminum metal to a strong acid in urine
True geniuscomment image

August 7, 2016 5:18 pm

“A current drawback of this technology is that the electrolyte – the liquid connecting the anode to the cathode – is extremely sensitive to water. Ongoing work is addressing the performance of electrochemical systems and the use of electrolytes that are less water-sensitive.”
This entire article simply HAS to be satire, right?

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