Making CO2 into fuel

From the MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY

MIT-developed method converts carbon dioxide into useful compounds.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — MIT researchers have developed a new system that could potentially be used for converting power plant emissions of carbon dioxide into useful fuels for cars, trucks, and planes, as well as into chemical feedstocks for a wide variety of products.

The new membrane-based system was developed by MIT postdoc Xiao-Yu Wu and Ahmed Ghoniem, the Ronald C. Crane Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and is described in a paper in the journal ChemSusChem. The membrane, made of a compound of lanthanum, calcium, and iron oxide, allows oxygen from a stream of carbon dioxide to migrate through to the other side, leaving carbon monoxide behind. Other compounds, known as mixed ionic electronic conductors, are also under consideration in their lab for use in multiple applications including oxygen and hydrogen production.

XiaoYu Wu pictured with the reactor his team used for the research. MIT researchers have developed a new system that could potentially be used for converting power plant emissions of carbon dioxide into useful fuels. The method may not only cut greenhouse emissions; it could also produce another potential revenue stream to help defray its costs. Image: Tony Pulsone

Carbon monoxide produced during this process can be used as a fuel by itself or combined with hydrogen and/or water to make many other liquid hydrocarbon fuels as well as chemicals including methanol (used as an automotive fuel), syngas, and so on. Ghoniem’s lab is exploring some of these options. This process could become part of the suite of technologies known as carbon capture, utilization, and storage, or CCUS, which if applied to electicity production could reduce the impact of fossil fuel use on global warming.

The membrane, with a structure known as perovskite, is “100 percent selective for oxygen,” allowing only those atoms to pass, Wu explains. The separation is driven by temperatures of up to 990 degrees Celsius, and the key to making the process work is to keep the oxygen that separates from carbon dioxide flowing through the membrane until it reaches the other side. This could be done by creating a vacuum on side of the membrane opposite the carbon dioxide stream, but that would require a lot of energy to maintain.

In place of a vacuum, the researchers use a stream of fuel such as hydrogen or methane. These materials are so readily oxidized that they will actually draw the oxygen atoms through the membrane without requiring a pressure difference. The membrane also prevents the oxygen from migrating back and recombining with the carbon monoxide, to form carbon dioxide all over again. Ultimately, and depending on the application, a combination of some vaccum and some fuel can be used to reduce the energy required to drive the process and produce a useful product.

The energy input needed to keep the process going, Wu says, is heat, which could be provided by solar energy or by waste heat, some of which could come from the power plant itself and some from other sources. Essentially, the process makes it possible to store that heat in chemical form, for use whenever it’s needed. Chemical energy storage has very high energy density — the amount of energy stored for a given weight of material — as compared to many other storage forms.

At this point, Wu says, he and Ghoniem have demonstrated that the process works. Ongoing research is examining how to increase the oxygen flow rates across the membrane, perhaps by changing the material used to build the membrane, changing the geometry of the surfaces, or adding catalyst materials on the surfaces. The researchers are also working on integrating the membrane into working reactors and coupling the reactor with the fuel production system. They are examining how this method could be scaled up and how it compares to other approaches to capturing and converting carbon dioxide emissions, in terms of both costs and effects on overall power plant operations.

In a natural gas power plant that Ghoniem’s group and others have worked on previously, Wu says the incoming natural gas could be split into two streams, one that would be burned to generate electricity while producing a pure stream of carbon dioxide, while the other stream would go to the fuel side of the new membrane system, providing the oxygen-reacting fuel source. That stream would produce a second output from the plant, a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide known as syngas, which is a widely used industrial fuel and feedstock. The syngas can also be added to the existing natural gas distribution network.

The method may thus not only cut greenhouse emissions; it could also produce another potential revenue stream to help defray its costs.

The process can work with any level of carbon dioxide concentration, Wu says — they have tested it all the way from 2 percent to 99 percent — but the higher the concentration, the more efficient the process is. So, it is well-suited to the concentrated output stream from conventional fossil-fuel-burning power plants or those designed for carbon capture such as oxy-combustion plants.

###

The research was funded by Shell Oil and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

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155 thoughts on “Making CO2 into fuel

    • This process, by which a power plant would consume its own effluent without producing anything useful, is described by all-knowing Wiki:
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oozlum_bird
      “The oozlum bird, also spelled ouzelum, is a legendary creature found in Australian and British folk tales and legends. Some versions have it that, when startled, the bird will take off and fly around in ever-decreasing circles until it manages to fly up its own backside, disappearing completely, which adds to its rarity.”

    • I think this is actually reverse alchemy: turning waste crap into marginally useful crap by throwing a ton of gold at it.

      • The cheapest way to extract the oxygen from the carbon dioxide (and there have been a lot of studies done on this, and cheap ones, too) is to plant trees and allow them to do their primary job for us.
        Extract the carbon and “excrete” the oxygen.
        How much more simple can you get?
        Hang on, I forgot, there’s NO MONEY in doing this !!

      • What problem is that, crackers345? I don’t know of any specific problem with either the climate (which remains within the stable bounds that it has done for the past 11000 years or so) or CO2 (which is at an unremarkable 400ppm……..high enough to permit efficient photosynthesis, thereby avoiding extinction of all species on the planet, and 100 times lower than the air we both exhale).

      • “solve the co2/climate problem”

        Imaginary problem probably need imaginary solutions..

        Hence wind and solar.

        They try to solve the plot of one fairy tale, by writing another.

      • Crackers says… “We can’t plant trees nearly fast enough to
        solve the co2/climate problem.”

        Why not? ( not that CO2 is a problem)

      • We have already seen the biosphere expand by some 15%.

        We don’t need to plant anything..

        MN will do the job if we feed her enough CO2

      • AndyG55

        “We have already seen the biosphere expand by some 15%.”

        But there’s more!

        I read somewhere that not only has the biosphere increased in terms of coverage, the plants themselves have increased their individual mass by up to 20%. Read it somewhere then lost the link, sorry.

      • Its gone from a scrawny little undernourished little kid,

        …. and now it is getting fed at least a small amount of what it needs, is starting to bulk up. :-)

      • You do not end up with more gas than started with in the two streams. Energy is wasted converting the CO2 back to a useful gas which is then burned. It would be cheaper and more efficient to use all the original gas to generate energy. So, what if waste heat is used to do the process, the structure, chemicals, and maintenance will far outstrip the imaginary savings they pretend to have

      • It’s nice that science is taking place without the taxpayer having to pay for it. However, it attempts to solve a non-problem by using more energy (and money) than it produces, while turning a useful gas (CO2) into a poisonous gas (CO). I do not expect that their efforts will improve humans’ standard of living.

        I guess this is another result of CAGW Alarmism caused by the 3Ls (Lunatics, Liars, and Lemmings).

      • We can’t plant trees nearly fast enough to solve the co2/climate problem.

        there is not “problem” other than the BS being spread and the stupid ideas like consuming energy to create a vacuum and 990 deg temps as means of creating a toxic gas from a harmless and useful one.

      • Bob Shapiro commented – “It’s nice that science is taking place without the taxpayer having to pay for it”

        wow. do you have
        _any_ idea how much society
        has benefited from
        taxpayer funded science?

        if you did you’d never make
        such a statement.

    • So the good post-doc (means inherently unemployable) ….. “””””….. could potentially …..””””” … make himself a fortune, by selling his house and investing the funz in his new CO2 fuel.

      I thought CO2 like water, was fuels that has been through the horse once already.

      Just think; rare earths and rusty iron !

      G

      • Oh I think I see this program heading for a cliff just over there.

        It depends on power plant emissions for its feedstocks.

        Jerry ” moonbeam ” Brown has outlawed power plant emissions; they make it smoggy so his full grandeur cannot be seen.

        Sorry Jerry; you and Algore can have exclusive right to this invention.

        G

      • A similarly proposed scheme for carbon -> fuel turned up some time back where they were predicting scaling their program up from initially drawing off waste gasses to moving to extracting CO2 from the wider ambient atmosphere. I wrote to the company involved and offered to sponsor some research, specifically setting up greenhouses in the pre and post treatment airstreams to see how it might affect plant life .. needless to say they never took up my offer.

    • The idea is you use renewable energy you can’t use right then and there, so it sort of competes with trying to develop storage systems. The advantage it has it directly tackles CO2 levels rather than some convoluted emission control path.

    • True, but CO2 + H2O + energy > liquid fuel is the best answer for energy storage from intermittent sources like wind and solar.

      • CO2 + H2O + energy > liquid fuel is the best answer for energy storage from intermittent sources like wind and solar.

        Without knowing plant capital and O & M costs, and conversion efficiency, that is as stupid an assertion as saying CO2 is warming the planet appreciably and renewable energy will stop it.

        Learn to be an unbiased skeptic.

    • I agree, Philip. I have done technical evaluations on many such processes. As pointed out below, you still have to separate the C and O2, which takes more energy than you got out of it in the first place. Plus, I get less electricity out of the same amount of fuel. These inventions are using the interest in CO2 to drive development, not that it is most efficient way to accomplish the purpose.

    • Hey, you didn’t mean that sophisticated process involving water, some membranes, capillaries, some catalysts and plenty of solar energy (peaking at well over hundred TW) as useful chemical storage, did you? That one is already patented by the ICR, I believe!

    • Fertilizing the Oceans with iron is far better and faster than planting trees, and would likely be less expensive as well. John Gribbin was the first scientist to publicly suggest that climate change could be reduced by adding large amounts of soluble iron to the oceans. In 1988, oceanographer John Martin’s quipped at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute “Give me a half a tanker of iron and I will give you another ice age”. That drove a decade of research. The findings suggested that iron deficiency was limiting ocean productivity (i.e., iron fertilization leads to a bloom of algae, phytoplankton, and associated sea life. This offered an approach to mitigating climate change as well. Perhaps the most dramatic support for Martin’s hypothesis came with the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. Environmental scientist Andrew Watson analyzed global data from that eruption and calculated that it deposited approximately 40,000 tons of iron dust into oceans worldwide. This single fertilization event preceded an easily observed global decline in atmospheric CO2 and a parallel pulsed increase in oxygen levels. See Wikipedia and Google “Iron Fertilization”.

    • Oh my Roger, that process would totally eliminate the need for bureaucrats to manage the entire thing,….instead of Mother Nature. We can’t have that, since the purpose of any bureaucracy is to multiply and grow larger.

    • This will never see practical application because……it is akin to perpetual motion. It will always require more fossil base stock than it creates. Yea you could use solar heat and a vacuum to split the CO2 but I really doubt the economic feasibility of such a project.

      • Can one get 990 C from solar?

        In theory one can get anything up to the temperature at the sun’s surface, with a big enough magnifying glass.

      • “””””….. “
        Can one get 990 C from solar?

        In theory one can get anything up to the temperature at the sun’s surface, with a big enough magnifying glass. …..”””””

        No you can’t.

        If you had a magnifying glass as big as the whole solar system ( or a galaxy) it still wouldn’t give you an image of the sun that was as bright as the sun.

        Because a magnifying glass is NOT an aplanatic optical system, nor is it achromatic, and by the way it has godorful astigmatism, so you always get a highly abberated image which could never get to be as bright as the sun, no matter how large it was.
        That is theoretically you couldn’t, and practically; well don’t even bother trying.
        And perhaps the first person who proved you couldn’t do it, was none other than Rudolph Clausius, who derived the Optical Sine Theorem from the second law of thermo-dynamics.

        G

      • But to answer catcracking’s question: yes you can get 990 deg. C from the sun, using non-imaging solar concentrators.

        Roland Winston used a solid YAG concentrator to get more than a 50,000 concentration.

        The angular diameter of the sun is 0.5 deg, or +/-0.25 deg.
        So 1/sin(0.25 deg.) is the highest one dimensional concentration you can get which is about 230, so square that and you get 52525 for the maximum areal concentration.
        Winston beat that number because he used a solid YAG concentrator so you can get an N^2 gain from that, but the image would have to be inside the solid, which would instantly evaporate the optical system.
        But if you take the square root of 229, you get 15, so whatever the black body Temperature is at earth orbit, from solar irradiation, you can at best (in air) get 15 times that, so 990k or even 990 deg. C is duck soup.

        G

    • Yes, that is ridiculous. However… If you run it with solar heating, these kinds of processes (of which there seems to be a new scheme every month, but no pilot plant announcements) are potentially useful to transform a low density, non-transportable energy resource into a high density, transportable fuel.

      But I’m waiting for actual numbers from a pilot plant. As noted, there are none.

      • There you are in error. There has been this transformation from low-energy material to transportable fuel for a while. In Germany, fuel is even produced in some research refineries, such as KIT in Karlsruhe. However, not directly from CO2, but from residual materials, such as those incurred in straw harvesting, wood processing, etc. These residual materials (not specially grown plants such as corn) are first gasified and then refined to fuels of all kinds. This is also a transformation of solar energy into fuel.
        I find that with the direct conversion synonymous not a bad idea. But the temperatures needed for this are a bit high. The energy input is quite high, but the yield should not be bad. In the meantime, you can filter out all CO2 from the exhaust gases of a power plant. Even coal-fired power plants, which of course supply even more waste heat than gas-fired power plants, can do that.

      • Hans-Georg November 28, 2017 at 1:59 pm Edit

        There you are in error. There has been this transformation from low-energy material to transportable fuel for a while. In Germany, fuel is even produced in some research refineries, such as KIT in Karlsruhe. However, not directly from CO2, but from residual materials, such as those incurred in straw harvesting, wood processing, etc. These residual materials (not specially grown plants such as corn) are first gasified and then refined to fuels of all kinds. This is also a transformation of solar energy into fuel.

        I’m sorry, Hans, perhaps it’s a translation problem, but straw and wood are NOT the “low energy fuels” that Writing Observer is talking about. We know this because people use them directly for heating and cooking.

        Yes, you can turn these into fuels. Germany had wood-burning vehicles during WWII. But it takes energy to do so … so it will be a net loss to world energy.

        w.

      • Where is that water bucket? Ah…

        Willis, what I think Hans is talking about is taking what normally is waste product from the processing of straw and wood. If you gasify those using (at least mostly) otherwise waste heat from a real power plant, you have a product with a higher energy density than that waste – and is more efficiently transportable to boot (by conventional pipeline). The process is a net usable energy gain for the entire cycle. (Albeit not all that much.)

        If the technology of the story (or some other of the “CO2 to fuel” technologies) become practical, what I envision is, for instance, co-locating a HELE power plant with a thermal solar installation. That would increase the usable energy – and actually make the solar portion rather more practical, as the fuel produced would be transportable and storable.

        (This would not be overly practical for the process that Hans mentions, though – solar plants are pretty much only practical where it is rather difficult to obtain the feed stock. Not much wood or straw production in the Mojave…)

      • Observer, there’s no benefit there. If you are burning wood to fuel a Fisher-Trops reaction. That’s something completely different. It’s also not unique. The Nazis knew how to do that. As far as solar heating, that’s impossible. Fisher-Trops requires ludicrously high temperature to work. Syn gas at low temperatures is the cold fusion of waste gas. Lots of proposals, but no successful prototypes.

        [High temperature, very high pressures. .mod]

      • 1) Fischer-Tropsch.

        2) 1925, so the Weimar Republic knew how to do that. Nazis did do it, in desperation, lacking access to sufficient petroleum for their military forces.

        3) Until now, syngas to complex hydrocarbons (which is what Fischer-Tropsch accomplishes) was not mentioned in the thread.

        4) Wood burning as the primary heat source to produce syngas is not mentioned. Otherwise wasted heat from coal or nuclear.

        5) Otherwise useful agricultural products specifically excluded as feedstock. Otherwise wasted agricultural byproducts specifically stated as the feedstock (instead of the otherwise useful coke, as in the conventional syngas production process).

        Reading is your friend…

        Note, I am saying that this is an interesting bit of technology. One that has the potential to improve the practicality of such things as solar thermal, by using the thermal energy to generate a storable and transportable fuel when direct conversion to electrical power is unneeded. (Also where other schemes to make solar dispatchable, such as pumped hydro, are not practical.)

        Not, of course, until such “pesky little details” as process cost per cubic foot of syngas are solved, which is the problem with these PR announcements. Whether that can be done, I do not know – nor do I believe that you do, either.

    • rocketscientist.
      Good point, having commercial experience with the materials required for these temperatures, it is hard to see how this has any useful value. Not to hard to get some useful energy out of gasses at 1814 F.
      Smart Engineers have been getting useful energy converting CO to CO2 for years, hard to understand why anyone would waste their time and somebody’s money converting it back to CO which is hazardous to handle. I am not a chemist but I know there are already better ways to make methanol.

      “The separation is driven by temperatures of up to 990 degrees Celsius, and the key to making the process work is to keep the oxygen that separates from carbon dioxide flowing through the membrane until it reaches the other side. This could be done by creating a vacuum on side of the membrane opposite the carbon dioxide stream, but that would require a lot of energy to maintain.”

    • Heat is already a waste of whatever pristine available energy you used to have; like EM radiation; pure photonic emissions.

      So “waste heat ” is just repeating yourself.

      G

    • Yeah, I noticed that as well. This is the most ridiculous “proof of concept” paper to solve a non-issue by creating an even bigger issue. Who would take a non-reactive, non-toxic feedstock like CO2 and turn it into highly reactive O2 and deadly carbon monoxide? Can you even think of a worse chemical reaction requiring high input temperatures and vacuum pressures to drive the process to create an even worse end product?

      • Fertilizing the Oceans with iron is the best solution. John Gribbin was the first scientist to publicly suggest that climate change could be reduced by adding large amounts of soluble iron to the oceans. In 1988, oceanographer John Martin’s quipped at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute “Give me a half a tanker of iron and I will give you another ice age”. That drove a decade of research. The findings suggested that iron deficiency was limiting ocean productivity (i.e., iron fertilization leads to a bloom of algae, phytoplankton, and associated sea life). The most dramatic support for Martin’s hypothesis came with the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. Environmental scientist Andrew Watson analyzed global data from that eruption and calculated that it deposited approximately 40,000 tons of iron dust into oceans worldwide. This single fertilization event preceded an easily observed global decline in atmospheric CO2 and a parallel pulsed increase in oxygen levels. See Wikipedia and Google “Iron Fertilization”.

      • And having Hydrogen on the other side of the membrane meeting and mixing with Oxygen…

        Scott, Fertilizing the Oceans with iron is the best solution.

        Solution for what? We have not enough CO₂ in the air. And instead of

        climate change could be reduced

        you surely mean “Global Warming”?

  1. Sounds like the boys have a perfect system; now, if they could only get that damn membrane to cooperate!

    • Having just read the MIT article on this development leaves me even more aghast.
      The authors propose taking the input fuel stream from a LNG electrical plant and splitting it in two. One stream is burned to produce the 990 C heat. Its exhaust CO2 (plus all sorts of other byproducts) will then be passed by the membrane. The other half of the original stream will be passed on the other side of the membrane to draw the oxygen through the membrane to produce…oxidized (combusted) fuel.

      So they are burning fuel to create heat to take the original fuel and convert it into …fuel exhaust?

      Um… wasn’t it already useful fuel? And, when does the LNG electrical plant get to produce electricity?

      • Nothing that yet another government grant can’t fix. The MIT way was always throwing unlimited amounts of money at a problem and proclaiming greatness.

      • Rocket look at a photo of an LNG plant there is an obvious feature
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gas_flare
        In good old USA the Obama administration introduced laws to limit the process, you need the release as a safety mechanism and it makes more sense to try and use the release rather than burn it.

        You can see the numbers

        As of the end of 2011, 150 × 109 cubic meters (5.3 × 1012 cubic feet) of associated gas are flared annually. That is equivalent to about 25 per cent of the annual natural gas consumption in the United States or about 30 per cent of the annual gas consumption in the European Union. If it were to reach market, this quantity of gas (at a nominal value of $5.62 per 1000 cubic feet) would be worth $29.8 billion USD.

        There are markets for this it’s an integrated concept they will try and use renewable energy to drive the process (some picked that up) and you use what would usually be flared.

      • LDB, completely different situation. Flaring can be reduced or recovered, and everyone watching their bottom line does. However, you can’t use a boiler as a safety device. You need a flare for backup. Something that can take an insane amount of flow.

        Finally, the volume of gas used by flares is heavily increased by the fact that they have to be lit and have a sweep gas to keep the insides oxygen-free 24/7. Plus, flaring that occurs must be boosted in heating value by natural gas in order to ensure that everything worse than methane is actually combusted.

  2. “The research was funded by Shell Oil and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.”

    Well, this was funded by Big Oil so, of course, its nothing but a pack of lies.

  3. Can’t see how it would reduce CO2 emissions without some kind of dedicated sequestration strategy.
    And Simply splitting the input methane stream into 2 streams is just a shell game of transferred emissions.

    I got an idea. Plant trees and harvest the reduced carbon they make to run a power plant.

  4. Can’t see how it would reduce CO2 emissions without some kind of dedicated sequestration strategy.
    And Simply splitting the input methane stream into 2 streams is just a shell game of transferred emissions.

    I got an idea. Plant trees and harvest the reduced carbon they make to run a power plant.

    • Absolutely! But sadly, most sheeple don’t realize that trees already have figured out how to use solar energy to convert CO2 into usable fuel at ambient temperatures and pressures. And they do it for free!

      Ta Da!

    • Iron Fertilizing of Oceans is the best solution. John Gribbin was the first scientist to publicly suggest that climate change could be reduced by adding large amounts of soluble iron to the oceans. In 1988, oceanographer John Martin’s quipped at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute “Give me a half a tanker of iron and I will give you another ice age”. That drove a decade of research. The findings suggested that iron deficiency was limiting ocean productivity (i.e., iron fertilization leads to a bloom of algae, phytoplankton, and associated sea life). The most dramatic support for Martin’s hypothesis came with the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines. Environmental scientist Andrew Watson analyzed global data from that eruption and calculated that it deposited approximately 40,000 tons of iron dust into oceans worldwide. This single fertilization event preceded an easily observed global decline in atmospheric CO2 and a parallel pulsed increase in oxygen levels. See Wikipedia and Google “Iron Fertilization”.

  5. The laws of thermodynamics are clear. It take more energy to break the carbon-oxygen bond than was released when the carbon-oxygen bond was made.

  6. Just because it can be done doesn’t mean it should be done. This thought process should be applied to any and all alternative fuels production schemes.

    Crude oil refining is 90+% energy efficient as the feedstock already is a liquid fuel with the composition needed for high energy density and only needing minor changes in composition to be fit for purpose as a transportation fuel. Crude is produced and consumed in massive quantities of roughly 17 million barrels/day. Putting this in terms commonly used by the biofuels sector, this converts to nearly 1 trillion liters/year of fuel . Typical cellulosit ethanol plants may produce 1000 to 2000 bbl/day which is 5 orders of magnitude less than the demand making this form or biofuel untennible as a fuel source. Now try to capture the needed amount of CO2, heat it to 900F, and provide the energy needed to reduce CO2 to a hydrocarbon fuel in a cost effective manner and you see why the proposed scheme is not even close to realistic.
    It is hard enough to take cellulosic material such as wood or segregated MSW, gasify it to CO/H2, and use Fischer-Tropsch technology to convert it to hydrocarbon fuel. That can be done with existing technology but costs around $200,000/bbl/day plant capacity to build and the feedstock needs to be essentially free to make it economically viable. So how can you even dream of paying the cost of concentrating CO2 from flue gas and using expensive membrane technology to reduce CO2 into methanol which is not in any way a useful transportation fuel due to low energy conetnt and its corrosive nature.

    • The fact that crude oil refining is 90% efficient is irrelevant – we are using it up faster than we are finding new sources so sooner or later we will run out and then we will need alternative (i.e. renewable) sources of energy. Solar power is the only viable contender (unless the impossible happens and we get D-D fusion working) and so we need someway to store and transport it. Hence solar powered generation of liquid fuel is perhaps the vital step in securing the long term (>200 years) future of industrialised society.

      • dude .. this wasn’t solar powered … they didn’t test this pulling CO2 out of the Air … they assumed a fossil fuel power plant at one end to supply the flue gas at insane ppm levels … trying to pull CO2 at 400 ppm and run it thru this process would be a waste of time …

      • Geranium ..
        I don’t know where you get your information from but there is a glut of oil on the world market at present .
        At todays price levels it is uneconomic to explore and develop deep offshore oil fields and how do you know how much oil is still in the ground .

      • Or we could use all of the pesky Uranium for the next few hundred millenia (or longer) with technology that already exists today. Nah, windmills and mirrors it is!

      • Well don’t hold your breath waiting for D-D fusion to get operating.

        Not going to happen in my lifetime or yours or your great grandchildren’s.

        G

    • Dr Bob,
      Thank you for straying from bubbles to reality.
      There seems little public, even scientific, understanding of the immense quantities of materials used in energy production, apart from nuclear. Your 5 orders of magnitude is noted. Geoff.

  7. Any combustion process involving an organic compound, such as oil or coal, ends up with CO2 and water, these being the lowest energy states of the carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms in combination. To convert them back again into higher energy states, you have to add the same amount of energy as you gained from combustion in the first place. Since the energy addition process would introduce its own energy losses, it makes more sense just to look for more oil or coal rather than trying to magically create some out of thin air.

    There is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine.

      • “There is no such thing as a perpetual motion machine.” This is IT! Coming from MIT, of all places. I guess they’ll show that physics is inherently racist.

      • Not even close to perpetual motion! Where does the 990 C heat come from? Not this process. Where do the high pressures to maintain the separation of O2 come from? Not this process.
        There is a whole lot of energy going in to get an ever diminishing return.
        I graduated from MIT. We churned out interesting stuff all the time. It’s just that this is being prematurely hyped to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
        However, I don’t believe anyone from MIT claimed this to be perpetual motion.

    • Roger,
      There is a Holy Grail moment if you can work out why people can not or want not to understand this truism. Geoff.

  8. The extra costs, minus whatever revenue stream from whatever useful products to be paid by taxpayers and ratepayers. Yay! And we get to save the planet. Double-yay.

  9. The energy input needed to keep the process going, Wu says, is heat…

    Not to mention the hydrogen or methane used to react away the oxygen produced. Or, instead, the vacuum needed to pump it away.

    Wu and Ghoniem described a perovskite system that does interesting chemistry. But supposing the process will be a net energy-producer is utter nonsense. So is the other pie-in-the-sky idea about producing syngas, or assisting CCS.

    All that bushwah is just another example of how attachment to AGW corrupts science reporting, and dragoons the scientists themselves into going along with advocacy PR..

    • Hi Pat,
      In my old memory days, MIT would have made this research into a positive, by adding an honest assessment of the negative cost potential at process scale. Ideally, this would prevent other researchers from spending more money on similar research with negative returns. But that is a dream in now time as science corruption morphs to normal expectation. Geoff

  10. It would appear this is another of those PR things where grant money is used as a feedstock to create something that bulls give naturally. However, it might very well generate more grant money to find yet another “unusual approach at turning greenbacks into green dreams” and other sorts of fertilizer.

  11. Say, I should have done my thesis on “Sequestration of Evil CO2 in flavored aqueous solutions to be dispensed to the public.” (I.e. how to make soda pop) instead of doing the remote sensing of atmospheric temperature structure of the earth from orbit. Oh, well… (PhD MIT ’78 course VI)

  12. Lab seeks a publicity craving ego story. Clueless reporter responds. The Earth is saved.

    Selective membrane tech has been around for decades. Good luck scaling it up to demo plant size using Lanthanum based materials.

    The basic process of converting CO2 to chemical fuels on global scale already exists. Operates with complete reliability using solar power at ambient temperature as the only energy input.

    • its called a tree? and its free. How much does the MIT idea cost per kwh to produce? if its more than what I pay the local electric company, even if its possible it isn’t feasible. But then again, if we pay a feed in tariff for the co2 conversion/generation process, then magic, its cheaper than gas/coal/hydro/nuclear.

  13. Oh, oh. Just when the world has partial recovered from a CO2 drought the last million years that had assisted in the extinction of many mega fauna species as recently as just 10,000 years ago, comes this. While the peak of ice age cycles saw CO2 concentrations dropping to as low as 180 ppmv, thus being the lowest atmospheric levels seen in hundreds of millions of years, we are just recovering to a minimum CO2 level for current life at 400+ ppmv. Now that they have monetized CO2, capitalism will succeed in locking up every last molecule of CO2 and life itself will become near extinct, again. The greed knows no limits.

    On a more serious note, adding energy to split CO2 into CO (1 Carbon molecule and 1 Oxygen molecule) and releasing one oxygen molecule is basically a good research development project. But probably for future generations and perhaps for any future Mars colonization. CO can be a feed stock for many carbon chains including liquid fuels, or burned directly as a fuel as the article noted. So this may play a part in future advanced civilizations when fossil fuels are very expensive, but electricity is relatively cheap to produce such as with H3 fusion in a far out future. But it is a bit inefficient to use perfectly good energy as already noted right now. It is basically neutral to the carbon cycle, except for that which would be in storage. For now, why not just use the energy real time? This is also probably why the hydrogen economy never materialized, because of the inherent losses in making such. It will finitely have a use at some point, and is good to get the technology right, but shouldn’t be pursued to just reduce atmospheric CO2, since current levels are mostly beneficial to humanity and all life on the good Earth.

  14. They could convert CO2 into limestone. Then the limestone could be used as a durable construction material for buildings and roads.

    • F.A.,
      I’ll venture the thought that marine organisms are already doing this conversion and with CO2 on the rise, limestone is already being formed at a faster rate than, say, 250 years ago.

      As “as a durable construction material”, limestone has a problem — See “karst”.
      Further processing helps, but still there is lots of limestone about, so making it in a factory might be a waste of time.

      • John F. Hultquist
        November 28, 2017 at 1:03 pm

        F.A.,
        I’ll venture the thought that marine organisms are already doing this conversion and with CO2 on the rise, limestone is already being formed at a faster rate than, say, 250 years ago.

        As “as a durable construction material”, limestone has a problem — See “karst”.
        Further processing helps, but still there is lots of limestone about, so making it in a factory might be a waste of time.

        The problem is that the marine organisms leave the limestone on the sea floor where it is liable to be subducted in tectonic plate areas.
        What are the chances of water and iron oxide being present as well? At the temperature and pressures in the crust/mantle this combination spontaneously creates a mixture of high energy hydrocarbons (crude oil).

        All we need to do is identify which fault areas it rises into. Search abiotic oil.

        SteveT

    • “Then the limestone could be used as a durable construction material for buildings and roads.”

      By first baking using coal, it to make cement.

  15. I prefer nuclear methanol…

    Scoping Study of Methanol Production From CO2 with Nuclear Electrolysis H2

    The chemical reaction needs pressure and energy, but since 2012 has already been in operation at the Svartsengi Power Station in Iceland, where geothermal energy is used to produce the hydrogen and CO2 from the volcanic geothermal vent steam is converted to methanol. In a nuclear methanol process it would likewise be waste heat from (nuclear) power generation, plus electrolytic hydrogen as the CRI process uses.

    The idea of nuclear methanol is that we would never need stupid electric vehicles at all – just continue to use high efficiency internal combustion engines, with a modest conversion to use methanol or a methanol derivative. The energy density of a tank full of methanol is far higher than the best possible battery, and being just a plastic container is far cheaper.

  16. Because of CO2’s amazing properties of being able to trap and amplify heat…(and at low concentrations} why not simply circulate the pure gas at high pressure through a network of pipes in a cavity with a glass face which is exposed to sunlight? This is used for solar water heating, but imagine the intense heat that could be generated and recovered from a system like that!

    • Charles, sadly there are no currently available engineering materials capable of withstanding such intense heating. The plasma generated in your scheme would require confinement using superconducting magnets and even then nonlinear plasma instabilities would likely render the project untenable. The inconceivably awesome heating power of the carbon dioxide molecule will regrettably remain untapped for the foreseeable future.

  17. From the article: “which if applied to electicity production could reduce the impact of fossil fuel use on global warming.”

    What impact?

  18. Don’t I recall some similar process was described last year- adding CO2 to seawater, introduce a LOT of electricity, and Voila!… jet fuel.

    Actually might make some sense for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier…

  19. If this process runs at 990 Celsius (1814 F), this is much hotter than the exit temperatures of most industrial boilers or gas turbines. Why would anyone go through the expense of heating flue gas to such high temperatures (and finding metallurgy that can withstand such temperatures) to convert CO2 back to carbon monoxide (CO) and oxygen?

    The article states that a “fuel” stream of hydrogen or methane could be used to strip one of the oxygen atoms off a CO2 molecule. If hydrogen is used, the result is carbon monoxide and steam. If methane is used, depending on the ratios, one could obtain carbon monoxide, hydrogen, steam, and/or formaldehyde, all of which would have a lower energy content than the original methane. In either case, the energy content of the fuel stream is reduced, in order to convert harmless carbon dioxide into toxic carbon monoxide. Why?

    The article states that this process could be used to make “synthesis gas”, which is usually a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. While carbon monoxide can be useful as an intermediate gas in the production of some monomers for plastics manufacturing, the most prevalent production of synthesis gas comes from a well-known catalytic process called steam-methane reforming, which is used to produce hydrogen and releases lots of heat.

    The reaction for steam-methane reforming is

    CH4 + H2O –> CO + 3 H2 + heat

    The synthesis-gas stream is then cooled and sent to a water-shift reactor, where the CO reacts with steam to produce CO2 and an additional molecule of hydrogen.

    CO + H2O –> CO2 + H2 + heat

    This mixture is then separated into high-purity hydrogen and CO2 using a molecular sieve and “pressure swing adsorption”.

    The steam-methane reforming process is primarily used to generate hydrogen, but it also releases lots of heat, which is usually used to generate steam from water, which can then be used to run turbines. Carbon dioxide is the low-energy product of this reaction, so that trying to run the water-shift reaction backwards, which is what the MIT team is trying to do, will require a huge energy input.

    There are much more efficient ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere, which use solar energy to power the process. They’re called trees.

  20. Q. How does a scientist turn CO2 into 1 MJ of useful hydrocarbon energy?
    A. Start with 2 MJ of useful hydrocarbon energy and a grant supported research project.

      • The $2 million is for the capital cost. You need another $1 million annual operating cost and another $1 million a year for maintenance.

      • And add another $10 million in PR fees, press conferences and legal fees. The legal fees are needed to sue anyone who disagrees with either the efficacy of the process or the need for it.

    • “Let’s hope that at least this one is fake news, otherwise it would mean that these batteries are just chemical bombs ready to explode at any time.”
      Well, batteries ARE chemical bombs ready to explode at any time. Just ask apple or samsung. A small one will just “pop” with less damage than a firecracker. A big one will make enough smoke to worry a neighborhood.

  21. Another perpetual motion scheme.
    The basic fact is that it takes at least as much energy to break the bonds between the atoms as you get by combining them.

    Assuming 100% efficiency you get a net gain of … zero.

    In the real world, you will not get 100%.

  22. It is no more than an attempt at the ‘ beautifying image photoshop’ of the oil industry’s grandees Shell Oil and the Saudi Arabia who financed this useless research.

  23. These types of materials have been around a long time.

    Materials-of-construction issues.

    Mundane things like flanges and valves don’t work well at those temperatures.

    • Right 1814 F is above the ASME CODE for all pressure vessel construction materials . Even the most expensive high nickel alloys creep at this temperature

      • Superalloy? I don’t know what they’re rated at these days or if they are considered acceptable for a pressure vessel.

  24. Many comments above about why this is a daft scheme.
    Why are we not screaming at the scammer “scientist” and his “team” who must know (because they are scientists) that this is a scam yet still happy to pose for a picture, make PR releases and take the money to tell these lies?

  25. Do schools not teach proper chemical thermodynamics anymore?
    I can remember sitting doing piles of Gibbs free energy and enthalpy calculations when I was 17 and studying for my (now old fashioned) Scottish Higher and Sixth Year Chemistry exams. Great fun for those of us that ‘got it’, and many thanks to our teacher. His rigour and enhusiasm made sure that we really understood the meaning of ‘no free lunch’.

  26. Wtf? I mean w the living f? That is so inconceivably stupid on so many levels it becomes difficult to even comment coherently. What do the actual scientists at MIT say about it over coffee? Do they roll about laughing or is anything carbon dioxide-related simply off limits under pain of expulsion. Whatever, any scientist/engineer beyond remedial freshman level would find that just buttock-clenchingly embarrassing.

  27. Very nice idea. Lanthanum is an abundant rare earth metal and comparatively low cost, being produced as a byproduct of the heavy rare earth metals that are in greater demand.

    But fellas, don’t go splitting the natural gas stream to run the carbon recovery! This kind of thinking arises because you are focusing on making the idea work at any cost and you are jumping on an opportunity provided by a a global warming crisis même that is now in decline. If this is plan A, I suggest passing the oxidizing problem to a new team for an innovative solution.

    Think this thought experiment: you split the stream and burn half for power and the other half for making the synfuel from CO2. Then you use it to fuel the power plant! So now you don’t need the NG for the power plant, but you do need it to recover the CO2 from burning your synfuel! Have we got to this point in this society?

    • Don’t go knocking Lanthanum as if it was the pond scum of rare earths.

      It is in fact one of the most useful ones.

      We wouldn’t have all the modern fancy optical lenses that many of us take for granted if it wasn’t for the Lanthanum glasses.

      G

  28. Isn’t it fun when you are in the field of Physics and Engineering and you want some grant money to pursue your pet projects like membranes, etc. Just make it seem like it’s tied to global warming prevention and you can get all the money you want. Of course it doesn’t matter if the research is useless on it’s face for it’s intended purpose. This is irrelevant to how to work this gravy train.

    I’ve got friends in research that do this all the time. If they skipped the global warming part of their grant request there wouldn’t be any money.

  29. I wouldn’t doubt that it is feasible to extract butter from sh1t.
    At enormous cost and involving enormously complex and energy intensive processes.

    Myself, I am content to stick with butter made from cream skimmed from cow’s milk.

    It seems that to be a scientist in most western countries you now have to be an activist and to have had all traces of common sense surgically removed.

    Sad.

  30. 50 years ago MIT was a top rate school, today, not so much. Must say, though, that this is true of most schools today due to the extreme decline in the rigor of our educational system. Too many years of those who can, doing, and those who can’t, teaching.

    • An example of the depths that MIT has fallen to:

      I asked MIT whether this was a joke. I must presume it was, since they didn’t deny it.

  31. What a silly idea. Even MIT is going by the boards these days. Its president is a global warming LOON. So I guess I’m not surprised.

  32. I think that you guys kind of miss the point. Who needs fuel in places that are heard to supply but have lots of energy? Hint: they operate aircraft carriers, tanks in the desert, and drones and aircraft that fly out of remote airstrips.

    • Hint: you’re better off splitting water and producing methanol with atmospheric CO2 using a nuclear reactor as the power source.

    • Aircraft carriers use nuclear power, as do many subs. Nuclear energised CO2+H2O= Fuel and other CH compounds is best way to do this. Already proven in pilot plants using several power sources, including mad hippy scientists in the New Mexico Desert. I costed this and produceda technical note with David MacKay’s help., BTW. Much more expensive than running an electric car charged from the same nuclear energy, but I didn’t include the battery depreciation.

  33. There is already a low-cost method of doing this using solar power at low temperatures known as “photosynthesis”.
    The research might not be a pure scam though, the membrane might be useful in other applications and the CO2 angle just a trick to get research money, I’ve used somewhat similar tricks to get funds for research myself (though in our case it was imaginary “diversity” and “gender” aspects). The funniest thing was that the people approving the appropriation were perfectly aware that the stuff was imaginary, but they had to play along with the nutty directives from the politicians.

  34. But CO is so darn toxic. I have a chemical reaction going on, on my property, that uses solar energy to convert greenhouse gases CO2 and H2O to celulose that can be used as a fuel and is far less toxic than CO.

  35. I see they have developed a perpetual motion machine… Either that or their claims of somehow getting useful energy by converting a more stable, low energy compound into a less stable, high energy compound are baloney.

  36. The lowest CO2 concentration for which the process is said to work is 2%. But the amount of CO2 in the air that we breathe is only 0.04%, a fiftieth as much…..

    Ian

    • They aren’t trying to scrub CO2 from the air you put it on things that emit high levels of CO2 like power plants :-)

  37. Maybe someone mentioned this. But it sounds like less efficient and more expensive way to do what a plant does (make chemical energy by using energy from an abundant source aka the sun).

  38. If the point is to make CO, why make CO2 in the first place, then? Direct production of CO, by burning coal in steam, seems simpler to my layman eye. But advanced chemists may see advantages I don’t.
    990°C temp is surely NOT heat waste anyway.

  39. I had a deja vu moment about a perpetuum mobile. The energy to reduce CO2 to CO must come from somewhere, so what is the detailed enetgy budget of all the steps of the process?

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