Stanford Researchers: Save the climate by turning methane into carbon dioxide!!!

Guest no schist Sherlock by David Middleton

Stanford News Service
MAY 20, 2019
Stanford researchers outline vision for profitable climate change solution

A seemingly counterintuitive approach – converting one greenhouse gas into another – holds promise for returning the atmosphere to pre-industrial concentrations of methane, a powerful driver of global warming.

BY ROB JORDAN
Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment

A relatively simple process could help turn the tide of climate change while also turning a healthy profit. That’s one of the hopeful visions outlined in a new Stanford-led paper that highlights a seemingly counterintuitive solution: converting one greenhouse gas into another.

The study, published in Nature Sustainability on May 20, describes a potential process for converting the extremely potent greenhouse gas methane into carbon dioxide, which is a much less potent driver of global warming. The idea of intentionally releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere may seem surprising, but the authors argue that swapping methane for carbon dioxide is a significant net benefit for the climate.

“If perfected, this technology could return the atmosphere to pre-industrial concentrations of methane and other gases,” said lead author Rob Jackson, the Michelle and Kevin Douglas Provostial Professor in Earth System Science in Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

[…]

Stanford News Service

My first thought was: No schist Sherlock.

Figure 1. Gas kicks @$$, wind breaks even.
Real Clear Energy

My second thought was: The technology is already fairly well perfected.

But then, I read more of the Stanford News Service article…


Most scenarios for removing carbon dioxide typically assume hundreds of billions of tons removed over decades and do not restore the atmosphere to pre-industrial levels. In contrast, methane concentrations could be restored to pre-industrial levels by removing about 3.2 billion tons of the gas from the atmosphere and converting it into an amount of carbon dioxide equivalent to a few months of global industrial emissions, according to the researchers. If successful, the approach would eliminate approximately one-sixth of all causes of global warming to date.

Methane is challenging to capture from air because its concentration is so low. However, the authors point out that zeolite, a crystalline material that consists primarily of aluminum, silicon and oxygen, could act essentially as a sponge to soak up methane.


Stanford News Service

They’re referring to the insane idea of converting atmospheric methane directly into carbon dioxide, without using it as a fuel.


The whole process might take the form of a giant contraption with electric fans forcing air through tumbling chambers or reactors full of powdered or pelletized zeolites and other catalysts. The trapped methane could then be heated to form and release carbon dioxide, the authors suggest.


Stanford News Service

They even insist that this will be “profitable”… WTF?


A profitable future
The process of converting methane to carbon dioxide could be profitable with a price on carbon emissions or an appropriate policy. If market prices for carbon offsets rise to $500 or more per ton this century, as predicted by most relevant assessment models, each ton of methane removed from the atmosphere could be worth more than $12,000.

A zeolite array about the size of a football field could generate millions of dollars a year in income while removing harmful methane from the air. In principle, the researchers argue that the approach of converting a more harmful greenhouse gas to one that’s less potent could also apply to other greenhouse gases.


Stanford News Service

How the frack could there be “market prices for carbon offsets”? There is no market for “carbon offsets.” The only way that there could be a market for “carbon offsets,” would be if governments imposed such a “market” through a carbon tax… Which really isn’t a market.

This is what a $500/ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions would do to commonly used fuel prices.

Figure 2. What a $500/ton carbon dioxide tax looks like. Extrapolated from Resources’ carbon tax calculator.

A tripling or quadrupling of energy prices through a $500/ton carbon dioxide tax would ostensibly make it “profitable” to suck CH4 out of the air turn it into CO2 and bury it in the ground. That’s just fracking mental.

67 thoughts on “Stanford Researchers: Save the climate by turning methane into carbon dioxide!!!

  1. These people have too much time on their hands. Let’s see, you impose a huge burden on taxpayers, then set up a business to profit from the money you’ve extracted the populace. Immorality taken to a new level.

    • “….make it “profitable” to suck CH4 out of the air turn it into CO2 and bury it in the ground. That’s just fracking mental.”

      Couldn’t agree more, which make its implementation likelihood by our current crop of politicians very high. Stupid is as stupid does and we have a lot of stupid “leading” us these days in Canada, Britain, EU, etc, etc.

      BTW, if converting methane to CO2 would literally become this profitable then I foresee whole swaths of the midwest covered by cattle than no-one will ever eat.

    • Yes, the usual tripe about very expensive processes which do nothing useful except gain grants or “carbon” credits.

      describes a potential process for converting the extremely potent greenhouse gas methane into carbon dioxide

      Instead of trying to scavenge ppb levels of a gas from the atmosphere, why not just stop leaking it ?? Far more productive.

  2. Only one snag that I can see. There has been no Global Warming for 20 years. On the other hand, these wizards at least seem to realise that we need MORE CO2 in the atmosphere, not less. More signs of a breakthrough in the understanding of the role of CO2? We can always hope!

    • Oil companies are keen on scale… wouldn’t know where the oil & gas were, or how much a well could produce, without scale… 😉

    • Ditto, top quality video with no presumption of technical knowledge, I think this will be shown to the grandchildren very soon!

      We are in limbo in the UK with fracking at a virtual standstill. The green lobby have “got at” the relevant government department resulting in a limit on seismic disturbance for fracking which is several orders of magnitude below that for any other drilling operation. We are sitting on reserves which would see us well into the 22nd century at least, but public and political ignorance and greasing means the oil and gas will remain untapped for a while yet.

      I try to catch all of David’s articles on WUWT, but despite having a science and technical background I sometimes get lost, so I tried a bit of self-education – starting with how the hell do you change drilling direction miles under the surface. I have found a site which has answered this and many other similar questions if anyone else out there is in the same situation:
      https://www.rigzone.com/training/howitworks.asp

      Apologies for being a bit OT, but the original concept above is just so zany, I doubt there is anything useful to say about it!

    • “Brilliant video on fracking David.”

      I’ll second, and third, that. A video that simply seeks to inform is often far more educative than one that seeks to inculcate political views.

      Unfortunately, the industry probably doesn’t make as many videos like this as they need to. Currently, the dark side of the force is strong here in the UK.

    • At $500/tonne of CO2, lots of people would care about CH4, even people in West Virginia… 😎

  3. Methane does this on its own when exposed to oxygen. Sometimes it is pretty when it does it.

  4. Australian researchers in 2009 published a paper that claimed that soil bacteria absorbed methane faster than it was produced by cattle.
    https://www.abc.net.au/site-archive/rural/nt/content/200908/s2649444.htm
    Was this a valid result, and/or why hasn’t this research been taken further, as it would help settle the argument of ruminant methane emissions?
    If methane has an average life of 5 years in the atmosphere, then as long as the number of ruminants remains steady, the methane level due to ruminants should reach a dynamic equilibrium where methane production is balanced by breakdown to CO2 etc.
    Incidentally, weren’t the something like 60 million bison/buffalos on the American prairies before they were mostly shot out? And aren’t they ruminants?

    • “Was this a valid result, and/or why hasn’t this research been taken further, as it would help settle the argument of ruminant methane emissions?”

      I don’t think it matters that much to the activists who are banging the drums on this. They are more concerned about getting people to stop eating meat. I think Climatism is just a convenient excuse to create more vegetarians.
      😐

  5. What happens to the hydrogen part of methane? For every molecule of carbon dioxide there are two of water, and water vapour is a stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. Which is the worse greenhouse gas regime 1 * CH4 or 1 * CO2 + 2*H2O?

    • The H2O is absorbed by the zeolites.

      Zeolites are used in natural gas processing to remove H2O, CO2 and SO2 from the gas stream.

      • David-
        I always enjoy your posts and admire your expertise and knowledge. But I think you missed John Collis’ point.
        At some point the zeolite will be come saturated with methane. At that point, as I understand the press release, the zeolite will be heated to desorb the methane. Then the methane will be oxidized (burned?) to create CO2 and water vapor. Now you have 3 molecules of greenhouse gases where there was only one before.

        I suppose you could condense the water vapor to liquid water, but that is more processing. The whole idea sounds stupid to me.

  6. Greenie fantasies, which are based on lies to begin with always sound like the are drug and/or alcohol-fueled., with not one scintilla of reality in them.

  7. “Methane is challenging to capture from air because its concentration is so low.”, which is exactly why methane can never be an “extremely potent greenhouse gas”, fercryinoutloud!!

    This idiotic thought process is just as stupid as saying “arsenic is a highly potent poison” when it is only present in (for example) parts-per billion concentrations.

    The education system has produced legions of numbskulls totally devoid of common sense.

    They may kill us if we don’t smack ’em.

  8. Dear Stanford,
    Please elaborate on how a gas which is 0.00002% of the atmosphere is a “powerful driver” of global warming.
    Or anything.
    At all.

    In other news, British Steel has just gone into receivership, and one of the reasons cited is that it can’t afford it’s carbon tax.

    • A recent article here on WUWT was quite informative as to just how shaky some of the assumptions about relative effects of methane vs CO2 can be, this was:

      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2019/03/30/methane-warming-exaggerated-by-400/

      Apparently, the IPCC estimates on this matter don’t assume that we can really compare a total emission of methane directly to a total of CO2, since methane isn’t assumed to be prone to accumulating in the atmosphere like CO2. Instead, we are to be assuming an effect from average yearly rate of emission over an assumed time “window” of 100 years? The article referenced compares this to what they expect for an equivalent emission rate of CO2, then says that new estimates bring this down from making methane seem 28 times worse, down to the point where methane is only 7 times worse (compared to a given yearly average CO2 emission).

      Now, did I really just repeat this seemingly nonsensical idea of worrying about methane? To begin with, I don’t trust the models that show 2 parts per million of methane have *any* significant effect, so really it’s all moot! What about the fact that neither CO2 nor methane are electric dipolar molecules in the way that H20 is — with H20 in itself being thereby far more active in IR than almost anything else around?

      I mean, really, that damned dihydroxide monoxide, it’ll get ya every time!
      I wonder who’s burping a bunch of *that* out?

  9. Huge amounts of money stolen to insignificantly transform into a gas an insignificant gas which already naturally transforms into this gas …

    Is there a reset button somewhere to stop all those fraudulent clowns ?

  10. It can be profitable if the government pays them more to do it than it costs. Well, I suppose that’s profitable for the people doing it. Not for society. That’s called rent seeking.

    That graph above, which shows the break even point for cost vs. benefits of different kinds of energy? What happens to that graph if you assume (accurately, let’s be honest) that the “benefits” of avoided emissions are zero?

    • It makes wind and solar truly awful and makes nuclear power look very unattractive.

      • I’m not surprised renewables drop off the map of desirability, but I am surprised that nuclear is pretty much a wash. I expected better from it.

          • It’s more expensive to build ‘renewable’ generators that fail to generate.

            At least the expense of nuclear generation gives a return of constant, reliable, 24/7 power.

  11. Save the world’s economies by chemically reacting methane with oxygen…LOTS more efficient reaction.

  12. People have been converting methane to carbon dioxide for decades….it’s called flaring…….

    • Throw in a little ethane and propane and use it to heat homes in places such as the Dakotas and Minnesota.

  13. And if the amount of methane in the atmosphere in a given location decrease, will they then have to import ruminants upwind to give the plant sufficient raw material to convert?

  14. I sent this email to the authors. Will let you know if I get a reply:

    Dear Professor Jackson et al:

    I have reviewed with interest and astonishment your vision for a “profitable” climate change solution: converting CH4 to CO2 with zeolites.

    I confess I have not read the entire study, but just the summary. (https://news.stanford.edu/2019/05/20/counterintuitive-climate-solution/).

    As a chemical engineer, I have seldom seen such drivel in print. Stanford has really gone off the rails. There are so many problems and impossibilities associated with your “solution” that I don’t know where to begin, but hey, I’ll give it the old college try with the following:

    1) The mining of native zeolite is environmentally disruptive. The ore must be blasted and crushed, dried or milled. Milled ore is shipped in bags or bulk. Crushed ore is screened to remove fine material for a more granular product. Most zeolite is supplied by Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Australia and Asia. There are also deposits in the western USA – good luck with those permits.

    Zeolite of course can be produced synthetically – the summary did not mention the specific type of zeolite you intended to utilize – but the cost of synthesis is highly dependent on the zeolite being produced, in your case probably zeolite-templated carbons – with expensive high-energy production costs. At any rate, cost of production needs to be considered and mentioned, as well as half-life of the catalyst.
    2) The infrared absorption wavelength of CH4 overlaps water vapor. CH4 has narrow absorption bands at 3.3 microns and 7.5 microns. . CH4 is only 0.00017% (1.7 parts per million) of the atmosphere, and both of its bands occur at wavelengths where H2O is already absorbing substantially. Any radiation that CH4 might absorb has already been absorbed by H2O. The ratio of the percentages of water to methane is such that the effects of CH4 are completely masked by H2O. The amount of atmospheric CH4 must increase 100-fold to make it comparable to H2O.

    3) Subsidies do not make a transaction “economic” or “market driven.” There are no market prices for carbon offsets unless they are created (out of thin air) by a government. A $500/ton price for carbon offsets as you suggested would nearly triple the cost of gasoline and quadruple the cost of residential natural gas. The negative economic consequences of this would be enormous. I would like you to cite the apparently several “relevant assessment models” you mentioned. How did you decide which were “relevant.” Was it only those that asserted $500/ton of carbon was a likely future offset price?

    For you as researchers in a (I dare say) once-prestigious institution to spend time and someone’s valuable grant money on such fallacious and indeed, preposterous “strategies” is an egregious waste of time and effort. The Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment must by scraping the bottom of the “study subjects” barrel to have funded this as a putative solution to anything.

    I will not be spending $8.99 to rent or buy the full study. It would not be an economically viable solution.

    It would be informative to receive a reply, but I won’t hold my breath.

    Good luck,

    Greg Staff

    Houston, TX

    • GREG in Houston – There is the additional potential for zeolite mining to release respirable fibrous fractions (similar to asbestiform minerals such as the amphiboles) , depending upon where the mineral is being mined and the type of zeolite, should it be erionite (see: https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article/98/6/414/2522014, also: https://www.pnas.org/content/108/33/13618) . I wonder if the potential future loss of life due to malignant mesothelioma and other diffuse interstitial fibrosis cases that may develop, caused by exposure during the mining, milling, packaging, distribution, and end use of these zeolites, and the resulting cost of future long-term medical care for those unfortunately-exposed individuals would skew the cost-benefit analysis, resulting in a net negative?

      Just fiber for thought…

      Regards,

      MCR

    • …and while extracting something useful from it.
      That is far more than can be said about this Stanford study.

    • Of course, but Stanford “scientists” want to collect a trace of methane from the air, making the process many times more expensive than ordinary burning.

  15. To even attempt to convert methane to CO2, you have
    to first understand the source of vast majority of atmospheric
    methane. The Australian study on soil microbes converting
    CH4 to CO2, and in the process, enriching the soil is correct.

    The problem is that the methane it converts did not come
    from the atmosphere. It rose from deep in the earth.

    It is a simple fact that when CH4 hits the atmosphere, it
    rises. The bovine belches do not sink, they rise.

    A better way to keep methane out of the atmosphere
    would be to irrigate the deserts which have the highest
    amounts of undigested methane passing through the
    soil unoxidized because of a lack of moisture to support
    the soil microbial culture.

    To make this process easier to understand, remember that
    rice paddies are methane neutral when dry. The culture and
    upwelling gas are in balance, emitting only CO2 until the
    paddies are flooded. The water forces the methane to rise
    faster than the culture can oxidize it

  16. How accurately do we know the “pre-industrial” levels of methane in the atmosphere?

      • David,
        I am sure that Dr. Jaworowski would relieved to know that I
        agree with his very thoughtful paper on gases stored in ice cores.
        Bubbles that are captured in ice, even though some of the water
        remains liquid far below zero and the pressure which is supposed
        to keep gases captured is relieved when the core drill come near
        enough. The shock and vibration and fractures imparted in the
        drilling process allow an un quantified amount of gas to escape.

        We need a better way to quantify ancient gas levels.

        I do not believe that CO2 levels have come close to extinction
        levels for plants.

        https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1c77/5f268fc03fa707dc95904cdc8e8394af9029.pdf

  17. Giuseppe Etiope’s findings are closest to my own, and he

    has published and peer reviewed work on the subject

    of hydrocarbons rising from deep in the earth. Etiope
    says that that natural gas, not just methane rise from
    the earth. I agree, but my work is a retirement hobby
    and I do not have the budget for a gas analyzer which
    goes beyond indicating hydrocarbons.

    The people who claim that only methane is found
    in topsoil do so because of investigator bias. They
    have been told long ago by a flawed study that methane
    is absorbed by the topsoil from the atmosphere, so they
    test only for a combustible gas, and finding it, they
    call it methane. Soil gas tests done with a gas chromatograph
    show ethane, propane, butane, etc.

  18. This is a special type of stupid. They should take any paper and electronics used to complete this study and quickly convert them into CO2 and H2O, then find new careers as clowns.

  19. Many folks want to tax producers of large amounts of CO2.
    Insofar as this process produces CO2, will such tax apply?

  20. As an engineer (and geologist) I am amazed today’s science-lite, high -schoolish sciency fair professors of climate don’t drop over to the universities engineering department – heck any engineer would do – to tell them such childishness is a non starter. So something the size of football field is going to clean the atmosphere of something the size of the earth! The only thing big related to the football field is the availability of zeolites!

  21. David Middleton above noted $500/ton for CO2. I will be making coffee this morning on my natural gas (methane)-powered stove, happily converting powerful greenhouse gas methane into two powerful greenhouse gases CO2 and water vapor. I hadn’t planned to submit a request for reimbursement, but after reading this post, who do I contact at Stanford for my money for doing my part to save the world as we know it?

  22. As I discussed above, Etiope finds a substantial portion of the hydrocarbons
    in the atmosphere are non human from the earth. He didn’t include wetlands
    but I do. Wetlands were there before humans. He also does not include
    the natural gas which is responsible for the topsoil in Kansas, as an example.
    The natural gas which is responsible for topsoil stops rising when the soil
    is frozen, is in balance with the microbes oxidizing it when an average
    amount of moisture is available, and when the soil is saturated by
    spring rains or flooded, the natural gas rises just as it does from wetlands.

    As I said above, large amounts of natural gas rises unoxidized in
    arid areas. Etiope found this also in a study which I do not have
    at hand currently.

    https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2008GL033623

  23. “the approach would eliminate approximately one-sixth of all causes of global warming to date.”

    only in model fantasy land. Not in reality. It would do nothing except be very expensive.

    And as for “converting methane to carbon dioxide could be profitable with a price on carbon emissions or an appropriate policy. ” That requires a heavy-handed police and taxing powers of the state, not the free market. Again offering government policy solutions that only grow government and control.

    These people at today’s universities who write this stuff up are absolute morons if they think the US public is going to accept their socialist schemes.

    • (Robt waves hand.)

      I know one way to convert methane to carbon dioxide!
      We could, you know, pipe it to some place. And then burn it to heat things.

    • “converting methane to carbon dioxide could be profitable with a price on carbon emissions or an appropriate policy. ”

      These people have jumped on the scam-wagon:

      The European Commission is planning to clamp down on a €2 billion ($2.8 billion) carbon trading scam involving the deliberate production of greenhouse gases which the fraudulent manufacturers are then paid to destroy.

      Spanish newspaper El Mundo found that between November and January, 4500 megawatt hours (MWh) of solar energy were sold to the electricity grid between midnight and seven in the morning.

      It has been suggested that some plants in the regions of Castilla-La-Mancha, Canarias and Andalucía have been using diesel generators connected to their solar panel arrays to illegally benefit from government subsidies.

  24. So instead of burning it for energy, we’ll convert methane to CO2 via an expensive boondoggle that produces absolutely nothing of value?

    This is the green agenda in a nutshell.

  25. Than you for this post. I heard this guy interviewed on the radio and
    it was mind bending. I was so glad I was in bed and didn’t have to get
    up. Also, I shared the fracking video. I know about the oil business
    cause my older brothers worked in it when I was young. Great video.

  26. I have a very efficient methane to CO2 conversion reactor in my home. It’s called a gas stove, and it’s also useful for cooking food.

    On an industrial scale, oil wells also have methane to CO2 converters, called flares.

    While methane in the atmosphere does absorb about 20 times more IR radiation than CO2, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have been flat while CO2 levels are increasing. There is a very scientific reason for this. Air has a molecular weight of about 29, while methane has a molecular weight of 16, and carbon dioxide has a molecular weight of 44. At a given temperature, the density of a gas is proportional to pressure and molecular weight (ideal gas law). Methane is therefore buoyant and rises to the stratosphere (and some of it escapes Earth’s gravity into space) while CO2 is heavier than air and stays near the surface.

    Any additional methane accidentally emitted from oil and gas drilling facilities (or flatulent livestock) may cause some slight warming of the stratosphere, but would have little or no effect on the climate at the earth’s surface.

  27. If methane is too difficult a molecule to work try hydrogen.

    https://cleantechnica.com/2019/05/21/nasa-to-provide-6-million-for-electric-aircraft-research-at-univ-of-illinois/ Some debate in comments.

    I had a short course in thermodynamics long ago which didn’t leave me this impression.
    “Hydrogen has a specific (gravimetric) energy density that is unparalleled by just about any other energy storage method. In fact, hydrogen has a specific energy over three times that of traditional kerosene-based jet fuels, and has specific energy over 700 times that of modern battery systems…..Per unit energy, a liquid hydrogen system is far lighter than Jet A fuel, and the overall propulsive drivetrain is expected to be more efficient as well, reducing the net energy needs of the storage system.”

    Something about cryogenics and superconductivity. Somebody please explain, they didn’t say much of where or how much the energy to produce all this required. Is there something around like carbon–-HYDROGEN BLACK. Well, somebody claims CARBON BLUE, which I haven’t quite figured out yet either.

  28. It’s not mental if you get to keep some of the money. It’s only mental for those who pay for it.

  29. Here in Finland we have an old tradition of telling stories of some fancy tribe of fools with hilarious counterintuitivity. Once the fools built a house but forgot to make windows. So, they found a solution: They exposed bags to the sun and carried light to the house. – I feel that kind of insanity is prevalent nowadays.

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