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CO2 To Fuel, Closing the "Carbon Loop" 316

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the squeeze-as-much-as-you-can dept.
leprasmurf writes "Inhabitat has posted an article detailing a recent announcement of a process to turn CO2 into fuel. The process, which used to be considered too energy inefficient, uses a multi-step, low pressure, and low temperature biocatalyst to break the CO2 into 'basic hydrocarbon building blocks.'"
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CO2 To Fuel, Closing the "Carbon Loop"

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  • Vaporware alert (Score:5, Informative)

    by clang_jangle (975789) * on Monday October 13, 2008 @05:48PM (#25361823) Journal
    FTFA:

    The key to our CO2-to-Fuel approach lies in a proprietary multi-step biocatalytic process.

    Searching the company's website, there is no mention whatsoever of even a single gallon of usable fuel being susccessfully produced using their method. There is, of course, mention of "investment opportunities".

  • by Zymergy (803632) * on Monday October 13, 2008 @05:54PM (#25361907)
    Just Basic Organic Chemistry... This process of "upgrading" has been done for decades to create "Synthetic" oils and other hydrocarbons. They just are using something magical called "Biocatalytic Reactors" (Probably contain high temperature enzymes and catalysts but operate at lower temps than current industrial processes). This is just reversing the hydrocarbon oxidation (burning) process using some for of "upgrader" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_petroleum_industry_in_Canada_(oil_sands_and_heavy_oil)#Upgraders [wikipedia.org] . These reactions to reduce CO2 into "fuel" will be VERY endothermic (absorb heat energy) and must take place at higher temps without Oxygen present.. All that energy must come from somewhere! It is just sooooo much cheaper to use hydrocarbons from the ground.
    CO2 is just an acidic oxide of Carbon.
    To create 'fuel' from it you must change it to something completely different by adding significant energy and removing the Oxygen... The energy is stored in the formed carbon bonds and hydrogen bonds (Why we call these type of fuels Hydro-carbons).
    CO2 is a significantly lower energy state carbon oxide compound.
    This process is not different than the incorrect view that H2O (water) is a as fuel. (Sure after you add massive amounts of electricity and electrolytically separate (reduce) the hydrogen from the oxygen from the hydrogen into hydrogen gas and Oxygen.
    This is really the same thing using some "Biocatayltic Reactor" to add energy to CO2 to separate the carbon from the oxygen (reduction of the carbon to a non-oxidized form such as CO2 or CO)

    You cannot hide from the chemistry.
    The energy to do this MUST come from *SOMEWHERE*. Considering that 99% of the massive amounts of energy stored in the molecular bonds of all fossil fuels do not have to be added to these fuels in their extraction, refinement, delivery to end-users, what this "new" technology is doing is just adding the "Creation" part of the hydrocarbon fuel and that takes about 99% more energy to do because you still have the remaining three steps.

    I will bet that this process is more expensive than letting mother nature create starches/sugars that we then modify into hydrocarbon "fuels".
    It is VERY hard to beat the efficiency of mother nature on this one:
    6CO2 + 6H2O + Light = C6H12O6 (Glucose) + 6O2

    I wonder what a gallon of this "fuel" costs. (Add enough energy to most substances and you can create "fuel" to them.) CO2 is a waste product because it (and CO and H2O) is the lowest energy product of hydrocarbon combustion (oxidation). This is Basic Chemistry.
  • by w3woody (44457) on Monday October 13, 2008 @05:55PM (#25361927) Homepage

    Plants can also turn CO2 into fuel--but it all takes energy. For plants, the energy comes from the sun.

    Where does the energy come from for the Carbon Sciences process? All I see are diagrams of a "biocatalyst" and an explanation that somehow it takes less energy for their process--but the amount of energy in to turn CO2 into a biofuel must necessarily be more than the amount of energy you'll get back out of that biofuel.

  • SCAM (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 13, 2008 @05:57PM (#25361951)

    There's WAY too much in the way of unanswered questions here. Mainly: WHERE is the ENERGY coming from?

    Bio-this-and-that doesn't change the thermodynamics of it.

    The homepage of this company is VERY suspicious. Any company like this that focuses as much on 'investor relations' as on the tech itself (and has a penny stock to boot!) is likely bullshit.

    The tech pages say NOTHING of where the energy is coming from. NOTHING about what kind of 'biocatalytic' processes are involved. And patent bullshit like

    "Of greatest significance, our process occurs at low temperature and low pressure, thereby requiring far less energy than other approaches."

    Um, no.. The VAST BULK of the energy you spend on making hydrocarbons out of CO2 will ALWAYS be on the energy required for the reaction itself. (Unless the process was created by a total incompetent.)

  • "somebody has CO2, and made it into fuel! no details!"

    there's a million ways to do that

    all of which require energy. there is no way to convert CO2 into any kind of usable fuel that does also include putting energy in at some point

    whereever that energy comes from is the real story. since that isn't even hinted at, there's no story here. or, alternatively, some idiot thinks you can turn CO2 into fuel without an energy input. which beggars the low end of the iq curve in terms of understanding the subject matter here

    if i took random spam from my inbox about growing my penis size and posted it here, that would be more informative and useful than this crap nonstory

  • by Gilmoure (18428) on Monday October 13, 2008 @06:15PM (#25362149) Journal

    Yup, it's one of the things [sandia.gov] they're working on here. I'm still hoping they get a decent fusion setup [sandia.gov] going but the solar work is still pretty cool.

  • Re:what we need (Score:3, Informative)

    by jonbryce (703250) on Monday October 13, 2008 @06:51PM (#25362545) Homepage

    ( ) it requires more non-renewable energy inputs than the renewable energy produced by it (see for example american biofuels, but fuels from other parts of the world are more efficient).

  • Re:Vaporware alert (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dun Malg (230075) on Monday October 13, 2008 @07:43PM (#25362995) Homepage

    Exception at line ("Then keep chopping it down every two years"): Attempt to chop down an already chopped-down tree.

    Willow trees will grow back after being chopped down, as anyone who's ever tried to get one out of their yard can tell you.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Monday October 13, 2008 @09:43PM (#25363977)
    I stopped reading when I got to the part that said that catalysts "transform CO2 into basic hydrocarbon building blocks".

    CO2 + catalysts + other stuff, maybe, but not CO2 alone.

    I knew what they meant, but before I take them seriously they need to learn how to put it in proper English.
  • I know how it works. (Score:2, Informative)

    by stei7766 (1359091) on Monday October 13, 2008 @10:09PM (#25364179)

    It's obvious really. By the use of hydrino catalysts you can force the CO2 into a lower energy state allowing it to convert the two oxygen atoms into hydrogen. Just ask Dr. Mills.

  • by howlatthemoon (718490) on Monday October 13, 2008 @10:09PM (#25364183)
    The aroma is more like frying chicken, but it has been many years since I have fried one, so I can't describe it more precisely.
  • Re:uh (Score:5, Informative)

    by Whiney Mac Fanboy (963289) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Monday October 13, 2008 @10:33PM (#25364321) Homepage Journal

    My solution to global warming: Eat more steak and mushrooms and less vegetables.

    I know you're trying to be funny, but it's worth noting here that the production of the steak will use far more vegetable resources than eating the protein-equivalent directly in vegetables.

  • by j1m+5n0w (749199) on Monday October 13, 2008 @11:24PM (#25364597) Homepage Journal

    I don't know if this is related, but there was a similar Google tech talk recently:

    Carbon Neutral Synthetic Hydrocarbon Fuels [youtube.com]

    They discuss creating liquid fuels from carbon dioxide and (here's what the article linked from slashdot is missing) hydrogen (from electrolysis or natural gas).

  • by repapetilto (1219852) on Tuesday October 14, 2008 @03:53AM (#25365961)

    They mentioned biocatalysts, which could be a buzzword, but also could be real. I remember from basic chemistry that catalysts lowered the activation point of a reaction. Maybe whatever biocatalysts they're using can accumulate enough energy from a low-exergy, ambient source like exhaust heat from, say, a coal-fired power plant, and slowly stitch up carbons and hydrogens together to form a hydrocarbon. It probably depends on the chemical mechanism of the hydrocarbon formation. Speaking of that, do we understand the mechanism by which hydrocarbons in the earth were formed (beyond "lots of heat and pressure"...I mean chemically how the bonds form, in what order, were there catalyst/activation sites on other materials, etc.). Maybe such a slow catalyzed process isn't possible...but maybe it is?

    FYI: 1) Biocatalyst is just another word for enzyme, at least in any sense I've ever heard it used. And yea the fact that its plastered all over that website should tell you its being used as a buzzword (or at least someones trying to make it into one)

    2) Catalysts can only speed up the rate at which a reaction will occur, not change whether or not it will occur. I.E. At most temperatures, CO2 + H2O in whatever proportions can react to form a hydrocarbon and O2, but these are less stable molecules than the original CO2 and H2O so the reverse reaction will be occurring faster, which will have a lower activation energy whether the enzyme is present or not just due to the structures of the reactants and products. In fact hydrocarbon formation is probably more likely to occur at lower Temperatures than high since here the energy released in bond formation will be able to overcome that lost to entropy. But whatever, I'm rambling on about that..anyway

    3)Basically all of life is based on passing around electrons, and mostly between oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen (we'll ignore Nitrogen, etc). Now every electron is most stable when its near the largest positive charge around, and each nucleus is most stable when it has both 8 electrons in its outer shell (due to some physics reasons) and the same number of electrons as protons. The result is that things happen like Oxygen binding to two Hydrogens which allows each nucleus to have the right number of outer electrons and be pretty close to having a neutral charge, but not exactly. Since the charges of the nuclei get larger (its actually the charge to volume ratio.. but bear with me) in the order of H,C,O the result is that oxygen pretty much tries to bind with anything around but itself so that it can hold each electron closer to its center of positive charge. Thus we end up with alot of H20 and CO2 on ancient earth. Then life came along and somehow started using energy sources like sunlight to break these Oxygen bonds to Carbon and Hydrogen and allow formation of more C-H bonds and O-O bonds along with long chains including all sorts of combinations of bonds (H-O-CH2-CH3-etc)that served certain functions for the cell/lifeform. By the time the creatures were around that supplied the raw materials we use as oil this was assuredly all done enzymatically in nearly as many ways as there are types of molecules (to answer your question, yes we do know how to synthesize hydrocarbons from scratch, its just that its cheaper to just dig it up when its needed on large scales). Then these creatures die, and some get buried in the earth or whatever preventing these molecules from being broken apart.

    Now they sit around for millions of years, and slowly the bonds break and the molecules decompose. But the twist is that C-C and C-H bonds are much harder to break apart than those involving oxygen since those two nuclie are closer in size and thus attract electrons similarly, its about as close to equal sharing as they can get. Meanwhile the Oxygen is being exposed to other elements (e.g. silicon, metals) that hold their electrons even weaker then H and C and so is more likely to react to any of those it comes across, and more and more sediment is p

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