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Earth Science

Solar-Powered Electrochemical Cell Used To Produce Formic Acid From CO2 133

Zothecula writes Rising atmospheric CO2 levels can generally be tackled in three ways: developing alternative energy sources with lower emissions; carbon capture and storage (CCS); and capturing carbon and repurposing it. Researchers at Princeton University are claiming to have developed a technique that ticks two of these three boxes by using solar power to convert CO2 into formic acid. With power from a commercially available solar panel provided by utility company Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G), researchers in the laboratory of Princeton professor of chemistry Andrew Bocarsly, working with researchers at New Jersey-based start-up Liquid Light Inc., converted CO2 and water to formic acid (HCOOH) in an electrochemical cell.
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Solar-Powered Electrochemical Cell Used To Produce Formic Acid From CO2

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  • Efficiency (Score:3, Informative)

    by itzly ( 3699663 ) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @03:37AM (#47374379)
    Claimed efficiency is only 2%, using PV panels. It would make more sense to just use the PV panels to replace coal fired plants for generating electricity.
  • Solar efficiency (Score:4, Informative)

    by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @04:14AM (#47374459) Homepage Journal

    Indeed. For the foreseeable future you'll reduce CO2 more by using the panels to displace coal power and even Natural Gas. Only after you've shut ALL of them down and still need to reduce CO2 does this make sense.

    Even in ~20 years we'd be better off doing something like use all the retiring EV batteries* to help stabilize the grid and shift solar power to the 7-9 pm peak.

    *10 years for EVs to actually reach significant market penetration, 10 years more before people start replacing the batteries in them.

  • Re:Efficiency (Score:4, Informative)

    by Idarubicin ( 579475 ) on Thursday July 03, 2014 @09:34AM (#47375553) Journal

    The point is, those solar lights at the dollar store? Yea... Make millions of them, throw them out in the desert, viola, carbon sink. You need to do something more with it beyond the acid, but this is the sort of idea we need to reduce already emitted CO2 after we've stopped creating all the extra.

    Even if we ignore the carbon (and other toxic) footprint of creating and strewing millions of semiconductor devices across the desert, I really think you need to think about what happens to the formic acid. Left to its own devices, formic acid slowly and spontaneously decomposes to water and...carbon monoxide. Which is unpleasant enough by itself (and a greenhouse gas in its own right), but which in turn is slowly oxidized in the atmosphere right back to...carbon dioxide.

  • Oxygen Toxicity (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday July 03, 2014 @01:45PM (#47378107)

    Oh yes!!

    "Pulmonary and ocular toxicity result from longer exposure to elevated oxygen levels at normal pressure. Symptoms may include disorientation, breathing problems, and vision changes such as myopia. Prolonged exposure to above-normal oxygen partial pressures, or shorter exposures to very high partial pressures, can cause oxidative damage to cell membranes, the collapse of the alveoli in the lungs, retinal detachment, and seizures."

    You are also wrong. CO2 levels were approximately equal to today. So what would 3 degrees C average temperature mean?

    "In the Pliocene, three million years, temperatures were 3 degrees higher than our pre-industrial levels, so it gives us an insight into the three-degree world. The northern hemisphere was free of glaciers and icesheets, beech trees grew in the Transantarctic mountains, sea levels were 25 metres higher [Climate Dynamics, 26, 249-365], and atmospherc carbon dioxide levels were 360-400 ppm, very similar to today. There are also strong indications that during the Pliocene, permanent El Nino conditions prevailed. Hansen says that rapid warming today is already heating up the western Pacific Ocean, a basis for a coming period of 'super El Ninos' [Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 103, 39, 14288-93].

    Between two and three degrees the Amazon rainforest, whose plants produce 10 per cent of the world's photosynthesis and have no evolved resistance to fire, may turn to savannah, as drought and mega-fires first destroy the rainforest, turning trees back into carbon dioxide as they burn or rot and decompose. ...
    Three degrees would likely see increasing areas of the planet being rendered essentially uninhabitable by drought and heat. Rainfall in Mexico and central America is projected to fall 50 per central. Southern Africa would be exposed to perennial drought, a huge expanse centred on Botswana could see a remobilisation of old sand dunes [Nature, 435, 1218-21], much as is projected to happen earlier in the US west. The Rockies would be snowless and the Colorado river will fail half the time. Drought intensity in Australia could triple, according to the CSIRO, which also predicts days in NSW above 35 degrees will increase 2 to 7 times."

    And more.... 3 degrees C is a lot. It may not "sound" like much viewed through the lens of daily temperature fluctuation but that's the entirely wrong way to understand what that means.

God help those who do not help themselves. -- Wilson Mizner