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ELCAT Wraps; CO2 Conversion to Fuels Feasible, But Needs More Work

19 February 2008

Elcat
ELCAT uses catalysts within carbon nanotubes for the photoelectrochemical conversion of CO2 to hydrocarbon fuels.

With the EU-funded ELCAT (Electrocatalytic gas-phase conversion of CO2 in confined catalysts) project (earlier post) wrapping up, the project partners took stock at a final meeting in Brussels.

They agreed that the project had proven the feasibility of gas-phase CO2 conversion in a catalytic process that recycles carbon dioxide into liquid hydrocarbons and alcohols. However, they said that more work is needed before the technology can be put into operation.

The idea behind the ELCAT project, which received around €85,000 in funding under the New and emerging science and technologies (NEST) theme of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6), was born when researchers at the University of Messina, Italy, observed an electrocatalytic reaction which could be carried out at room temperature and atmospheric pressure: With carbon dioxide confined inside carbon micropores, and electrons and protons flowing to an active catalyst—noble-metal nanoclusters—gaseous carbon dioxide was reduced to a series of hydrocarbons and alcohols.

The products of the reaction were surprisingly similar to those of the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) process. A process that could generate FT-like products in useful quantities—an outcome that cannot be achieved without some difficulty in the FT process—at room temperature and atmospheric pressure could help to considerably reduce carbon dioxide and at the same time generate new raw materials. However, this catalytic reaction created new problems, namely a quick deactivation of the catalyst and poor productivity. In addition, it is a case of gas-phase electrocatalysis, a phenomenon which has barely been studied by scientists, as the focus has traditionally been on the liquid phase.

Three organizations are involved in addition to the University of Messina, Italy: Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in Berlin, Germany; Université Louis Pasteur in Strasbourg, France; and University of Patras in Patras, Greece.

The project partners are determined to continue their work, even though the ELCAT project is ends at the end of February. According to their estimates, electrocatalytic gas-phase conversion of CO2 could be ready for application in about 10 years, and could help to cut global CO2 emissions by 5%, complementing other strategies.

Carbon storage has its limitations because there are space limitations and in this case, we try to convert this greenhouse gas directly to fuel. Therefore, it’s complementary. But I think it’s much better to convert than to store.

—Siglinda Perathoner of the University of Messina

February 19, 2008 in Climate Change, Emissions, Fuels | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack (0)

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What do they mean when they say "Carbon storage has its limitations because there are space limitations"?

Global fossil carbon emissions are around 8 billion metric tons of CO2 per year.

According to the IPCC's special report on CCS, there's a capacity for geosequestration of between to 1700 (lower estimate) and 11,200 (upper estimate) billion tons.

good point. any limits that there are would not be reached for a very, very long time (500yrs+) even with globally significant CCS.

Conversion rather than storage clearly is the most feasible path. But then at .0378% atmosphere (2005) it is not as pressing as SO2 and particulates.

"But then at .0378% atmosphere (2005) it is not as pressing as SO2 and particulates."

hmmm, IPCC might not agree with you about that.

The lack of storage may refer to the issues.
Not all carbon sources are located in areas "suitable" for CCS.
Many references describe transpoting via pipeline distances of 100's klm.
Although research in the viability of CCS reports encouraging results, this is not yet proven in practice.

If you assume the CO2 source is the atmosphere, vast amounts of air would have to be pumped through an installation at great energetic expense to accumulate enough CO2. This is far less efficient than plain old reforestation. Even growing algae or kelp in the oceans just to dump the packaged, dehydrated biomass into deep ocean trenches might be cheaper.

If you instead assume the CO2 source is flue gas from a combustion process, then the hydrogen would most likely have to be produced on-site using electrolysis. The resulting fuel could be used on-site to create a closed carbon loop, but that would certainly be less efficient than simply running the process on the imported electricity directly. If the fuel is used off-site instead, e.g. for vehicles, the carbon is only recycled once. For the same net CO2 emissions, it would be more energy efficient to run the vehicles directly off the electricity. Admittedly, full-function BEVs still pose serious technical and economic challenges. Fortunately, it looks like those might get sorted out in the next decade.

Either way, converting CO2 into hydrocarbons using nuclear or even renewable electricity seems like a dead end to me.

@Rafael:
Well said!

Why continue to create hydrocarbons when that's what you are trying not to continue burning in the atmosphere in the first place.. Seems to me that BEVs fueled by Solar Power is where we are all headed anyway. The question is how long will financial and political interests delay the progression?

Lad,
fine, but transportation is not the only GHG producer. BEVs solve only part of the problem. What about energy generation, industrial emmissions etc.
Rafael -even a 1 x reuse of CO2 would be a dramatic benefit.

But GHG and GW are problem that span all geographies, economies and sectors. how do we add 10+ terrawatts of power over the next 50 years without further poisoning ourselves and our planet?

Large scale solar thermal and solar PV in desert areas might evenutally help (ironically further enriching many of the oil rich countries), large scale geothermal, wind, hydro, and perhaps fussion (maybe one day).

imagine if we had thrown 1/10th of the $1 trillion spent on the iraq war at fussion research.... but i digress into political nonsensical rambling....

@AWB:
A pure BEV with regen braking and electric trains are about as good as it gets for personal transportation. And, Solar energy is about all you need for power generation with one exception; long range aircraft. Fast, short-haul electric trains can even supplant aircraft for journeys less than a few hundred miles. Nuclear, bio-fuels and all the others are but interim solutions. They all produce some form of environmental damage, i.e., even wind generators are suspected of interrupting bird populations. Devices that absorb light and heat energy from the Sun by their nature pollute the least.

Storage of solar energy is a problem that is currently still in development; however, progress is well underway to solve the storage problems, i.e., sodium salt heat storage, flywheels, high-height water storage and batteries, to name a few.

Here is an article to illustrate the potential of Solar Energy: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Renewable-Energy/2007-12-01/Solar-is-the-Solution.aspx

And a chart for your consideration: http://www.motherearthnews.com/uploadedFiles/articles/issues/2007-12-01/RenewableEnergy.pdf

Only politics and financial self-interest will continue to slow us toward mass development and usage of Solar Power. Hopefully our next president will bring an open-mind to office and not be wed to the energy policy failures of the past.

The solar 'tile' or roofing module concept, when developed would provide a further return.
Best practice would tae the architectural potential into account as there are design production , installation offsets that further reduce the costs.
With the production costs falling, roofing that pays for itself should be an Original Equipment option.
The future for fossil fuels is locked in because of our addiction, withdrawal, at the highest possible rate will work for the best in the medium and longer term.
GDP in solar panel production holds no less merit than many other consumer production.
Indeed the 'consumer' economics model will fall apart without viable power sources. With solar and renewables, we may need to 'have' less but that doesnt translate to 'do' less.
If fossil fuels seem a good idea in the future, those decisions should be able to be made then.

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