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[Science!] Turning Atmospheric CO2 into Valueable Products


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"Diamonds from the Sky"

Finding a technology to shift carbon dioxide (CO2 ), the most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas, from a climate change problem to a valuable commodity has long been a dream of many scientists and government officials. Now, a team of chemists says they have developed a technology to economically convert atmospheric CO2 directly into highly valued carbon nanofibers for industrial and consumer products.

The team will present brand-new research on this new CO2 capture and utilization technology at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

"We have found a way to use atmospheric CO2 to produce high-yield carbon nanofibers," says Stuart Licht, Ph.D., who leads a research team at George Washington University. "Such nanofibers are used to make strong carbon composites, such as those used in the Boeing Dreamliner, as well as in high-end sports equipment, wind turbine blades and a host of other products."

Previously, the researchers had made fertilizer and cement without emitting CO2 , which they reported. Now, the team, which includes postdoctoral fellow Jiawen Ren, Ph.D., and graduate student Jessica Stuart, says their research could shift CO2 from a global-warming problem to a feed stock for the manufacture of in-demand carbon nanofibers.

Licht calls his approach "diamonds from the sky." That refers to carbon being the material that diamonds are made of, and also hints at the high value of the products, such as the carbon nanofibers that can be made from atmospheric carbon and oxygen.

Because of its efficiency, this low-energy process can be run using only a few volts of electricity, sunlight and a whole lot of carbon dioxide. At its root, the system uses electrolytic syntheses to make the nanofibers. CO2 is broken down in a high-temperature electrolytic bath of molten carbonates at 1,380 degrees F (750 degrees C). Atmospheric air is added to an electrolytic cell. Once there, the CO2 dissolves when subjected to the heat and direct current through electrodes of nickel and steel. The carbon nanofibers build up on the steel electrode, where they can be removed, Licht says.

To power the syntheses, heat and electricity are produced through a hybrid and extremely efficient concentrating solar-energy system. The system focuses the sun's rays on a photovoltaic solar cell to generate electricity and on a second system to generate heat and thermal energy, which raises the temperature of the electrolytic cell.

Licht estimates electrical energy costs of this "solar thermal electrochemical process" to be around $1,000 per ton of carbon nanofiber product, which means the cost of running the system is hundreds of times less than the value of product output.

"We calculate that with a physical area less than 10 percent the size of the Sahara Desert, our process could remove enough CO2 to decrease atmospheric levels to those of the pre-industrial revolution within 10 years," he says.

At this time, the system is experimental, and Licht's biggest challenge will be to ramp up the process and gain experience to make consistently sized nanofibers. "We are scaling up quickly," he adds, "and soon should be in range of making tens of grams of nanofibers an hour."

Licht explains that one advance the group has recently achieved is the ability to synthesize carbon fibers using even less energy than when the process was initially developed. "Carbon nanofiber growth can occur at less than 1 volt at 750 degrees C, which for example is much less than the 3-5 volts used in the 1,000 degree C industrial formation of aluminum," he says.

This is freakin' awesome news. Only one tidbit of the green economic boom to come, methinks. Hopefully Canada isn't left behind.

The market is already gearing up it seems.

June 30, 2015

Clean Energy Beats the Market

Environmentalists love energy companies that don't pollute. That should be obvious. Not so obvious: So do investors.

Stocks of clean-energy companies are proving to be better investments than those of companies that produce most of the Western Hemisphere's power, and are outperforming the rest of the stock market as well.

The evidence is found in the New York Stock Exchange Bloomberg Americas Clean Energy Index. Its 141 companies, all based in North and South America, returned 32.62 percent in the past two years. In contrast, the 40 conventional-energy companies in the Standard and Poor's 500 Energy Index returned 1.02 percent over the same period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Clean energy also is beating the rest of the stock market. The Clean Energy Index is up 6.02 percent so far this year. Lagging behind are both the S&P 500 and the Russell 3000 Index, which gained 3.12 percent and 3.86 percent respectively in 2015.

The clean-energy advantage is two years old, and it has been sneaking up for a decade. During the past 10 years, the stock index for conventional-energy companies returned a total of 82.71 percent. That was almost twice as much as the clean-energy index, which returned 41.86 percent.

The five-year comparison looks very different, however, with the gap shrinking to 12.53 percentage points; conventional energy returned 57.74 percent and clean energy 45.21 percent.

There are plenty of standouts within the Clean Energy Index. Alterra Power Corp., a Canadian supplier of electricity, owns and operates geothermal, hydroelectric and wind generating facilities in North and South America. The company produced a 28 percent total return during the past 12 months. Chile's AES Gener SA operates thermoelectric and hydroelectric plants while selling electricity in its home market of Chile and throughout Latin America and the U.S. AES delivered a 34 percent total return during the past 12 months. Canadian Solar Inc., which makes solar products, generated a 19 percent total return during the past year.

Conventional energy companies proved inferior investments during the same period. Consol Energy Inc., the Pennsylvania-based miner of coal, oil and natural gas, lost 51 percent in value during the past 12 months. Oklahoma's Chesapeake Energy Corp., a producer of oil and natural gas, lost 61 percent over the same period. For Chevron Corp., the California-based producer, refiner and supplier of crude oil, natural gas and chemicals, the figure was 22 percent. The oil-price collapse since last summer hurt some of these companies but can't account for a trend that's been developing for years.

The emergence of clean-energy companies as market leaders comes amid a persistent decline in the cost of producing renewable energy. Solar's cost per megawatt hour plummeted to $128 today from about almost $315 in 2009. The energy cost of wind per megawatt hour is $85.48, down from $96.09.

The trend is the opposite for traditional energy. "The cost of traditional energy will continue to rise because the cheaper sources of oil and gas have mostly been tapped" and "prices for exploration, extraction and processing" deep sea and tar sands oil will remain relatively expensive, said Irena Asmundson, chief economist at the Department of Finance for California, which has the best performance of clean technology companies domiciled in the U.S. "Prices for producing clean technology are probably going to continue to fall. There's going to be greater demand for clean technology because of public policy and people's preferences. A lot of clean technology companies reached almost parity with traditional energy companies in terms of price and convenience. Everyone can see the writing on the wall, that climate change is happening. These clean technologies are going to be more valued in the future."

What's next? Expect the line between the conventional-energy and clean-energy businesses to disappear.

"Traditional energy and clean energy are converging," said Francesco Starace, the chief executive officer and general manager of Italy's biggest energy company, Enel, Spa, during an interview this month in his Rome office. "Over the long term, power generators will all need to have both. A power generator without a clean energy portfolio won't be possible."


I think we have to prepare for the inevitability of having to go green. There's not going to be a choice.

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Was just going to post this actually ;)



Carbon nanofibres made from CO2 in the air

Scientists in the US have found a way to take carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and make carbon nanofibres, a valuable manufacturing material.

Their solar-powered system runs a small current through a tank filled with a hot, molten salt; the fluid absorbs atmospheric CO2 and tiny carbon fibres slowly form at one of the electrodes.

It currently produces 10g per hour.

The team says it can be "scaled up" and could have an impact on CO2 emissions, but other researchers are unsure.
Nonetheless, the approach offers a much cheaper way of making carbon nanofibres than existing methods, according to Prof Stuart Licht of George Washington University.

"Until now, carbon nanofibres have been too expensive for many applications," he told journalists at the autumn meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.

Carbon nanofibres are already used in high-end applications such as electronic components and batteries, and if costs came down they could be used more extensively - improving the strong, lightweight carbon composites used in aircraft and car components, for example.

The question is whether the "one-pot" reaction demonstrated by Prof Licht and his team could help to drop that cost.

The idea of turning CO2 from the air into useful products is a popular one, and the field is strewn with many more unfulfilled promises than success stories.

But Prof Licht is confident his design can succeed. "It scales up very easily - the entire process is quite low energy."

Bold vision

He also suggested that the system could provide "a reasonable path to bring down CO2 levels in the atmosphere".
This would involve adopting the reactors on a colossal scale and the idea has raised some eyebrows.

Dr Katy Armstrong, a chemical engineer at the University of Sheffield, said the process was "promising and very interesting on a lab scale" but that Prof Licht's bigger vision might be problematic.

"As they are capturing CO2 from the air, the process will need to deal with huge volumes of gas to collect the required amount of carbon, which could increase process costs when scaled up," she told the BBC.

Dr Paul Fennell, a chemical engineer and clean energy researcher at Imperial College London, said: "If they can make carbon nanofibres, that is a laudable aim and they're a worthwhile product to have.

"But if your idea is to take CO2 out of the atmosphere and produce so many carbon nanofibres that you make a difference to climate change - I'd be extremely surprised if you could do that."

Prof Licht insists it is worth trying.

"There aren't any catches; there's a necessity to work together, to test this on a larger scale, to apply some societal resources to do that," he told BBC News.

Meanwhile, other chemists were impressed by the simple fact that Prof Licht's team had produced nanofibres from atmospheric carbon.

Dr Dario Corradini was also at the American Chemical Society meeting, presenting his theoretical work on absorbing CO2 with a similar type of electrochemical cell.

"These cells are relatively inexpensive in terms of energy consumption - it's definitely a realistic approach to producing the nanofibres," he said.

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Great news!

Another popular approach is turning CO2 into methanol to use as a fuel, this helps close the loop instead of constantly producing more CO2.

As someone looking to eventually work in green energy, I also hope Canada doesn't get left behind ;)

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