Thursday, February 14, 2008

Carbon Capture

Researchers at the Los Alamos labs have announced their engineering method to capture carbon dioxide from the air and turn it into transportation fuels in a process that promises to be carbon negative. The beauty of this work is that carbon dioxide capture from air is very difficult because of the large amounts of air that has to be pushed over the catalyst that captures the carbon dioxide, which requires large amounts of energy. Los Alamos claims that they are able to reduce the energy demand by 96% in their new process that, from what I can understand from their press release, uses small tubing to drastically increase the surface area for diffusion and allow for much more amount of carbon to be captured in less air.

After the carbon dioxide is captured, researchers could use bacteria and known technology to produce methanol and from their produce other transportation fuels such as ethanol or butanol. The key is in the numbers, and it is hard to tell whether the claims out of Los Alamos point to a solution for carbon capture. The group states that the energy required to capture the carbon from air is .35kWh per kilogram of carbon dioxide. Factor in the additional energy needed to ferment the bacteria and the added energy might not be a beneficial as originally thought. Either way it's a great step in the right direction. Think about it -- using carbon capture technology on power plants or possibly even cars and then converting that trapped carbon back into transportation fuels would not only reduce the GHGs in the atmosphere but would provide a cheaper process to make fuel -- so long as the energy needed to capture the carbon is low. And so far, this just hasn't been proven... yet.

Below is a picture of their schematic diagram:

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