CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

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CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Whizbang » Wed Sep 23, 2015 12:58 pm UTC

Someone tell me if this is actually a good idea or if this is more along the lines of solar roadways.

http://www.sciencedump.com/content/thes ... se-it-fuel

It seems pretty neat, and is backed by Bill Gates. The bonus is that it can be used in less fertile areas, leaving fertile ground for natural plants and/or farming.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Tyndmyr » Wed Sep 23, 2015 6:00 pm UTC

Solar Roadways.

Look at shit like this: "With all the CO2 emissions in the air today, it would be good thinking to plant more trees, right? Well, yes, but it would take about a thousand times more land to plant enough trees to combat the ever growing CO2 emissions!"

A thousand times more than what? And, over the long term, trees end up being carbon neutral, outside of more complex scenarios. So, the idea that it's a static number of trees to fix ever growing emissions is...stupid in many ways.

Then..."a co2 absorbing liquid" and "could be processed as a fuel". Ya. Not really any details, not even a hint as to cost effectiveness. "could be" means nothing. They're focusing on sucking in air with fans, which is literally the least interesting or novel part of the process. Yeah, you can move air with fans. Woohoo. Tell me about the rest.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby speising » Wed Sep 23, 2015 6:14 pm UTC

So, you are storing electric energy in a chemical fuel which is then burned inefficiently to power vehicles with a small fraction of the original energy, in the process releasing the CO2 again.
I think batteries would be a better idea.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Whizbang » Wed Sep 23, 2015 6:18 pm UTC

Tyndmyr wrote:A thousand times more than what?
More than the area needed to house the CO2 capturing facility. It goes into further detail (though not a lot) in the video.

I have no knowledge about the CO2 capturing liquid. It did talk about being able to reuse the liquid, though, after the carbonate salts has been leeched out, so the cost is minimized. It then talked about taking the carbonate salts and converting them to hydrocarbons using existing filters.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby sevenperforce » Thu Sep 24, 2015 1:27 pm UTC

The use of monoethanolamine or similar liquid sorbents to absorb carbon dioxide is fairly well-known. Such liquids are able to bind to carbon dioxide at low temperatures but then release it at higher temperatures, so they can be used fairly effectively to capture and transport carbon dioxide. Since the exchange is solely temperature-based, it integrates a heat sink into the system to make use of waste heat from other parts of the process.

The powerplant would then probably use the Sabatier process to combine hydrogen (derived from electrolysis) with the carbon dioxide under heat and pressure in the presence of a catalyst, producing water and methane. The methane can then be piped directly into the existing natural gas infrastructure.

Since the Sabatier process is actually exothermic (pure hydrogen has a higher specific energy than methane), this requires no input of energy but can instead be used to supplement the plant's energy needs, particularly in distilling out the water vapor to get the methane.

All in all, this process would allow low-density hydrogen to be converted into higher-density methane which can be used readily by the existing infrastructure, all while remaining carbon-neutral and decreasing reliance on fossil fuels. It's a great way for existing electric powerplants to do something more than just supplement the power grid.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Derek » Sat Sep 26, 2015 5:13 am UTC

Where are you going to get the input hydrogen gas from though? Any significant quantity of hydrogen has to come from the electrolysis of water, which is energy intensive. On a broader scale, it's obvious that the entire process has to use more energy than it creates (thermodynamics and all that), so where is that going to come from? Presumably solar or nuclear, but why even bother with the middle man here?

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Neil_Boekend » Sat Sep 26, 2015 6:47 am UTC

Because hydrocarbons are so damn convenient. The energy density of a liter of gasoline is incredible and the tool to make use of it is not that big (an internal combustion engine). The amount equivalent amps you'd need to charge an electric car with the same transfer of joules/second is massive.
Also hydrocarbons are easily stored. If and when we go to 100% renewable we are going to have a mismatch between generated and used power. Sometimes there will be a surplus of power, sometimes a shortage. An efficient way to generate methane (during during power surplus) for gas powerplants (to run them during power shortage) can solve that. Smart load matching can decrease the problem a bit but it can't solve it.
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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby wumpus » Sat Sep 26, 2015 7:29 pm UTC

Every time I see something like this I have to wonder what is going on.

We have a mature technology that turns CO2 from the air and converts it into [more or less] convenient hydrocarbons: it is called farming. If you only care about carbon mass, I would recommend farming grass. If not, there is still an amazing amount of chaff left from just about any form of farming (mainly corn stalks in the US). No idea how much energy it takes to replace the fertilizer value of the chaff, but I wouldn't be surprised if that is what kills the idea. I'd check every single step of this "new process for air recovery" for efficiency to see how it manages to work better than a plant.

Presumably, as the plant matter decays, you will eventually return all CO2 back into the atmosphere (like planting a tree, only slower). I'm a bit more surprised that there aren't sufficient available mines to store vegetable matter (with some sort of steel covered concrete plug), possibly in some sort of preserved (salt mine?) status.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Copper Bezel » Sat Sep 26, 2015 9:47 pm UTC

Any scheme like this is a process to convert an assumed carbon-neutral energy source into effectively carbon-neutral hydrocarbons. Because yeah, if you're running an excess to capture more carbon, you don't get anything back from that that you can sell in any cost-competitive way. So there's carbon capture, which is cool and maybe helpful, and then there's the potential to put the carbon back in the air for fuel. The two technologies don't require or answer one another and should be treated separately. They're literally doing opposite things for opposite purposes.

I miss hydrogen fuel cells. Whatever happened to those?
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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Whizbang » Sat Sep 26, 2015 11:36 pm UTC

But isn't this essentially recycling? Yes, the carbon gets back into the air, but it is the same carbon, rather than new. Yes it would be better to remove the carbon altogether, and stop adding new, but that is, seemingly, a unacheiveable task in today's world. This is better than nothing. It also has to pay for itself. Converting co2 to recycled fuel allows them to turn a profit while reducing overall consumption of natural hydrocarbons.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Sep 27, 2015 4:26 am UTC

It would honestly surprise me if this is actually more cost effective than mandating all of our oil companies start carbon capture projects and offset every single atom of carbon they sell that came out of a hole in the ground, or if that strategy would require any more regulatory intrusion than this one would require to become cost-competitive.
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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Neil_Boekend » Sun Sep 27, 2015 12:21 pm UTC

wumpus wrote:Every time I see something like this I have to wonder what is going on.

We have a mature technology that turns CO2 from the air and converts it into [more or less] convenient hydrocarbons: it is called farming. If you only care about carbon mass, I would recommend farming grass. If not, there is still an amazing amount of chaff left from just about any form of farming (mainly corn stalks in the US). No idea how much energy it takes to replace the fertilizer value of the chaff, but I wouldn't be surprised if that is what kills the idea. I'd check every single step of this "new process for air recovery" for efficiency to see how it manages to work better than a plant.

Presumably, as the plant matter decays, you will eventually return all CO2 back into the atmosphere (like planting a tree, only slower). I'm a bit more surprised that there aren't sufficient available mines to store vegetable matter (with some sort of steel covered concrete plug), possibly in some sort of preserved (salt mine?) status.

Chaff and dedicated fuel crops are being used to created hydrocarbons (ethanol/methanol to be precise). The problem is that the resulting fuel still more expensive than normal fuel and people won't pay extra for it.
Copper Bezel wrote:I miss hydrogen fuel cells. Whatever happened to those?

H2 got overtaken by electric cars. It turns out a gas with a 5-95% flammability range and the second lowest density of all gases is difficult to handle. This slowed down the building of a H2 economy of that scale. Also next to all hydrogen is currently being generated out of oil, because electrolysis is too expensive, but in the end even if electrolysis were used H2 is just an inconvenient energy carrier. Li-Ion is better.
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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Copper Bezel » Sun Sep 27, 2015 3:42 pm UTC

To be clear, I know it's an energy carrier, like the synthesized hydrocarbons we're discussing here. I was just under the understanding that thanks to using atmospheric oxygen, it was more like hydrocarbons and less like batteries in terms of energy density to the kilogram.
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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby douglasm » Sun Sep 27, 2015 6:09 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:To be clear, I know it's an energy carrier, like the synthesized hydrocarbons we're discussing here. I was just under the understanding that thanks to using atmospheric oxygen, it was more like hydrocarbons and less like batteries in terms of energy density to the kilogram.

Hydrogen has an extremely high energy to mass ratio, that's not the problem. The problem is that its energy to volume ratio is a lot lower at normal pressures, compressing it enough to make the energy to volume ratio favorable is hard, and preventing it from leaking is hard.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Frenetic Pony » Mon Sep 28, 2015 12:12 am UTC

Neil_Boekend wrote:Because hydrocarbons are so damn convenient. The energy density of a liter of gasoline is incredible and the tool to make use of it is not that big (an internal combustion engine). The amount equivalent amps you'd need to charge an electric car with the same transfer of joules/second is massive.
Also hydrocarbons are easily stored. If and when we go to 100% renewable we are going to have a mismatch between generated and used power. Sometimes there will be a surplus of power, sometimes a shortage. An efficient way to generate methane (during during power surplus) for gas powerplants (to run them during power shortage) can solve that. Smart load matching can decrease the problem a bit but it can't solve it.


Batteries can, in theory, have the same energy density as gasoline already (not to mention theoretical future technologies). Lithium air batteries, if the engineering challenges can be overcome, have about the same energy density, though I don't know their power density. Regardless the need for storage of renewable energy is already well known and acknowledged, the only thing really missing is funding.

Besides, per joule electricity is far cheaper than almost any conceivable hydrocarbon at relevant efficiency. The truth is to stop global warming all that's required is renewables and energy storage that's cheaper than hydrocarbons. From a physics perspective both are perfectly doable. From an engineering perspective both are in reach within a decade. The missing thing is just funding, which doesn't adequately come from the free market as the free market tends to have a low time horizon (decade long research projects are usually seen as taking too long) and worse from the free market's perspective, it's all a gamble. Even if your investment works and beats out current technology, you can still lose if another company does the same thing better.

Unfortunately politicians have a time horizon of "the next election" and the incentives of "spend money in my locally represented district." Getting way off topic, the second point is an interesting holdover from a time where communication over distance was difficult, so politicians were elected locally when possible even though they would theoretically serve a "nation". Today a more logical representation for say, the US, would be to have the entire US congress be elected as some representation of the entire nation's preferences on positions, regardless of locality.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Copper Bezel » Mon Sep 28, 2015 4:40 am UTC

douglasm wrote:
Copper Bezel wrote:To be clear, I know it's an energy carrier, like the synthesized hydrocarbons we're discussing here. I was just under the understanding that thanks to using atmospheric oxygen, it was more like hydrocarbons and less like batteries in terms of energy density to the kilogram.

Hydrogen has an extremely high energy to mass ratio, that's not the problem. The problem is that its energy to volume ratio is a lot lower at normal pressures, compressing it enough to make the energy to volume ratio favorable is hard, and preventing it from leaking is hard.

Gotcha. So it looks great until you actually have to make the tank for it, more or less, and move that around with you.

It just seemed so thrifty to be able to split the difference between an engine and a battery like that. But Li-air batteries do part of that, too, so. Cool. (I'm still not convinced that charging batteries inside a vehicle is a sensible way to do things, though. It seems so handy to run out of thing and just add more thing. Batteries take all that down time to charge....)
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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Zamfir » Mon Sep 28, 2015 6:56 am UTC

Gotcha. So it looks great until you actually have to make the tank for it, more or less, and move that around with you.

I don't think the tanks are the big hurdle, though they don't help either. It's much simpler: fuel cells themselves are expensive. Cost are coming down, but still not enough. A fuel cell to power a car still costs as much a car. That's down from costing many times more than a car, but it's not attractive yet.

The Toyota Mirai is already expensive to buy, but Toyota will only build a few thousand in total, and only hundreds at first. That implies that they make a serious loss on each one - tens of thousands of euros or more. Rumours suggest even higher losses per vehicle, though that might include fixed investments costs.

So, there's no mystery involved. You don't hear that much about fuel cell cars, because the technology is not yet commercially affordable. There is still good progress on that front though, and some companies are investing big in fuel cells. 5 or 10 years from now, the picture might be very different. Or not.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Copper Bezel » Mon Sep 28, 2015 7:52 pm UTC

That makes sense. Thanks.

That 500 km range though. *Grabby hands*
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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Frenetic Pony » Mon Sep 28, 2015 11:24 pm UTC

Zamfir wrote:
Gotcha. So it looks great until you actually have to make the tank for it, more or less, and move that around with you.

I don't think the tanks are the big hurdle, though they don't help either. It's much simpler: fuel cells themselves are expensive. Cost are coming down, but still not enough. A fuel cell to power a car still costs as much a car. That's down from costing many times more than a car, but it's not attractive yet.

The Toyota Mirai is already expensive to buy, but Toyota will only build a few thousand in total, and only hundreds at first. That implies that they make a serious loss on each one - tens of thousands of euros or more. Rumours suggest even higher losses per vehicle, though that might include fixed investments costs.

So, there's no mystery involved. You don't hear that much about fuel cell cars, because the technology is not yet commercially affordable. There is still good progress on that front though, and some companies are investing big in fuel cells. 5 or 10 years from now, the picture might be very different. Or not.


Not too mention the whole "Hydrogen explodes" thing, and how to build a huge and safe transportation network for it. Electricity meanwhile already has the biggest infrastructure of anything mankind has ever built, and is agnostic as to its source. Fusion suddenly works as a commercially viable energy source? Great, it's already hooked up to power your vehicles. Hydrogen on the other hands needs catalysts as well to separate it from oxygen, in other words continuous development of technology somewhat exclusive to just obtaining hydrogen better. I do appreciate the competition in a notional sense, but competing to make a battery with great energy density/power density/recharge cycle life/low cost would probably be better.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Copper Bezel » Tue Sep 29, 2015 12:18 am UTC

In an economic sense, though, hydrogen is made out of electricity. You can reduce the transportation cost by building more distilleries. It's handy to store the electricity as electricity, but we're talking a difference in the vehicle's total range with today's technologies of a factor of five or ten, without even considering the downtime of the vehicle to recharge vs. the time it takes to refuel. A Li-air battery with the energy density of gasoline that recharges in ten minutes would definitely make both fuel cells (and the accompanying hydrogen infrastructure) and hydrocarbon fuels from renewables (and all of that bloody infrastructure) irrelevant. It's just a question of whether or not we'll have one of those in the next fifty years.
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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby moiraemachy » Tue Sep 29, 2015 3:13 am UTC

Well, there's still cost per kWh. Tesla promises us 100USD/kWh by 2020, and this is way more expensive than the equivalent 600ml or so gas tank.

Anyway, I always assumed fuel cells would be good at storing energy from solar, wind, and nuclear sources to the grid. I mean, it must scale well: after you paid for the membrane thingy where the magic happens, increasing capacity is basically making bigger tanks.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby ahammel » Tue Sep 29, 2015 3:19 am UTC

Any chance of manufacturing petroleum products from the sludge that comes out of this thing?
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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby sevenperforce » Tue Sep 29, 2015 12:48 pm UTC

Ideally, you wouldn't end up with any sludge; the Sabatier process is pretty clean.

Though, I mean, methane is a petroleum product, technically.

I'd like to see a cost analysis to figure out how much methane you'd be getting for each kilowatt-hour of electricity used for electrolysis.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby ahammel » Tue Sep 29, 2015 1:57 pm UTC

Ah, so just methane, no long-chain hydrocarbons, then? More's the pity.
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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby sevenperforce » Tue Sep 29, 2015 2:33 pm UTC

Could be worse. Our grid is already set up to store and transport methane quite well, and there are plenty of cars out there which run on CNG.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Neil_Boekend » Tue Sep 29, 2015 3:13 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:Ah, so just methane, no long-chain hydrocarbons, then? More's the pity.

Currently this is not or not often done, because we have more than sufficient long hydrocarbons in crude (enough that we continuously crack them into short ones) but there is probably a way to reform the methane into long chains. Since nobody wants to reform methane into long chains there is no or not much research into it. If such methane factories as in the article are common then such processes will be developed. The use of it might be limited because cars, powerplants and just about anything that uses fuel can be designed to run on methane instead of gasoline, diesel or LPG. The conversion will not be free (both as in energy and as in $$$) so there will be a customer push for these versions.
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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Copper Bezel » Tue Sep 29, 2015 4:48 pm UTC

ahammel wrote:Any chance of manufacturing petroleum products from the sludge that comes out of this thing?

I think ahammel really did mean manufacturing, like, plastics. Fuel is not the only thing we get out of oil wells.
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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Tyndmyr » Tue Sep 29, 2015 9:33 pm UTC

Frenetic Pony wrote:Not too mention the whole "Hydrogen explodes" thing, and how to build a huge and safe transportation network for it. Electricity meanwhile already has the biggest infrastructure of anything mankind has ever built, and is agnostic as to its source. Fusion suddenly works as a commercially viable energy source? Great, it's already hooked up to power your vehicles. Hydrogen on the other hands needs catalysts as well to separate it from oxygen, in other words continuous development of technology somewhat exclusive to just obtaining hydrogen better. I do appreciate the competition in a notional sense, but competing to make a battery with great energy density/power density/recharge cycle life/low cost would probably be better.


Meh. Current fuels are volatile as well. As you start looking at high energy density stuff, by definition, you kind of have to worry about sudden energy releases. It's just part of the game. Batteries can blow up too, as can gasoline. Whatever.

The pressurized tank is probably a bigger deal than the hydrogen itself, I think. If you've ever seen a highly pressurized tank get busted, it's not pretty. Less burn, more blast.

Strictly speaking, using chemical fuel as a battery isn't really that big of a deal, if you're manufacturing the gas. As a medium of storage, it works pretty well. Use that, use electricity, use whatever. The essential bit is renewable vs non-renewable.

Of course, the issue is that the renewable is likely substantially more expensive. Hell, given that the air is only about .04% co2, there's some issues with capture in volume. It's not that you *can't* remove co2 from the air. It's just that doing so on an industrial scale is likely to cost a shitton.

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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Neil_Boekend » Wed Sep 30, 2015 9:00 am UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:
ahammel wrote:Any chance of manufacturing petroleum products from the sludge that comes out of this thing?

I think ahammel really did mean manufacturing, like, plastics. Fuel is not the only thing we get out of oil wells.

Most plastics can be recycled very well nowadays. That also decreases the trash production.
Then again, to lower the atmospheric CO2 level we could make plastic and bury it. It's a bit more stable then petrol.
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Re: CO2 from the air processed into liquid hydrocarbons

Postby Frenetic Pony » Wed Sep 30, 2015 11:46 pm UTC

Neil_Boekend wrote:
Copper Bezel wrote:
ahammel wrote:Any chance of manufacturing petroleum products from the sludge that comes out of this thing?

I think ahammel really did mean manufacturing, like, plastics. Fuel is not the only thing we get out of oil wells.

Most plastics can be recycled very well nowadays. That also decreases the trash production.
Then again, to lower the atmospheric CO2 level we could make plastic and bury it. It's a bit more stable then petrol.


My personal favorite carbon capture technique is algae. In my hard sci-fi book I'll probably finish never the solution is just genetically engineered algae. EG http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/co ... 9/722.full


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