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Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Jun 21

Synthetic Fuel from CO2 and Solar Energy?

Posted in Biofuels | Environment and Sustainability | Solar Power

Synthetic Fuel Really amazing are the innovative ways solar power is put into use. Now a team of scientists working in Sandia National Laboratories is focusing on exploring basic steps to make synthetic liquid fuel with the help of solar panels. The goal is that this will help considerably reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Conversion goals:

  • The team is using a cerium-oxide-based system to turn CO2 into carbon monoxide.
  • They are aiming to convert water in a similar way into hydrogen with the help of solar power as well.
  • Using both of these to produce synthetic fuel.

Counter Rotating Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator (CR5):

Converting CO2:

This two-chambered machine is using rotating rings of cerium oxide and a huge parabolic mirror heating up the solar energy to 1500 degrees which releases oxygen from cerium oxide and the oxygen gets pumped out. The rotation takes off the cooling deoxygenated ring into other chamber where it again reacts with the pumped CO2 to produce cerium oxide and carbon monoxide. A steady stream of carbon monoxide is produced.

Plan is to utilize the CO2 from power-plant chimneys initially, but ultimately they are planning to take CO2 directly from the air.

Converting water:

In a similar process another reactor can produce water in the same way but instead of CO2, water is introduced and a stream of hydrogen is produced.

Syngas – the synthetic fuel:

Now once again solar energy is utilized. By using mirrors, concentrated solar energy at 400 degree Celsius helps in forming calcium carbonate by causing reaction between CO2 and calcium oxide. Now calcium carbonate is again heated to 800 degrees with solar power and another reaction takes place releasing pure CO2 and calcium oxide. In a similar way in another reactor with CO2 and zinc oxide, zinc metal and oxygen molecules are produced. Combining with zinc, steam and CO2 produce synthetic fuel called Syngas and zinc oxide.

CO2 based power:

James Miller, a combustion chemist at Sandia, says in New Scientist, “This area holds out promise for technologies that can produce large amounts of carbon-neutral power at affordable prices, which can be used where and when that power is needed.”

  • Daniel Lovas

    So what happens with the by-product, the CO or carbon-monoxide ? As far as I know it is a very poisonous gas, compared to ordinary CO2. It can kill a man in a couple of minutes by permanently blocking the red blood cells. I hope it is not meant to be released in the atmosphere, lol ?

  • http://www.sacredgeometry.nl Rik

    @Daniel: as I understand it the CO is the fuel, burning it will again produce CO2, completing the cycle.

  • Daniel Lovas

    I see, makes sense. By reverting the process later one can get back all or almost all of the solar energy – much more efficient than using a rechargeable battery, and similar to the “energy -> water -> hydrogen + oxygen -> water + energy” process. With the obvious advance of CO being much more stable while conserved for future use. But the CO is poisonous, while the hydrogen is not…

  • victor

    Although carbon monoxide is poisonous, it is highly sought after. Millions of pounds of it are used each year to manufacture chemicals including detergents and plastics. It can also be converted into liquid fuel.
    “The technology to convert carbon monoxide into liquid fuel has been around a long time,” said Kubiak. “It was invented in Germany in the 1920s. The U.S. was very interested in the technology during the 1970s energy crisis, but when the energy crisis ended people lost interest. Now things have come full circle because rising fuel prices make it economically competitive to convert CO into fuel.”

    Carbon monoxide is a building block for making hydrocarbons — that can then be used to make methanol or gasoline.
    Fuels like methanol and gasoline are combinations of hydrogen and carbon that are relatively easy to synthesize, Stechel said. Methanol is the easiest, and that’s where they will start, but gasoline could also be made.

    The Sandia team envisions a day when coal-fired power plants might have large numbers of CR5s, each reclaiming 45 pounds of carbon dioxide using reclamation technology currently under development and producing enough carbon monoxide to make 2.5 gallons of fuel.

  • Jim Jonas

    Many questions and I wondered about the byproduct also? CO Science and Engineering answers to the public would not be a bad idea.

  • sheckyvegas

    I’m not a chemist, but I don’t understand the reason for first forming calcium carbonate by causing a reaction between CO2 and calcium oxide, and then heating the calcium carbonate to release CO2 and calcium oxide. Is this extra step necessary to get the “pure” forms of CO2 and calcium oxide, or what?

  • Geoff Thomas

    The technology sounds good, basically recycling the catalytic/reactive components, but the clincher would be the ease and efficiency in this particular process, – after all, converting carbon dioxide to wood, using solar energy has been around for a long time, plants have been doing it before we humans had developed, and the modern technology of Gasification, which converts carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide using a glowing charcoal bed or equivalent, – and also water to hydrogen, with a resultant gas 80% monoxide to 20% hydrogen, is excellent for running internal combustion engines and is now quite developed and available.

    The comparison with Gasification would be interesting with this new development.

    Geoff Thomas. Australia.

  • http://www.ecoconcord.com Jos Conil

    These bio fuels do not eat into agricultural land like bio diesels. Also they are produced using solar power. These are two big plus points of this technology.

    But the article is silent about the emissions caused by burning these fuels and also the by products (if any) that are produced.

    This also demonstrates that concentrated solar power can be effectively used for many manufacturing processes requiring high temperature – like ceramics, cement production etc. The embodied energy of these building materials can thus be drastically reduced.


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