Alternative Energy

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Alternative energy news, and information about renewable energy technologies.

Mar 31

Nanotube Technology Transforms CO2 Into Fuel

Posted in Energy Inventions | Future Technology | Waste to Energy

Nanotube Technology Presence of surplus carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has taken center stage in the environmental science. All over the world people are worried about the excess amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because it’s causing undesirable changes in the surroundings such as green house effect, global warming, melting of ice caps on the glaciers etc. So most of the environmental scientists are trying to minimize the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University are working towards the same goal with the help of sunlight and titanium oxide nanotubes. These two elements, sunlight and titanium oxide nanotubes can transform carbon dioxide into methane. Methane can be utilized as energy source. It seems like double benefit. At one hand, we are reducing the quantity of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and we would be less dependent on fossil fuels.

Craig Grimes of Pennsylvania State University is working on this project with Oomman Varghese, Maggie Paulose and Thomas LaTempa. Craig Grimes shares his views, “Right now there is lots of talk about burying carbon dioxide, which is ridiculous. Instead we can collect the waste out of the smoke stack, put it though a converter, and presto, use sunlight to change [CO2] back into fuel.”

The team of researchers arranged the nanotubes vertically somewhat on the lines of empty honeycomb. The top of the nanotubes is covered with a thin, reddish-brown layer of copper oxide. Here the copper and titanium oxide operate as catalysts. They increase the pace of chemical reactions that happen naturally.

How does the whole process work? When sunlight strikes the copper oxide, carbon dioxide is transformed into carbon monoxide. When sunlight comes into contact with titanium oxide, water molecules split apart. In this reaction hydrogen is freed from the water and the carbon released from CO2 , unite again to create burnable methane. Here oxygen is released as byproduct. If we adjoin more carbon dioxide and sunlight, we will obtain more methane. Craig Grimes calculates that focusing the light collected from 1,100 square feet onto one of the membranes would generate more than 132 gallons of methane on a sunny day. Grimes is of the opinion that formation of methane by this process is the solar power by another name. Instead of storing electrons in batteries, Grimes’ initiative would store energy chemically.

We can use the methane in many ways. In cooking gas cylinders, we can utilize methane instead of propane. Coal-burning power plants could utilize the methane to heat water and generate more electricity. Kyoung-Shin Choi, a chemistry professor at Purdue University, points out another important benefit of the methane. He says we don’t have to invest money in infrastructure as it already exists. “If you want to use hydrogen as a energy source in the future, you have to convert all the existing infrastructure,” said Choi. “But we’ve been using methane for years, and can utilize all the infrastructure we already have.”

“It’s a clean and sustainable cycle as long as you have sun and water,” said Choi.

But we have to wait for its commercial use. Only future can provide an answer to us regarding this.

  • Eben


    This will at least prevent more CO2 formation since all the CO2 in the atmosphere will be returned to CO2 after methane is burned to create energy. Amazing idea for utilizing energy from the sun and using something that is in abundance.

  • Tintifax

    There is more than burning methane. One of the most important thing about all this peak oil discussion is not that we run out of fuel. There will be enough possibilities to compensate. But all petrochemical and pharmaceutical production processes based on fossile oil can not be adapted that fast. If we really find a way to produce methane as described above, it would be a great benefit.

  • Daniel

    Let me see if i get this. So theoretically, could we sequester all CO2 in the atmosphere, create methane, burn it and then recapture the released CO2 and so on?

  • Daisy Langenegger

    Wow clean air = energy!

  • Will Colwell

    COOL. Nanotechnology is only beginning. Bring on the breakthroughs.

  • Caroline Victor

    We are responsible for all this and the tech must be safe. Using the excesses may set a see saw effect somewhere else. Less of everything would be a good start!

  • Michael Smith

    You can’t keep this tech to yourself and reap the rewards… this is a human endeavor for our kids’ generation so it technically should be government funded, but ultimately free to the people who ask for it! And if you do ask for this tech to be implemented in your local area/home then its a good start, but I have a sneaking suspicion that these pages are to corporatize this amazing new tech and patent it so that anyone smart enough to build it – but not rich enough to buy it – will be taken to court for infringements!

  • Cindy McLain

    What happened to the idea of Fuel cell as an alternative? It will take about 10 to 15 yrs to develop it… but like everything else takes time… we need to use all the possible ways to deduce our dependence on oil.

  • MingMing Du

    Long way to go… the idea to commercialize it will kill such research.

  • Allison

    This sounds like a good alternative. However, there are a few of questions I would have as to the value of this newly discovered method. What is the cost per gallon ratio estimated to be between the current cost of propane to the new methane technology? Second, would it give you the same power capacity per gallon? Conversion is waste is a great thing. However, is it economical feasible to consider for replacment of current market fuel sources?

  • Simon

    I think there is a little more to it than presto. Is there 100% conversion? If not is the methane produced enough to make up for the added inefficiencies due to back pressure on the exhaust stacks and the increased fuel requirements to gather the produced methane?

    Interesting concept though.

  • OonAir

    This article fails to mention that methane like CO2 is also a greenhouse gas and its use is contributing to global warming. In fact, 1 molecule of methane causes 21 times more warming than 1 molecule of CO2. Nonetheless, to solve the energy/global warming crisis we are going to need to use a number of methods, so the more options the better.

  • Give Me Convenience

    Apart from the gee-whiz aspect of reporting on this, did anyone at your humble little publication discuss the practical nature of such an idea? This idea does nothing to reduce CO2 concentrations whatsoever. Think about it for a minute, even if chemical conversions are 100% (see the second law of thermodynamics) CO2 is regenerated on a 1:1 basis. Then too the point raised in an earlier comment about CH4 being many times more of a GHG than CO2. The fundamental research being done will help use less methane from mined sources, if it can be commercialized.

  • Rob

    This sounds good, but we still don’t solve the problem of getting rid of C02 all together. We’re still producing millions of tonnes a day. This process just temporarily removes all the C02 and puts it back later. What about all the energy required to create the chemicals and materials needed for the reaction? But I suppose the benefit is that we’re are becoming self sustainable and utilizing the resources we have access to, which is important in this environment. This process would only work if we completely stopped producing C02 as we would be able to produce energy without effecting the amount of C02 in the environment.

  • Ben

    This is great technology. I wonder whether the commercial use can be for home use? If every household is installed with one of this device, we probably will create a “rain forest” effect in all the major cities in the world!

  • Daniel

    The flue gas from coal fired power stations and many other CO2 producing facilities contain many chemicals other than CO2. Will the catalyst reaction cause the separation of other chemicals compounds other than CO2? Will it work in the environment when the flue gas composition is not pure and fluctuating? The last thing you want is to create a hazardous solid waste in the catalyst that is difficult (and expensive) to dispose of.

    Another possible application of this technology is in Ventilated Air Methane (VAM) – converting CO2 in ventilated air from coal mines into useful methane. But the technology would need to be able to pick up CO2 at the concentration of less than 1%. If so, the market in VAM would be tremendous (think China, India, US coal industry).

  • Robert Michael Foster, MA

    Is this a clean coal breakthrough, a better way than sequestering CO2? Sequestering CO2 could turn the underground water acid and eat away the limestone.

  • Peter

    It sounds like a great technology if it does not require a lot of additional energy such as electricity coming from a fossil fuel power plant. With regards to the Methane, you would be able to burn it and recover the heat which in the long run would minimize the CO2 because you are not burning additional fossil fuels.

    Very interesting concept and hopefully the efficiency makes it feasible.

    And a comment to the ones that want to get rid of all of the CO2 in the plant, if we didn’t have greenhouse gases it would be so cold that we could not live here, the problem is that we are putting an excess of CO2.

  • tim

    Dont hold your breathe for this miracle, you realize that methane is a much worse greenhouse gas than CO2? thats why the whole cow farting thing is kind of a big deal. turning CO2 into methane is worsening the problem, then burning it makes CO2. so cycle through if you want, but I’ll keep exhaling just add to the less potent greenhouse gas fill the atmosphere

  • Paul K, UK

    100’s of Millions of years to present, CO2 has been recycled by the Planet.

    70m years ago, the Atmosphere was 15c higher, where did the carbon dioxide go, into the earth.

    Naturally coming back out through Volcanoes, in a Cycle.

    All we are doing is messing with the long term plan of the planet, we have lived here as a decimal point, when looking at the whole cycle.

    Good Idea, the main thing is to look at all technology.

    Tesla got it right last century, do you know all he did, I don’t think so, people have been lied to for years.

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