A July 23, 2013 letter to the new journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters (ES&T Letters) reports that researchers have developed a method of creating electricity from carbon dioxide (CO2) from power plants and other smokestacks. It suggests that the output could be about 400 times that from hydroelectric power at Hoover Dam.
Bert Hamelers, Ph.D., Director at Wetsus Research Programme, and his colleagues in The Netherlands searched for a way to turn the approximate 12 billion tons of carbon dioxide released yearly from power-generating plants and the additional 11 billion tons from heating homes and commercial buildings into a useful product. These are the total 23 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions produced each year by coal, oil and natural gas combustion as key contributors in the global warming crisis. Ten percent of the smokestack gas emitted from a typical coal-fired plant is the waste product CO2.
In the new method, the carbon dioxide gas would be processed with water or other liquids to produce an electric current from the resulting electron flow. The efficiency of using deionized water reached 24 percent compared to 32 percent using a monoethanolamine (MEA) solution as the electrolyte. Pairs of porous electrodes, one for anions and one for cations, were used to show that electrical energy is gained when a liquid flushed with CO2 or air flows between them.
As with hydroelectric power production, the new technique would provide electricity with no more CO2 added to the atmosphere. If or how the liquids would be affected in temperature were not discussed in the ES&T Letter.
About half of the electricity in the U.S. comes from coal-fired power plants and about 75 percent of electric power in China, the world’s greatest coal consumer, is from coal. The process mixes finely ground coal with air, burns it in a boiler to heat water in boiler pipes, and makes steam to spin turbines that generate current. The coal’s carbon reacts with the air’s oxygen, forming CO2 which exhausts in flue gas into the atmosphere.
Other researchers have been working on methods to capture the CO2 from the flue gas. Lehigh University’s Energy Research Center (ERC) received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy for a project to recover heat generated through compressed CO2 to improve power plant efficiency. Edward Levy, the ERC director, said, “All carbon capture schemes reduce power plant efficiency and increase the cost of generating electricity.”
So research is being done to create a technique to capture a harmful exhaust from fossil fuel burning to create more energy which will reduce the efficiency and increase the cost of the initial process? Should this be considered good news or bad? Could grant and research money spent on carbon capturing schemes be better spent on moving away from fossil fuel use entirely?
The attached video shows how Iceland is capturing carbon dioxide from its emissions at its geothermal power plant and piping it to a neighboring plant to make methanol that powers vehicles better than electric vehicles. That is good news. Interesting that the Wetsus research paper regarding using CO2 gas with liquids notes “in the case of gases, no technology is yet available to harvest this energy source.” Sounds like using emissions’ carbon dioxide gas to create electric power is in the conceptual phase and not yet practicable anyway.