Machine Converts CO2 into Gasoline, Diesel, and Jet Fuel

Nov 23, 2009 by Lisa Zyga weblog
Sandia CR5
Sandia researcher Rich Diver assembles a prototype device intended to chemically reenergize carbon dioxide into carbon monoxide, which ultimately could become the building block to synthesize a liquid combustible fuel. Photo by Randy Montoya.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have built a machine that uses the sun's energy to convert carbon dioxide waste from power plants into transportation fuels such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel. The system could provide an alternative to carbon sequestration; instead of permanently storing CO2 underground, the CO2 could be recycled and put to use.

A prototype of the machine, which was invented by Sandia researcher Rich Diver, was tested recently for the first time.

Called the Counter-Rotating-Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator (CR5), the cylindrical machine consists of two chambers on the sides and 14 rotating rings in the center. The outer edges of the rings are made of iron oxide. When the scientists heat the inside of one chamber to 1,500C with a solar concentrator, the iron oxide undergoes a thermo-chemical reaction where it gives up oxygen molecules. As the rings rotate (at one revolution per minute), the hot side approaches the opposite chamber and begins to cool down. When carbon dioxide is pumped into this chamber, the retrieves oxygen molecules from the carbon dioxide, transforming it into carbon monoxide. The carbon monoxide could then serve as a building block to create a liquid combustible fuel.

Diver originally designed the machine to generate hydrogen without using electrolysis. By substituting water for the in the second chamber, the researchers can make the machine produce hydrogen. Also, by mixing the resulting hydrogen with , they can produce syngas.

It will probably take 15-20 years before the technology is ready for the market, with the biggest challenge being to increase the system's efficiency. The researchers' goal is to achieve an efficiency of a few percent, which is about twice as efficient as photosynthesis' real-world efficiency of 1%. One way to increase efficiency is to develop new ceramic composites that release at lower temperatures.

"Ultimately, we believe we have to get in the range of 10% sunlight-to-fuels, and we're a long way from doing that," said James Miller, a chemical engineer with Sandia's advanced materials laboratory.

via: Technology Review

© 2009 PhysOrg.com

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User comments : 25

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LariAnn
2.5 / 5 (10) Nov 23, 2009
IMHO, if this technology will take 15-20 years to bring to market, it is a nonviable technology for practical purposes. Research energy and effort should go into technologies that can be put into use much sooner than 15-20 years!
El_Nose
4.3 / 5 (7) Nov 23, 2009
nothing my friend that is a 'viable technology' that has the potential to be its own industy comes to market in under 20 years except microprocessor improvements. You need a sack of money and a few scientists and engineers to give over their lives to the project.
defunctdiety
3.5 / 5 (4) Nov 23, 2009
nothing my friend that is a 'viable technology' that has the potential to be its own industy comes to market in under 20 years

I may be wrong here, but I think LariAnn's point was that by that time, we are either going to have renewables to the point where they are 100% economically viable and supplanting fossils and/or the myth that we need to do anything about CO2 will be fully and forever debunked and no one will want their technology, both very very likely, IMO.

One way or another, everything will have changed by then. They needed to have started this 15 years ago if they wanted to have a market.
kshultz222_yahoo_com
4.8 / 5 (6) Nov 23, 2009
"One way or another, everything will have changed by then. They needed to have started this 15 years ago if they wanted to have a market."

I am sure that is what they would be saying 15 to 20 years from now if we don't explore it now... I say we keep working in every promising area. That way, if the oil gets too expensive or scarce or otherwise unpalatable, we will have a good fallback option.
antialias_physorg
4.5 / 5 (8) Nov 23, 2009
The energy need for this method is rather prohibitive.

Remember that a lot of energy is released when fuels are converted to (mostly) CO2 and water. . When you turn the CO2 back into fuels you need to put all that energy back in order to reform those bonds.

It's much more economical to directly use that energy in some form instead of creating CO2 (at a loss) and then burning that (at a loss again because of the Carnot limit).
nkalanaga
5 / 5 (6) Nov 23, 2009
The advantage of this method is that you use sunlight to directly produce transportable fuels. It would be inefficient for electricity production, but if you want hydrocarbons or hydrogen for vehicles it would be more efficient than growing plants.
david_42
4.5 / 5 (6) Nov 23, 2009
Unfortunately, people learn things when they learn them, not "15 years ago". Developing a product to commercial scale takes time, money and engineering. It's very easy to sit at your computer (which you had absolutely nothing to do with developing) connected to an Internet (ditto) and be critical of people who are doing the research, finding the money and scaling a process.

And after all that, this process may not scale and may not be commercially viable, even if it does. I've seen hundreds of research breakthroughs over the decades that proved to be unworkable outside the lab.
GaryB
4.5 / 5 (6) Nov 23, 2009
We are always going to need jet fuel, so there will always be a need for something to make that fuel. By 15-20 years, we should have viable electric cars, but you can't run a jet with electricity.
PPihkala
2.4 / 5 (7) Nov 23, 2009
but you can't run a jet with electricity.

No, we can't, with current battery tech. But with even todays battery tech has shown that model planes can be flown with LiIon batteries, so if battery tech get's better, it's more feasible to fly by electric power.
droom
5 / 5 (3) Nov 24, 2009
No, we can't, with current battery tech. But with even todays battery tech has shown that model planes can be flown with LiIon batteries, so if battery tech get's better, it's more feasible to fly by electric power.


I dont think you understand how a jet engine works. Electricity cant replace the combustible, its the energy from the burn that actually propels the jet. A car or propeller plane uses the burn to fire pistons to crank a shaft...etc, which electricity can replace as the energy source.
ormondotvos
1 / 5 (1) Nov 24, 2009
Actually, real planes are flying with batteries now, fully enclosed. Check YouTube for "electric airplane"
droom
5 / 5 (1) Nov 24, 2009
Yes, propeller based electric planes, we were talking about jets though.
ShotmanMaslo
3 / 5 (6) Nov 24, 2009
Important thing about this development is that it could lead to GREEN carbon based economy. Imagine the countless billions that would be needed to convert all devices now using carbon based fuel to hydrogen or electricity. If this proves to be viable, theres no need to!
sender
2 / 5 (2) Nov 24, 2009
5 year solution:
Maybe we should pump it underground to utilize the pressure and power of geothermal energy for CO2 reformation?

ISEEE
1.3 / 5 (4) Nov 24, 2009
This laboratory is essentially trying to create perpetual energy. Drop it on the market to soon and you have a real economic crisis on your hand from elevated oil prices. My theory is that they have the means to bring it to market within a year but must say 15 years to keep current gasoline prices low.
Going
5 / 5 (1) Nov 24, 2009
The amazing thing about this is that it uses cheap old iron as the medium and not some expensive rare earth. In war time development cycles can be reduced to a matter of a few years or less. The current situation on climate is as critical as any war. Given the political will this could be working in a few years.
DozerIAm
not rated yet Nov 24, 2009
I am sure that is what they would be saying 15 to 20 years from now if we don't explore it now... I say we keep working in every promising area. That way, if the oil gets too expensive or scarce or otherwise unpalatable, we will have a good fallback option.


That right there is rational thinking. We should explore all options, regardless of their present day utility. Who knows what we may learn along the way!
rippeyb
not rated yet Nov 24, 2009
The work that SWAPSOL is doing with CO2 is much more promising. They discovered a reaction between H2S and CO2, which transforms these gases into water, sulfur and carbon-sulfur polymers.
www.SWAPSOL.com
nkalanaga
not rated yet Nov 24, 2009
ISEEE: No, this isn't "perpetual energy", it's "artificial photosynthesis", in that it uses sunlight to power the process. All they're doing is turning sunlight into liquid fuels without going through the electric or steam stages.
DerekD
1 / 5 (2) Nov 27, 2009
Ummm...what's the point of this???...don't we already have a system in place (or in the process of being put into place) that utilizes the CO2 from power plants? That system being photosynthesis? Why take CO2 away from plants? Kinda selfish and anti green ain't it?

Here's the idea. Grow Grass...cut and then burn the grass for power in power plants. Resulting CO2 release is utilized by new batches of grass to grow. New grass gets burned in power plant...and resulting CO2 release is utilized by yet another new batch of growing grass.

Carbon neutral...don't steal CO2 from the plants with this CR5 device!!!!
ShotmanMaslo
3 / 5 (4) Nov 28, 2009
DerekD: Agriculture is one of the most polluting ways to get fuel, and the amount of soil needed for biofuels would be prohibitive.
This process could be much more environmentaly friendly and effective. Altough I doubt it will get efficient enough to completely replace fossil fuels.

Your comparison is funny. Instead of "stealing" CO2 from plants, you are suggesting to "massacre them and then burn their dead bodies"! Kinda selfish and anit-green! :D
Husky
1 / 5 (1) Nov 28, 2009
Conversion of Co2 into fossile fuel would only be interesting if the required energy comes from green renewables, otherwise you'd be burning fuel to create some fuel in an inefficient way. But then again if all the green renewables were there, who would longer need liquid fuel? So, maybe viable if they could use low quality waste heat for the conversion, or very high quality heat from a high temperature gas cooled nuclear reactor and a catalyctic process to drive the costs of a barrel under that of the costs of pumping oil from the earth and storing the co2, so, at present the market is not ready, but maybe the balance will shift in the future
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Nov 28, 2009
But then again if all the green renewables were there, who would longer need liquid fuel?


I think someone already mentioned one use: jet fuel (although I can't really think of anything else). Jet fuel is not something that can be replaced by 'green' energy sources since you need the explosive/combustible aspect of fuel in order to get those speeds.
DerekD
1 / 5 (1) Nov 29, 2009
Shotmanmaslo: Very funny personification of my point. I did lol. However, here are some quick points that show how this CO2 conversion device is of no future use and how all can be accomplished in the mid term with grass (not food crops like corn, just certain types of fast growing grasses).

Coal is the most polluting power generating resources. As of 2006, 41% of world electricity generation came from coal. To replace all of this coal, we'd only need to add 3-6% more new crop land. That amount is most likely available.

Grow grass...emit the same amount of CO2 as coal, but new grass absorbs the release of CO2 by the burning. Carbon neutral. Fuel can also be extracted from grass through other process in the near future. It's a renewable, carbon neutral alternative to coal. You can also extract oil from the grass, which is expensive now, but won't be in the near future.
aswicks
not rated yet Dec 11, 2009
Hey DerekD,
Please supply the reference for the grass as fuel numbers. I am an agricultural consultant and would like to see those papers.

Could these fast growing grasses be grown in the temperate regions where most of the coal fired plants exist or are these tropical grasses? How about storage during the winter when electricity demand increases?