These Scientists Accidentally Figured Out How To Turn Carbon Dioxide Into Ethanol

Submitted by: richanddead 10 months ago in Science
11-iab

Scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee have just discovered a cheap chemical process to change CO2 in the atmosphere into ethanol. Their finding have been peer-reviewed and published in the Journal of "ChemistrySelect."

The technology actually incorporates copper and carbon thinly arranged into nanospikes on a silicon surface. These spikes taper down to a point only a few atoms thick. When a electric current is applied the electric field is concentrated right on the tip of these nanospikes. These microspikes allow scientist to generate a much higher electric field then would be possible from a normal flat catalyst. This means that not only does this process not require rare-earth minerals, but it is also highly efficient, it can work at room temperature, and it can be turned on and off at will quickly.

One of the major problems that has faced Green Energy is that things like wind turbines and solar panels don't always produce a constant flow of electricity. In Germany for example, when the sky suddenly clears, it can cause surges in the grid of up to 30000 Megawatts which overloads the grids in neighboring countries, like Poland. It also forces German citizens to pay foreign nations like France and the Czech Republic to take their surplus energy. Yet that is only during warmer months, during the winter time Germany's solar panels produce only 3% of their capacity, to no energy at all, especially when snow falls and covers the panels. This forces Germany to buy France's and the Czech Republic`s energy every winter and build dozens of new coal powered power plants.

The story is the same with Denmark who depends on Swedish Nuclear energy and Norway's excess hydroelectric power. This has led the two countries to pay the highest prices for electricity in the developed world. So high in fact that Philipp Rösler, Germany’s minister of economics and technology, called the spiraling solar costs a major “threat to the economy.” This is because only coal, nuclear, and hydraulic power plants are able to turn on and off quick enough to react to the fluctuations in the power grid from solar and wind power generators. Yet this new technology, once refined, could lead to a better, cleaner and cheaper alternative for some of these types of problems. Other problems like solar and wind's need for rare earth mineral mining which has caused lakes of sulfuric acid, slave trades, organized crime, and the poisoning of entire villages over in Asia will still need to be addressed though.

Yet this is a great first step in the direction of finding cleaner fuels. "A process like this would allow you to consume extra electricity when it's available to make and store as ethanol," said Adam Rondinone, one of the researchers responsible for the discovery. "This could help to balance a grid supplied by intermittent renewable sources." Right now this catalyst is only capable of producing a yield of around 63%-65% on average, with a max yield of 70%. Although that is far better than the single digit yields of the previous methods of turning CO2 to ethanol, the system will still need to be refined and made more efficient before it's put to its intended purpose. Yet this still stands as an important breakthrough as only a few months ago nobody even thought it was possible to do this with these kind of results.

There are 11 comments:
Male 1,682
if you drink it all you have to worry about is a little methane.
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Male 40,752
I posted this a few (5) weeks ago? Lolz! No worries, it's an interesting possibility!! >>> I used to 'punish' FancyLad with catgirl pictures when he put up a repost, back when we could put up pictures... Here: Safe For Work :-)
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Male 1,249
And the ethanol turns back into CO2 after the burn?
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Male 4,099
Yea it does, it creates carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone, water and a mixture of aldehydes. It's important to remember that there is no perfect means of energy production. Ethanol is considered better for the environment yet more harmful to humans. Studies have found that the current amounts of ethanol in gas raises rates of hospitalization and mortality due to air pollution by about 4% then they would have been if it had just been 100% gasoline. It's an environment vs. public health trade off. Reminds me of the Stalin quote "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic."
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Male 1,252
I tend to disagree with the solar panel numbers...the other day I was at the alternative energy lab up here in the frozen north and the head of the department told me the roof panels are still 90% efficient in winter as to summer.
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Male 40,752
That would be 'peak' efficiency... as in the absolute maximum they could, in theory, produce being that far north. In reality? They produce with '0" (zero) efficiency at night, for example :-p The 3% refers to the total within a given time, like a month or year. >>> The 'peak' total energy from Solar is higher, but that's for a few hours a day at most! In ideal conditions, with perfectly operating equipment... 3% of over-all total is pretty amazing, actually! Probably cost a Trillion dollars though... thousands of acres of black, heat producing panels warming the Earth... :-/ AND every single KW has equal fossil fuel back-up too: keep those costs (and pollution) in mind when singing the praises of 'clean solar panels' eh???
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Male 1,152
I don't know how north your north is, but how in hell do you get 90% efficiency when dealing with 6-9 hours of sunlight versus 16-20?
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Male 4,099
It also depends on what type of solar cells they were using and when those cells were constructed. Were they Monocrystalline solar panels? Polycrystalline Silicon Solar Cells? Cadmium Telluride Solar Cells? Copper Indium Gallium Selenide Solar Cells? Amorphous Silicon Solar Cells? Solar Thermal Collection? Each one has different forms of efficiency, limitations, costs, and types of materials needed.
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Male 1,152
Sounds like this is what they were researching. Where is the accident part of the story?
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Male 4,099
@kree_: They were trying to make methanol not ethanol and in much much smaller amounts.
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Male 1,682
Well this not only takes care of one of the problems with coal but lets everyone have a drink on the weekend.
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