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How Artificial Leaves Could Generate Clean Hydrogen

Soulskill posted about 5 years ago | from the leaving-well-enough-alone dept.

Power 101

An anonymous reader writes "At Imperial College London, researchers have embarked on a £1m project to study, and eventually mimic, photosynthesis. Part of the 'artificial leaf' project involves working out exactly how leaves use sunlight to make useful molecules. The team then plans to build artificial systems that can do the same to generate clean fuels such as hydrogen and methanol. These would then be used in fuel cells to make electricity or to directly power super-clean vehicles."

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101 comments

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Brings a whole new meaning to the Nissan Leaf (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29040413)

http://www.nissanusa.com/leaf-electric-car/

History Repeating Itself (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29040449)

The Asian car is once again much better and more efficient than the American car.

Where have I seen this before?

We need to take those fat-cat union gangsters and execute them behind the factory.

Re:History Repeating Itself (1)

jameskojiro (705701) | about 5 years ago | (#29043735)

Yeah, that will work, those Union Thugs will beat you up first and then you will wish we had Socialized Medicine here.

Re:History Repeating Itself (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29044047)

Let's get rid of the unions and increase prosperity by giving jobs to China.

1. Give jobs to China
2. ????
3. Profit (for rich people only)

FARK (5, Insightful)

gurps_npc (621217) | about 5 years ago | (#29040475)

This is not an announcement of an advance, it is an announcement of intention to BEGIN research.

Not news. Fark.

I hereby announce that I am studying how bees fly. I plan on creating a bee suit to let 300 pound people fly.

Re:FARK (2, Interesting)

jacktherobot (1538645) | about 5 years ago | (#29040737)

I'll finally be able to realize my dream of directing a live action movie adaptation of super mario galaxy starring ron jeremy!

Re:FARK (3, Interesting)

WindBourne (631190) | about 5 years ago | (#29041393)

I plan on creating a bee suit to let 300 pound people fly.
Oh, good. I think that has a MUCH better chance of happening then our moving towards a hydrogen economy. The simple fact is, that hydrogen is actually WORSE than any other options. Even right now, current in production Batteries are already better than what hydrogen can or ever will do.

Re:FARK (1)

jamstar7 (694492) | about 5 years ago | (#29041487)

I plan on creating a bee suit to let 300 pound people fly.

Oh, good. I think that has a MUCH better chance of happening then our moving towards a hydrogen economy. The simple fact is, that hydrogen is actually WORSE than any other options. Even right now, current in production Batteries are already better than what hydrogen can or ever will do.

Mebbe so, but you still have to come up with a way to recharge those batteries. Mebbe hydrogen isn't the best solution, however, it can power a generator to recharge said batteries.

Re:FARK (4, Insightful)

confused one (671304) | about 5 years ago | (#29041783)

Best way to store hydrogen is using a carbon atom.

Re:FARK (1)

arminw (717974) | about 5 years ago | (#29042949)

...Best way to store hydrogen is using a carbon atom...

Is that not what plants have been doing since the beginning? To mimic a process, one first has to understand it. Scientists have been trying to understand exactly how photosynthesis works. I can so many things, a vague understanding is not good enough, but the devil is in the details. Scientists do have some idea about how photosynthesis works, but on the deepest atomic level, they still don't know enough to actually make an artificial leaf. I wish these guys lots of luck, because they'll need it.

Re:FARK (1)

i_liek_turtles (1110703) | about 5 years ago | (#29045779)

woosh

Re:FARK (1)

SlashWombat (1227578) | about 5 years ago | (#29049067)

Whoosh indeed.

I suspect the person either is thinking buckyballs, or more likely something like C8H18. (petrol, or gasoline if your american).

Re:FARK (1)

blincoln (592401) | about 5 years ago | (#29042443)

Mebbe so, but you still have to come up with a way to recharge those batteries. Mebbe hydrogen isn't the best solution, however, it can power a generator to recharge said batteries.

There's no reason to introduce hydrogen into the process you describe, unless you have a pre-existing source of hydrogen gas (IE skimming it off of Jupiter). Otherwise you're just wasting efficiency by not charging the batteries directly using whatever power you used to run the hydrogen generator.

Re:FARK (1)

Fluffeh (1273756) | about 5 years ago | (#29045219)

charging the batteries directly using whatever power you used to run the hydrogen generator.

What if the power output of your hydrogen generator is much lower than your power required for your battery to charge up quickly?

What if you have ample hydrogen being generated, seems a good idea to be able to store excess power in the form of hydrogen.

What if you need that extra charge-up halfway through a longer trip? Having some hydrogen just waiting to charge your batteries seems like a handy thing at that time.

There isn't anything wrong with directly pushing the power from your hydrogen generator into adding power while the vehicle is on, but there CERTAINLY isn't anything wrong with also putting hydrogen aside while the vehicle is off or the batteries are fully charged. Is turning power into hydrogen, then using that hydrogen to change the batteries less efficient? OF COURSE, but that's not to say you shouldn't do it at all.

Re:FARK (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 5 years ago | (#29046111)

Hydrogen is LOADED with all sorts of isses. For starters, it is by far the most inefficient transportation. Even now, batt/caps are the most efficient. Far fare more than oil/CNG/ LPG/ Hydrogen, etc. Their are several issues with electricity. The first is costs. It is too high. But that is coming down. The second is time to charge. That will remain high as long as we are doing batteries. At some pooint, it is very likely that caps will be low costs and have high energy density. There are already 3 solutions in the making for this.

So what about Hydrogen? You have a storage area that has only a slightly higher energy density than what batteries currently have. In addition, you have heavy fuel cells/motor. Obviously, you can simply burn hydrogen, but the weight and space and complexity of an engine is again more than battery/motor.

Finally, the above ignores the total lose of efficincy involved in making hydrogen and transporting it. In the end, electricity is the only answer that will take over engines.

Re:FARK (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 5 years ago | (#29043499)

So, can wind, geo-thermal, solar, Coal, nukes, etc. And ALL of those items are needed to generate the energy to separate hydrogen from water (or even a fossil fuel). AND the total cycle of electricty->transportation->battery->motor is STILL far more efficient than is electricity->(fossilfuel|water)->hydrogen->transportation->various storage->(fuel cell|engine|etc).

Re:FARK (1)

NotBornYesterday (1093817) | about 5 years ago | (#29042927)

So, exactly how would having a clean, endless supply of hydrogen would be bad?

Re:FARK (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 5 years ago | (#29043543)

How exactly did we obtain that clean supply of hydrogen? And I am talking in terms of TODAY as well as say another 20 years, rather than saying by fusion power? If you look at the efficiency of that cycle, it is, and will remain, inefficient. At least until we can obtain hydrogen for free, which is not likely to happen.

Re:FARK (1)

NotBornYesterday (1093817) | about 5 years ago | (#29044541)

Batteries are already better than what hydrogen can or ever will do.

I wasn't saying that hydrogen production was clean & renewable today. Assuming that this technology (or another renewable hydrogen-producing technology) someday proves viable, I was wondering what you saw wrong with hydrogen vs. batteries.

Is it just inefficiency you object to?

Re:FARK (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 5 years ago | (#29046031)

Is it just inefficiency you object to?

For the most part, yes. I object to those pushing hydrogen as being the end all, when in reality we are decades away from having so many of the minor issues, let alone some of the major ones, solved. For example, right now, somewhere between 90-100% of all commercially available H2 is by stripping it from hydrocarbons. What happens to the C? it is released as CO2. IOW, hydrogen does nothing to solve the carbon issue. So, lets assume that we want to have less oil being brought into the west. Then our energy use climbs even higher. It will actually use MORE oil/CNG to switch to hydrogen. Even if we solve all of the major issues, it will still be more efficient to use batteries/capacitors. The reason is that all of the means to generate hydrogen will involve a lot of energy. Hydrogen CAN be made more efficient than oil/cng, but it will never be more efficient or less costly than electricity.

Re:FARK (1)

JordanL (886154) | about 5 years ago | (#29043047)

Seeing as Hydrogen is the source of the vast majority of the entire known universe's energy... I think you need to reexamine that statement. Hydrogen is what we're trying to use for Fusion technology, and Hydrogen is very efficient at storing energy for later use. Much more efficient than batteries.

Re:FARK (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 5 years ago | (#29043581)

First, I doubt that you will have a small fusion reactor in our cars anytime soon. Second, Hydrogen, currently, has higher energy density, BUT has issues with storage, as well as usage (motors are very inefficient and fuel cells are a LONG ways off). LONG before hydrogen issues are solved, batteries will have a higher energy density (assuming that hydrogen can not be compressed infinitly).

Re:FARK (2, Funny)

3waygeek (58990) | about 5 years ago | (#29044763)

First, I doubt that you will have a small fusion reactor in our cars anytime soon

What are you talking about -- it's at most six years off [wikia.com] .

Re:FARK (2, Interesting)

bugnuts (94678) | about 5 years ago | (#29044811)

Hydrogen, currently, has higher energy density, BUT has issues with storage, as well as usage (motors are very inefficient and fuel cells are a LONG ways off). LONG before hydrogen issues are solved, batteries will have a higher energy density (assuming that hydrogen can not be compressed infinitly).

Fuel cells are currently being used in cars today [honda.com] , so they are definitely NOT a "LONG ways off".

All of your complaints are just complaints, that have already been addressed. It's FUD.

Electric motors are far more efficient at converting power to usable kinetic energy than gasoline engines, yet you actually try to bring this up? Are you "that guy" who makes up non-issues? Sure sounds like it. Hell, if you're so convinced that current engines are so efficient, they can just burn the hydrogen instead.

And to counter a previous statement you made saying there's no free source of hydrogen, you're wrong. I have a solar photovoltaic (pv) panel that can give me "free hydrogen" from water, and I can use the O2 in other applications. And a car can convert it back to water, essentially making it a solar-powered car, with zero emissions. PV panels convert water and use some energy used to liquify the H2, sell the O2, then car converts remaining H2 back to H2O with a free electron used to run the engine.

The only concession I'll give you is that pv panels would not be able to produce enough for all the cars, were they all retrofitted. But that's the entire point of tfa, to find more efficient methods of getting hydrogen. It would take work to develop a hydrogen economy, and still have enough fuel for those that wanted it. But, if other more efficient methods of producing hydrogen could be found, that'd make it take far less space and be much more efficient. Currently available panels range in efficiency from 8% (for A-Si) to 20% or so (hybrid A-Si + C-Si), and electrolysis of water uses a lot of energy (which is why it give so much energy back). Harnessing the crapton of power from the sun for this is the obvious way to do it, so usable methods of stripping off the hydrogen is important.

Re:FARK (1)

BlackSnake112 (912158) | about 5 years ago | (#29044805)

The problems with hydrogen is getting it and storing it. I think it was myth busters where I saw them pump hydrogen gas into a car engine and it ran. Well, it ran until the gas leaked out of the engine since said engine was not made for hydrogen gas.

Isn't Iceland going all hydrogen? Cars, boats, just about everything? Granted Iceland has a lot of geothermal based electricity on hand to make the hydrogen. Other places in the world also have geothermal energy available (the west cost of the US for one). The geothermal electric power plants can be built then use that power to create hydrogen gas. We still need the storage and transmission systems for hydrogen gas to be built.

Re:FARK (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 5 years ago | (#29045807)

Actually, there is much more than that. For starters, nearly all of the current hydrogen comes from stripping it from Oil or CNG. This is funny, because you take it off and then release the CO2 that was created. Yet, it would have been far more efficient to flat out burn it.

The other approach is obviously to split it from water. BUT, this is VERY energy intensive, and will remain, there is no real way around this; you have to break the bonds. Obviously as you point out is the issue of the transportation and storage. You have both ground storage as well as storage in the vehicle. There is no easy or energy cheap way to do either of these. In the end, it is currently FAR FAR cheaper to take that initial electricity, send it over a poor wire, store it in a lead acid battery and then use a 98% efficieny motor. Basically, all of those pushing Hydrogen are not just ignoring state of the art, but simple physics.

Re:FARK (1)

bugnuts (94678) | about 5 years ago | (#29054961)

In the end, it is currently FAR FAR cheaper to take that initial electricity, send it over a poor wire, store it in a lead acid battery and then use a 98% efficieny motor. Basically, all of those pushing Hydrogen are not just ignoring state of the art, but simple physics.

A 98% efficient motor? But you stated here [slashdot.org] that electric "motors are very inefficient and fuel cells are a LONG ways off". Both of which are wrong.

I'm not exactly chasing you around trying to debunk you, but you've really only said one thing on this thread that was correct, and that is that there are issues with distribution and production of hydrogen (i.e. a hydrogen economy). It's true that there aren't many refilling stations. It's true that hydrolysis of water takes a lot of energy or is produced from non-renewable CNG. Yet there are catalysts being/already developed [slashdot.org] that reduce the energy required significantly. If these issues aren't handled, it wouldn't make any sense to try for a "hydrogen economy". So yes, that needs to be solved. But that's the one issue -- how to create cheap hydrogen. The rest of the stuff will fall in line if we can solve that.

The rest of what you said is either a straw man, a misconception, an outright untruth (probably told to you by an oil company), or simple FUD.

Here are some examples of things you've said that are wrong:

You claim fuel cells aren't efficient. In reality, fuel cells are efficient and getting better (recovering about half of the potential energy of hydrogen, compared to about 25% for gasoline engines). And escaping hydrogen doesn't harm the environment, unlike escaping gasoline. You're also counting source-to-end costs in efficiency of producing and using hydrogen (compression, transportation, storage, conversion in fuel cells all result in about 25% efficiency from the source H2 gas, but gasoline is assumed that it takes no energy to pump and transport and distill/separate it. If you count that, gasoline engines are even worse than their poor 25-30% efficiency for cars.)

You claim electric motors are inefficient. Electric motors are efficient compared to gasoline engines. They do lose some energy in heat, but not nearly as much heat as a gasoline engine. They don't have to idle, either, and have instant-on ability, losing little on starts and stops. In addition, they also act as generators and can store braking energy in batteries or caps. Using batteries in addition to a fuel cell means that the batteries can be fairly small and be drained off first for stop-and-go traffic.

Fuel cells are in use today, despite what you said. They're not a long way off.

The lack of hydrogen fueling stations is not a valid claim that we can't have hydrogen vehicles. It's a chicken-egg thing... the infrastructure is being built to support the cars. It's happening in California RIGHT NOW.

---

If your quote is only saying that we should be using batteries instead of hydrogen, fine. I won't argue that a hydrogen economy would be unfeasible at the moment. There's currently far less loss in charging a battery than there is with hydrolysis of water and compressing the H2. The resistance to a hydrogen economy is because it's currently wasteful, but there's tremendous value in researching it due to energy storage potential. (Let's see how many electrical puns I can make in that last sentence!)

Re:FARK (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29046053)

I weigh 400 pounds you insensitive clod!!!

Re:FARK (1)

cas2000 (148703) | about 5 years ago | (#29047031)

"Not news. Fark."

you appear to have a buggy and very limited definition of what constitutes "News".

to start with, News includes more than just product announcements.

Re:FARK (2, Insightful)

bythescruff (522831) | about 5 years ago | (#29049061)

...working out exactly how leaves use sunlight to make useful molecules.

Finally, we know what stage 2 is!

Stage 1: (whatever)

Stage 2: Solve the mystery of photosynthesis, which has been baffling scientists for decades.

Stage 3: Profit!

Genetic'ly engineered trees (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29040497)

Environmentalists and other consortia opposed to corporate greed recently applauded the planting of genetically-modified trees in New York City and much of Israel.

The trees were modified through cutting-edge biotechnology to produce Zyklon-B instead of CO2.

Finally! (2, Interesting)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | about 5 years ago | (#29040531)

It staggers the mind to think of the amazing technological advances we've made but we still haven't taken the time to unlock the secrets of photosynthesis. Given environmental concerns, I thought this would have been done a long time ago.

The down side:
Biology will get even HARDER.

Re:Finally! (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29040735)

If you wanted photosynthesis research done, why don't you do it yourself instead of leaning on the people who donate their time and energy to...

Oh. Wait. Sorry. I thought we were talking about a feature missing in an FOSS package.

Re:Finally! (2, Insightful)

flaming error (1041742) | about 5 years ago | (#29040927)

> I thought we were talking about a feature missing in an FOSS package.
But aren't we?

AFAIK there's no reason any joe off the street can't go do photosynthesis research and post his findings. Funding and specialized advanced degrees are real nice to have, but they're technically not part of the scientific method.

Re:Finally! (2, Insightful)

VisceralLogic (911294) | about 5 years ago | (#29043377)

Great point! Historically, a lot of ground-breaking research has been done by folks without degrees or funding... just an insatiable curiosity.

Re:Finally! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29054027)

So, the universe is one big FOSS project? That explains a few things...

Re:Finally! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29043293)

It's not that no one has taken the time to unlock the secrets of photosynthesis -- people have been trying to figure it out for a very long time. Trouble is that it is a very precise quantum mechanical system that evolved over a very very long time. Since we also haven't taken enough time to sort out all the intricacies of quantum mechanics or even evolution.

Re:Finally! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29043325)

Completely agreed, how come nobody really went near it?

I know a few solar companies looked in to some of it, but i don't think it went anywhere...

If large groups of experts in self-building nanostructures got involved in solar, we'd have significantly more efficient solar devices, as well as this artificial leaf to create hydrogen. (and methonal)
This would actually solve a lot of problems for people, power use is such a headache, having suffered a good few power outages this year myself, and then there is people who don't even have power at all, they can't just boil some water clean or store food for later.

Re:Finally! (1)

reverseengineer (580922) | about 5 years ago | (#29043819)

Well, a lot is known about how photosynthesis splits water (though many of the discoveries are comparitively quite recent), but "unlocking the secrets" really refers to being able to do it on our own terms, using the materials available to us. Where living things use enzymes, we are largely forced to substitute inorganic catalysts. That may change somewhat as advances in bioengineering are made, but photosynthesis in particular is a process that involves so many integrated systems and molecules that the best options are to either work top-down to genetically engineer a plant to optimize the photosynthesis it already does or to work bottom up to make an artificial system that "works like" photosynthesis.

We're not nearly at the stage where we can build something like a photosynthetic reaction center, which has complicated proteins working in concert with pigments and an electron transport chain. The good news is that while plants have to use all of this together to convert light energy into chemical energy to make sugars, we'd be happy with the "electron regeneration/oxygen evolving" reaction that forms a small part of the total process. The enzyme which accomplishes this, the creatively named "oxygen evolving complex" (OEC), is again too complicated to engineer, at least on a million pound budget. At its heart, though, is an inorganic cofactor of manganese, oxygen, and calcium atoms that looks a lot like the transition metal oxide catalysts used all over in the chemical industry. There is still disagreement about the exact structure and mechanism (making this a good target for research), but the cofactor appears to hold water molecules in a series of increasingly excited transition states until enough energy has been pumped in to break the water apart.

Finding a metal oxide catalyst that replicates this process seems potentially achievable, as it does not require sophisticated protein engineering, but rather that you make a lot of rust of varying composition, and use trial and error (informed by knowledge of how the OEC is structured) to find out what works best. And by "trial and error" I mean "grad students."

Yeah right (4, Insightful)

nmrtian (984245) | about 5 years ago | (#29040543)

Photosynthesis has traditionally been one of the "hard" problems to solve. These guys are going to figure it out for 1 million pounds and then use it to produce fuel? I'll put my money on cold fusion first.

Re:Yeah right (1)

confused one (671304) | about 5 years ago | (#29041819)

Genetic engineering tech is moving faster than fusion tech...

Re:Yeah right (1)

arminw (717974) | about 5 years ago | (#29043055)

...Genetic engineering tech is moving faster than fusion tech...

Except that this is not about genetics, but artificially trying to duplicate photosynthesis. That is before you can duplicate something, you have to know something about it and science doesn't know that much about exactly how a photon of light is used in a green leaf or algae with chlorophyll to knit carbon and hydrogen together into a hydrocarbon.

Re:Yeah right (1)

confused one (671304) | about 5 years ago | (#29043423)

They're not trying to duplicate photosynthesis... they're ignoring the synthesis part. They just want to understand how the cell uses sunlight to split the hydrogen and oxygen in water. The quickest path to achieve this might be to simply determine what proteins are doing the work and what they require to function. Then, once you know this, replicate the appropriate proteins on an industrial scale. Replicating the proteins would be a job for the genetic engineers. Hence, my suggestion that genetic engineering might be required.

Energy from multiple sources (3, Interesting)

David_Hart (1184661) | about 5 years ago | (#29040579)

If we combine this with the efforts on artifical tress that generate energy from solar and kenetic motion (http://www.solarbotanic.com/) then we would have a perfect energy ecosystem.

My only concern would be how flammable these tress would be? Remember, only you can prevent forrest fires... (grin)

David

Re:Energy from multiple sources (1)

alphan (774661) | about 5 years ago | (#29041009)

My only concern would be how flammable these tress would be?

Well, if you start growing one of these in your back yard, I assume you are running for a Darwin Award.

Unrelatedly:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploding_tree [wikipedia.org]

Re:Energy from multiple sources (1)

Zarf (5735) | about 5 years ago | (#29042135)

I'm fairly certain all trees are flammable.

My only concern would be how flammable these tress would be?

Well, if you start growing one of these in your back yard, I assume you are running for a Darwin Award.

Unrelatedly: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exploding_tree [wikipedia.org]

Re:Energy from multiple sources (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29042339)

Even asbestos trees?

Re:Energy from multiple sources (2, Funny)

Zarf (5735) | about 5 years ago | (#29043061)

I stand corrected.

Since when is methanol "clean"? (1)

flaming error (1041742) | about 5 years ago | (#29040609)

From World of Molecules [worldofmolecules.com] :

Methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, carbinol, wood alcohol, wood naphtha or wood spirits, is a chemical compound with chemical formula CH3OH (often abbreviated MeOH). It is the simplest alcohol, and is a light, volatile, colourless, flammable, poisonous liquid

Sounds like a carbon-based fuel to me. Not sure why it's considered "clean". But at least we're not digging the carbon out of the bowels of the earth before we spew it into the sky.

Re:Since when is methanol "clean"? (1)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#29040771)

Now we're favored guests, treated to the finest in fuels that make you blind.

Re:Since when is methanol "clean"? (1)

confused one (671304) | about 5 years ago | (#29043729)

Thank-you, you've just prompted me to pull out my Firefly disks and make some popcorn... So much for being productive tonight.

Re:Since when is methanol "clean"? (3, Informative)

blueg3 (192743) | about 5 years ago | (#29040811)

If you get it by removing the same quantity of carbon from the air (which is what photosynthesis does), it's carbon-neutral. It's clean because it doesn't contain things other than methanol, and the combustion products of methanol are relatively harmless.

Re:Since when is methanol "clean"? (4, Informative)

TigerNut (718742) | about 5 years ago | (#29040943)

One of the combustion products of methanol is formaldehyde, and that's not harmless.

Linky to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]

Amazed that you are not modded up (1)

WindBourne (631190) | about 5 years ago | (#29041425)

We are using SMALL amounts of alcohols in our fuels to oxygenate the burning. Problem comes in when it is the primary form of fuel. Then you will ALWAYS have partial burning. As you point out, ethanols are converted into a number of side products which includes aldahydes. In small amounts, overall not a big deal (though still not great). But in large amounts These are ABSOLUTELY WICKED.

Re:Amazed that you are not modded up (2, Informative)

squoozer (730327) | about 5 years ago | (#29042831)

I would guess that they are intending to use the methanol on a fuel cell rather than a regular internal combustion engine. Fuel cells produce essentially nothing but co2 and water. It should also be fairl easy to put a catalytic converter on the exhaust to remove any traces of methanol. Over all I think methanol could be a great fuel.

Re:Since when is methanol "clean"? (1)

bunratty (545641) | about 5 years ago | (#29043463)

The link says that one of the intermediate products of methanol combustion is formaldehyde. Who cares if formaldehyde is produced and immediately burned inside the engine? What matters is how much comes out the tailpipe. It seems that alcohol fuels [wikipedia.org] do produce somewhat more aldehyde than gasoline, but they produce somewhat lower amounts of other pollutants.

Re:Since when is methanol "clean"? (1)

TigerNut (718742) | about 5 years ago | (#29044381)

The problem with any internal combustion engine is it's hard to control the combustion process so completely that you don't get any intermediate products out the tailpipe.

The GP said "the combustion products of methanol are relatively harmless" and that's the part I'm taking issue with - I think that because methanol can be cheaply synthesized from a number of different feedstocks, it's a good candidate for a gasoline substitute, and I've actually used M-85 blend in my race car. The higher octane number of methanol allows you to bump the compression ratio way up and gain some efficiency that way.

One of the reasons that methanol and ethanol produce fewer emissions than gasoline is that either of those alcohols is a much simpler molecule (just one or two carbons) while gasoline is actually a blend of 6- to 9-chain carbons, with varying amounts of branching. The reference "octane" molecule that has an octane number of 100 is actually a pentane with three methyl branches. So the number of intermediate products that are possible in gasoline combustion just boggles the mind, where methanol combustion really only has a couple of possibilities. I'm guessing that if methanol becomes a more common fuel in the future we'll see methanol specific catalysts in the exhaust and they will take care of the aldehyde problem... but in the meantime, methanol exhaust is not "relatively harmless".

The other side of the carbon equation (1)

ProKras (727865) | about 5 years ago | (#29055497)

Just read TFA and it looks like the project's goal is not to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, but to find out how to use sunlight as an energy source to synthesize molecules.

Over here, across the pond, we've got a team of Yanks already working on the other side of the carbon equation: Artificial leaves to capture CO2 from the air. And, in typical Yank fashion, its being done by private enterprise [grestech.com] .

They were featured recently on Nova ScienceNow [pbs.org] .

Re:Since when is methanol "clean"? (1)

confused one (671304) | about 5 years ago | (#29041733)

Yes, but if you are looking to use a carbon based fuel, methane or methanol are the best you can hope for because the ratio of carbon to hydrogen is the lowest (1:4).

Re:Since when is methanol "clean"? (1)

flaming error (1041742) | about 5 years ago | (#29042297)

> if you are looking to use a carbon based fuel
I don't think we're looking for that these days.

> methane or methanol are the best you can hope for
Methane? Seriously? From the US EPA [epa.gov] :

Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas that remains in the atmosphere for approximately 9-15 years. Methane is over 20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2)

Re:Since when is methanol "clean"? (1)

bunratty (545641) | about 5 years ago | (#29042497)

We are looking for carbon-based fuels to replace fossil fuels. That's what biofuels are. I don't know of any energy source that can power airplanes other than carbon-based fuels.

When methane is used as a fuel, the waste gases are water vapor and carbon dioxide. If the carbon in the methane recently came from the atmosphere, it will not cause a net increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Re:Since when is methanol "clean"? (1)

flaming error (1041742) | about 5 years ago | (#29042761)

> I don't know of any energy source that can power airplanes other than carbon-based fuels.
Your unawareness of alternatives doesn't mean that carbon is a requirement for flight. Consider these planes:
Hydrogen [gizmodo.com]
Solar [pvresources.com]
Electric [youtube.com]

Re:Since when is methanol "clean"? (1)

bunratty (545641) | about 5 years ago | (#29042907)

Well, yeah, there are even human-powered aircraft. But you're not going to power jet aircraft with pedal power, are you? The largest aircraft in your examples seems to be a two-seater prop plane.

I don't know of any alternative to power many of our planes besides carbon-based fuels. We can fly jets with biofuels today. Let me know when there's a large jet that runs off hydrogen, solar, or electric. Until then, we certainly are looking for carbon-based fuels.

Aerodynamics are carbon-agnostic (1)

flaming error (1041742) | about 5 years ago | (#29043417)

Let me know when there's a large jet that runs off hydrogen, solar, or electric.
Nice job moving the goalpost. It used to be "airplanes", now it's airliners.

But it's irrelevant. Airplanes need thrust. They get thrust from engines. Today's commercially-available engines burn fossil/carbon fuels, but in no way does that prevent us from putting a different engine on future planes.

Re:Aerodynamics are carbon-agnostic (1)

bunratty (545641) | about 5 years ago | (#29044869)

No, it doesn't prevent us putting different engine on future planes. On the other hand, the other forms of energy do not have as high an energy density as carbon-based fuels, so they are are not practical to power planes. That is why we are looking for carbon-based fuels to replace fossil fuels.

Re:Aerodynamics are carbon-agnostic (1)

flaming error (1041742) | about 5 years ago | (#29046361)

> other forms of energy do not have as high an energy density
Here are some numbers, in MegaJoules per kilogram, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_density [wikipedia.org] :

[Solar approaches infinity ]
Natural Uranium....24,000,000
Hydrogen .................143
Aviation Fuel..............42.8
SuperCapacitor.............10.8

Aviation Fuel is powerful stuff, but there are carbon-free alternatives that compare quite favorably.

Re:Since when is methanol "clean"? (1)

confused one (671304) | about 5 years ago | (#29043029)

None of those will work in a modern cargo or passenger jet, except perhaps hydrogen. Then only in liquid form would it have sufficient density, which means your handing super cold crygenic liquids. They're a looooong way from being able to use that in commercial jets. So, you need to consider what we can do now, today, which is carbon-based bio-fuels.

Re:Since when is methanol "clean"? (1)

confused one (671304) | about 5 years ago | (#29042911)

You said:

Not sure why it's considered "clean".

and I gave you the answer, minimum carbon and maximum hydrogen per molecule. Methane or methanol are very efficient ways to store hydrogen. As compared to oil or coal, burning methane (or methanol) produces less CO2 per unit of energy. Because of it's short half-life in the atmosphere (7 years), you might be better off in the long run handling methane and risking the small percent leakage than burning coal and dumping over twice as much CO2 into the atmosphere, given CO2's 10,000 year half-life.

Re:Since when is methanol "clean"? (1)

Eudial (590661) | about 5 years ago | (#29047309)

What's important is where the carbon is coming from.

If you are burning crude oil or something made there of, you are releasing new carbon into the atmosphere.

If you grab carbon from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, and then burn the molecules produced, you don't release new carbon into the atmosphere.

Dangerous Future Tech (2, Interesting)

DarkMage0707077 (1284674) | about 5 years ago | (#29040635)

So, if this works, would we then have whole artifical forests creating hydrogen and methanol? How safe would these things be? I imagine a forest would require access to sunlight, but it's somewhat difficult to have proper safeguards on a place that has a big window in it. And with these "trees" being full of methanol/hydrogen, one spark or too MUCH sun/heat and the whole place goes up like a bomb.

Re:Dangerous Future Tech (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29040719)

And with these "trees" [...], one spark or too MUCH sun/heat and the whole place goes up like a bomb.

Sounds very similar to natural forests to me...

Re:Dangerous Future Tech (4, Funny)

Hope Thelps (322083) | about 5 years ago | (#29040783)

Obviously we'll need somewhere to put them. Possibly we could clear some woodlands to make room for them.

Re:Dangerous Future Tech (1)

vertinox (846076) | about 5 years ago | (#29042121)

And with these "trees" being full of methanol/hydrogen, one spark or too MUCH sun/heat and the whole place goes up like a bomb.

I dunno... You'd think we'd have similar structures that contain large flammable liquids for processing... And they had the same problems with big explosions and learned how to deal with it?

Re:Dangerous Future Tech (1)

Jeremi (14640) | about 5 years ago | (#29044253)

So, if this works, would we then have whole artifical forests creating hydrogen and methanol? How safe would these things be?

Tell you what -- when someone proposes actually building an "artificial hydrogen forest", we'll have a look at the blueprints they provide and discuss potential safety hazards and how to mitigate them. Until then, worrying about what might happen in a hypothetical energy plant that might be built some decades from, if the basic research (that has not even started yet) comes to fruition, is rather a pointless exercise in paranoia, don't you think?

New Idea? (1)

Vanderhoth (1582661) | about 5 years ago | (#29040687)

I knew an environmental engineer once who told me plants are actually inefficient at converting energy... Maybe he was mistaken, anyone know? Besides doesn't this already exist? I thought Solar panels generated electricity that could be used to charge batteries or produce hydrogen.

Re:New Idea? (5, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#29040993)

He was correct. Certain steps in the photosynthetic process are very efficient, but the fact that only part of sunlight is photosynthetically active, the fact that plants don't process all light that hits them, and that not all energy they produce goes into biomass, generally limits the total biomass yield to 3-6%. Food crops generally yield between a fraction of a percent and a couple percent of the solar energy that hits them as food, but practical growth limitations make that even lower (by a good margin). To give an example of how that comes into play, sugarcane is a rare photosynthesis exception, at about 8% efficiency turning sunlight to biomass, but only 0.13% solar efficiency [wikipedia.org] to ethanol. That's 4000 liters per hectare of 225W/m^2 insolation land. That's 7.1e13 joules of solar energy to prduce 9.36e10 joules of ethanol. Awful efficiency, no?

Re:New Idea? (1)

Sandbags (964742) | about 5 years ago | (#29041763)

yup... However, using highly efficient carbon nuetral energy sources (wind, water, solar, etc) to make energy to power high luminocity limited spectrum bulbs we might be able to work it out. That, or redirect only specific wavelengths into the chemical process and the rest to solar colectors through the use of prisms/filters.

That said, what do they REALLY plan to do with the H2 produced? Lets face it, we'll not be running our cars on it likely for more than 100 years, if ever. Even if you could make H2 essentially for free, the expense of storage, transportation, more storage, engines to run it in, and other high costs leave it one of the most expensive proposed alternate solutions... This is not to include the additional concerns including limited vehicle ranges, long charging/filling times, and the sheer dangers inherent to H2, we simply can't allow it...

If you want a place to send H2, and if this process is more efficient than either wind or solar based electrolysis, then you need to talk to the folks behind dotyenergy.com. They have a solution that uses H2 and sequestered CO2 as inputs to an RFTS process that makes regular fuels.. This is real technology in use since WWII (refined and made much more effient with 60+ patents and 50 years of effort). Check them out...

- no new pipelines/storage systems/infrastructure required
- carbon nuetral unlimited fuel
- competitive at $60-80/barrel vs gasonline from oil depending on local markets
- runs in your current car (it IS gasoline!)
- available and proven NOW, we just need to build the facilities.

Eventually, we'll all be running electrics, with 5-10 minute charge cycles and 200 mile ranges. (we're about 10 years from that level of bettery technology, and 15 from it competing with current car prices). However, we're 30 years from having an electrical grid (at least that long) that can handle putting the cars on it in mass numbers, and 50 years from having enough power going into that grid to handle it. This is a perfect stopgap so solve the carbon issue, solve fuel dependency, and build an industry that could employ 10s of thousands of people without simultaneously putting every corner gas station out of business....

Re:New Idea? (1)

lupine (100665) | about 5 years ago | (#29042561)

Wasting wind power to create hydrogen through electrolysis(only 60% efficient) and then using more energy to futher convert it into liquid fuel to burn in conventional engines(20% efficient) might make sense if we had a large excess of wind energy. The problem is that while wind energy is clean and there are many good locations to site wind farms in the US the amount of electricity produced does not come close to meeting our demands for clean electricity. Maintaining our traditional reliance on liquid fuels for transportation is the wet dream of oil industry execs but it doesn't make sense to perpetuate wasteful energy usage as energy becomes more scarce and costly.

Battery powered electric vehicles(85% efficient) are in testing right now by most major car manufacturers. They will be on dealer lots within 2 years, and while they may not be very affordable when launched their fuel efficiency and ability to use cheap/clean energy will help offset the cost. We don't need to wait 50 years to switch our transportation system, it can happen gradually over the next 10 years as the current fleet of cars are replaced with new ones.

Btw Huge wind farms in remote locations is not the only renewable energy source, residential solar power can create energy where it is needed and power the cars of the future.

Re:New Idea? (1)

Sandbags (964742) | about 5 years ago | (#29042863)

yea clearly did not follow the link. We actually have a SERIOUS problem in this country PREVENTING further rollout of Wind energy, and it's called off-peak losses.

Wind power companies are litterally PAYING people to take the energy they produce during off-peak hours. Until we finish deploying an interconencted national grid, and until we depoloy a storage system for overproduced energy, local wind farms are suffering when they're actually producing more than the local markets can bear in energy. The electrolysis sysyems actually run closer to 80% efficient now btw, when used symbiotically with other systems, including advances in recouperative heat use (also indicated in extremely detailed and complex disagrams on the site, and available in further complete data if you pay for it), but that part of the system also only needs to run a few hours a day to keep the rest of the plant supplied with enough H2 tobe making fuels 24x7.

We're not standing up MORE wind power, we're doing something with the wind power we're having trouble finding a use for...

Battery powered vehicles can NOT replace fuel cars for 30-50 year until we build YET MORE power sources, and figure out how to handle the MASSIVE swings in usage that would come with 100million cars sucking from the grid at odd hours... and it can't be done until we can shift power coast to coast instead of locally. This will require the 30 Trillion Dollar grid expansion and overhaul that already started in Maine and Long Island NY, and really will take 30 years to complete, if not longer. A fraction of percent of cars, on tricle charges at night, we can handle, but if even 5% of us started driving electric cars, we'd brown out whole cities, especially in california which can barely keep up with current damands!

Solar power in residential areas is simply non effective. Without huge government subidies, (like we lack in SC), payoff costs for solar greatly exceed 20+ years, and that does NOT include maintenance, degredation of cells, additional insurance costs (we have a LOT of hail here), and the fact that SC power companies (and many others) do not buy your overproduced solar power (the new digital home meters don't run backwards here, you're giving them the excess power for free, but buying it back later at market rates to boot) means breaking even is even harder. I looked at home solar 3 years ago when i built a house near the coast, and again last year building one in central SC, even getting to just 50% power from solar would have taken 25-30 years to recoup, assuming I never paid out a hail damage deductible... A single hail storm and it would have become impossible to recoup.

In 10-15 years when solar is MUCH cheaper, and when it's MUCH more efficient, and when it competes with other systems in terms of $/KW generated, then central solar collectors could easily replace or augment wind. Also any other green power source could easily be used, but power system like wave generators, waterfalls, etc, are CORE power systems, and the economy of making H2 with them simply is not as good as it is with wind (today). However, solar has an even BIGGER off-peak issue... to deploy full solar use in place of wind, we'd need 4 times the energy storage capacity even of wind, and you'd have whole power plants turning off in the moring and on in the evening, and that's EXPENSIVE!

We really don't care WHAT the end efficiency rating of the vehicle is. 20% in the tank? no big deal if 100% of that energy came mostly for free, as a side effect of another industry...

Also, a recent study confirmed there IS enough land in the USA not only to power all our energy needs, but actually that of all of North America, and that was only using class 6 and higher wind zones, reasonable off-shore locations, and locations considered suitible for construction (aka, not on the rock faces of mountains).
http://articles.latimes.com/2009/apr/03/nation/na-energy3 [latimes.com]

Re:New Idea? (1)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#29043497)

That's completely incorrect.

Battery powered vehicles can NOT replace fuel cars for 30-50 year until we build YET MORE power sources, and figure out how to handle the MASSIVE swings in usage that would come with 100million cars sucking from the grid at odd hours...

BEVs take *one third as much power* to operate as H2 FCVs and *one fifth as much* as H2 ICEs. They *stabilize the grid*, because they're steady sources that mainly charge during... wait for it... off peak hours.

Storing energy as hydrogen is both expensive and inefficient. Hydrogen is a nasty chemical to store, as it has awful density, requires storage under pressure, embrittles metals, leaks through almost anything, catches fire with extremely low ignition energy in almost any fuel-air mix, etc. Oh, and it destroys ozone, too. EV batteries come on to the grid at no charge to the grid operators. Hydrogen production and storage facilities are a huge charge.

but if even 5% of us started driving electric cars, we'd brown out whole cities,

According to the DOE, 84% of our cars and vans could switch over to electricity on our *current grid* without an iota of new infrastructure. We generate less than half as much power as we actually consume in this country, namely because off-peak power consumption is so low. And EVs primarily charge as off-peak. And even when they charge during the day, they're steady, stable loads (unlike air conditioners, which go on and off). Unstable loads like ACs cause brownouts because it takes time for generation levels to ramp up and down when the grid is already producing at high levels.

Re:New Idea? (0, Troll)

Sandbags (964742) | about 5 years ago | (#29044211)

1/3rd as much power huh? in terms of joules or BTUs, yes, but where one power source is coming from the ground, the other is coming from power plants, and we don't have those power plants!

Also, the local grids (last mile) can't handle that extra load...

Also off-peak is NOT considered "night time" but varies by region and time of year. in the summer, off-peak is typically midnight to 5AM. but BEVs take 8-10 hours to charge, oops.
In the winter, off-peak is 9AM to 4PM! the car's not home, oops...

Also, once we move to fast charge, it will NOT be stady, stable off-peak loads. People will be charging anytime they get to 20% remaining, wherever they are.

Also, if you read the link's data, they are NOT storing H2, they're making it as part of a catalytic process. It's only kept in short term, low pressure tanks for 12-36 hours. These types of tanks are CHEAP, efficient, and have extremely little leakage (unlike tanks needed beneath gas stations or worse in cars, on which I completely agree). I will NEVER support driving H2 vehicles, EVER. I also can't support driving EVs in mass

EV batteries contain toxins, rare chemicals, and though the most recent technologies are highly recyclable, its a messy expensive process, not to mentoin LiIon pack failure and fires...

I also read the DOE result when it came out recently, and there are a few things you should note: 1) the study completely ignored local grid distribution, and was a statement of average available energy across the USA (total poewr production, including total off-peak capacity, compared to the energy required to power cars based on estimates of energy needs for drivers charging once per day). Well, we don;lt have that power in that way. if we did, California would not brown out... 2) the study did not take into account geographic density of automobiles, or transmission density of existing high power lines. Sure, we've got enough power off-peak in SC to charge 2 million cars at night, too bad we only have 1.4 million of them here... 3) we don'lt have the infrastructure and logistics in place to FUEL the plants that COULD produce that power, keeping in mind what percent of our current production is from FOSSIL FUEL ITSELF??? If we had to run the plants 24x7 at 100%, energy cots will rise, and we'll be out of coal in 20-30 years instead of 50. Oh wait, according to this we may only have 20 years of coal TODAY! http://www.grist.org/article/Are-we-approaching-peak-coal-Part-1/ [grist.org]

Really, seriously, LOOK AT doty's data... read the reports. I'll concede (and so do they) that EV is the future, in 40-50 years, but we NEED a stop gap, and WindFuels can be just that, and get us off oil dependence without us having to trade out all out cars in 10 years when oil is $8 a gallon or more (that's a CONSERVATIVE prediction btw). Check out their site, read the real data, www.dotyenergy.com.

Re:New Idea? (3, Informative)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#29044747)

1/3rd as much power huh? in terms of joules or BTUs, yes, but where one power source is coming from the ground, the other is coming from power plants, and we don't have those power plants!

1) Hydrogen isn't "coming from the ground".
2) We *do* have those power plants, according to the DOE.

Also, the local grids (last mile) can't handle that extra load...

3) Since when? Even a full recharge to a Volt every night -- 8kWh plus a little more for conversion losses (say, 9kWh total) -- can be done on a single normal 110V socket in 6 hours. How exactly is that going to tax the local grids?

Also off-peak is NOT considered "night time" but varies by region and time of year. in the summer, off-peak is typically midnight to 5AM. but BEVs take 8-10 hours to charge, oops.

"Oops yourself". First off, "Off peak" generally starts at around 11:00 and ends at around 6:00. 12 to 5 is just somewhat deeper of an off-peak than 11 to 6, but you're definitely not going to overload the grid. Secondly, 8-10 hours on even a 110V/15A socket (and a 110V/15A will *not* overload the grid) is 48 to 60 miles range per day. Only a small fraction of the US population drives that much. If you want to talk, say, dryer socket-level charging, even 100 miles of range is just over four hours.

Also, once we move to fast charge, it will NOT be stady, stable off-peak loads.

That's not how fast charge works. Commercial fast chargers tend to have battery banks that they draw from. The banks are trickle charged (and ideally, smart-charged).

Also, if you read the link's data, they are NOT storing H2, they're making it as part of a catalytic process.

A) What link are you talking about?
B) Hydrogen cannot be made "in a catalytic process". It's an energy sink, not a source.

It's only kept in short term, low pressure tanks for 12-36 hours.

Doesn't matter. It's still hugely expensive. So is large-scale hydrogen production and compression equipment.

These types of tanks are CHEAP

They absolutely are not. Hydrogen tanks are typically composite (since they embrittle metals). Often carbon fiber with a polymer lining. Show me a large, cheap carbon fiber tank and I'll show you a living unicorn.

efficient

Nonsense. Electrolysis is 50-80% efficient (with the more efficient systems being more expensive due to lower throughput), and you generally lose 10-20% of the remaining energy in compression. Then you have the fuel cells at 40-60% efficiency (you can get slightly higher in the lab, but that's only under controlled conditions, with pre-compressed oxygen rather than uncompressed air). Or you have an H2 ICE generator, at ~40% efficiency.

and have extremely little leakage

Hydrogen leaks through steel at about 100 times the rate propane does (which is positively a leaker compared to gasoline). It is the easiest chemical on the world to leak, bar none.

EV batteries contain toxins, rare chemicals, and though the most recent technologies are highly recyclable, its a messy expensive process, not to mentoin LiIon pack failure and fires...

Wrong on every front. One, the types of batteries mainly being used for EVs today are lithium iron phosphate and manganese spinels. Neither of these are toxic. You can legally just throw them straight in the trash. Two, they contain no "rare chemicals" (fuel cells do, however! They use platinum). Three, the recycling process is neither "messy" nor "expensive"; most packs are having their recycling costs included in the purchase price. Four, LiP and LiMnO2 cells have almost no fire risk, unlike the LiCoO2 cells that most people are familiar with from laptops and cell phones (only Tesla is using those).

I also read the DOE result when it came out recently, and there are a few things you should note: 1) the study completely ignored local grid distribution, and was a statement of average available energy across the USA (total poewr production, including total off-peak capacity, compared to the energy required to power cars based on estimates of energy needs for drivers charging once per day).

Then you didn't read the report, because it wasn't an "average available energy across the USA". It was broken down into regions, wherein each region was small enough that power could be effectively transmitted across it.

2) the study did not take into account geographic density of automobiles, or transmission density of existing high power lines.

Again, you didn't read the study, because they did consider how many and what kinds of vehicles were in each region.

3) we don'lt have the infrastructure and logistics in place to FUEL the plants that COULD produce that power

Tell that to the people handling our natural gas glut, our nuclear fuel stockpile, and all of the laid-off Appalachian coal miners.

If we had to run the plants 24x7 at 100%, energy cots will rise

About 1/3rd of the cost of a coal plant, over half the cost of a natural gas plant, and almost all of the cost of a wind turbine, nuclear plant, or hydro plant, are capital costs. Not marginal. Meaning utilities can sell more power from the same amount of equipment - getting more with no new capital costs. Meaning it *lowers* power prices.

and we'll be out of coal in 20-30 years instead of 50. Oh wait, according to this we may only have 20 years of coal TODAY! http://www.grist.org/article/Are-we-approaching-peak-coal-Part-1/ [grist.org]

If you believe that, I have swampland in Nepal to sell you.

Re:New Idea? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29053439)

So to summarize: pwnd!

Re:New Idea? (1)

Sandbags (964742) | about 5 years ago | (#29068671)

You really are nothing close to an electrical engineer....

1) no, OIL comes from the ground... the 1/3rd number refered to oil being 1/3 less effecient than EV.
2) We have the TOTAL capacity, IF we run 100% of our plants at 100% peak output and IF we can stagger the load across those 24 hours... That's not possible.

3) 9KWh per charge? OK, sure... The volt's battery pack holds 16KWH. when 8 remains, the generator kicks in... (that happens after about 25 miles under most test conditions) Estimated recharge nightly on a 40 mile drive is 12-15KWh. Roll that out to 2 cars per family and you're adding 900KWh per month per household, which is actually higher than the current household monthly usage for the average home today!
This is just the Volt, which has a measly 16KWh battery. The Tesla has a 53KWh battery, the upcoming Chrysler plug-in EV hybrids are expected to have 25-35KWh batteries to acheive the same 40 mile ranges.

a) They make H2, then use it in the catalytic process.... RWGS/RFTS is you have STILL not follwed the link
b) tank costs are NOT expensive, they're generic steel drums, built on-site, with insulating coatings to limit leakage, and for the 25 tonnes of H@ per day storage units, will be under $100,000 total cost (one time).
C) it;s NOT compressed to more than a couple of atmospheres, mostly by byproducts of the electrolysis itself. this equipment is CHEAP.
d) It's not a carbon fiber 25,000PSI container, like you put in a car, those are VERY expensive, this a massive, thin structure designed to hold low pressure H2, and is built from simply materials. You STILL have not cghecked the site obviously... Low pressure (under 200PSI) tanks for H2 are extremely similar to welding tanks, but are even thinner in design. They'll be storing the H2 at 1 MPa, which is actually at a LOWEr pressure than it comes out of the electrolizer.
E) Current production electrolizer for Doty is running at 72% efficiency TODAY. This will be increased to near 80% when offset heat is recycled back into later stages in the process. total RWGS/RFTS process is expected to have 50% total efficiency. Yes, this fuel will only be burned at 20% efficiency, resulting in a 10% efficiency cycle, but it's completely carbon nuetral, and will ballpark between $2.75 and $3.25 a gallon at the pump.

Here, have a start with this. This is their "non-scientific" presentation covering the process. This is essentially their "dumbed down" presentation used to explain the basics and economics of the process.
http://dotyenergy.com/PDFs/WindFuels_Sci_Engr_ppt.pdf [dotyenergy.com]

Per the Argonne National Laboratory, with current reserves, and the speed at which we're expanding Litium mining, combined with 100% successful recycling, we won;t be able to meet LiIon vhchile demand for the USA until near 2035, and we can't meed world demand until 2050. This is based on an average 17 year lifespan for vehicles, and 10 year abttery life, based on 20MWh battery packs, combined with consumer device and other battery needs existing today and predicted (to shrink) going forward.

LiIon batteries that are 100% non-toxic are beginning to become available, but at the moment, GM and Thoyotas batteries being manufactured for their vehicles still do contain toxic metals, including some murcury, and are banned from disposal. Though they can be nearly 100% recycled, the process is currenty extremely expensive, and the recycling growth is far behind manufacturing, and would require billions in investment to catch up in even 10 years.

LiPo and LiTi cells improve recycling, and have little fire danger, but they're not expected to appear in vehicles for 5-10 years due to manufacturing costs and reduced battery charge life issues they're still struggling with. (we're getting there_.

As I said, we'll all be driving EV one day, but we need a stop gap, and Doty has a VIABLE one that also happens to solve out off-peak energy needs, and it can be used in ALL our cars today, not to mention jet fuels, deisels, and other systems for which electric is not an acceptible option.

Re:New Idea? (1)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#29070459)

1) no, OIL comes from the ground...

Oil is not hydrogen. Oil can be used to produce hydrogen, but if you're going to do that, why bother?

We have the TOTAL capacity, IF we run 100% of our plants at 100% peak output and IF we can stagger the load across those 24 hours... That's not possible.

Straw man. Of the major sources on our grid, only wind, hydro, and solar can't be run close to 100%, and they make up a small percent of the total. The rest can all be run at near 100%. With our current grid, we can generate about double what we already do.

when 8 remains, the generator kicks in... (that happens after about 25 miles under most test conditions)

40 miles, according to GM, but by all means, continue to make up whatever you want.

Estimated recharge nightly on a 40 mile drive is 12-15KWh

No, the pack will *never* discharge down that far. The generator cuts in at 30%. The pack doesn't charge over 80% when plugged in at night.

Roll that out to 2 cars per family and you're adding 900KWh per month per household, which is actually higher than the current household monthly usage for the average home today!

1) There are more people in the US than cars.
2) Residential power usage is only a fraction of the total power usage.
3) That's not how you calculate the additional load at all. Americans were estimated to drive 4 trillion miles [google.com] in 2007, and there were 300 million people then. That's a per-capita mileage of 13,333. At 250Wh/mi wall to wheel, that's 3.3m Wh per year, or 3.3k kWh/year. The average American household consumes over 10k kWh/year. That's a 1/3 increase on average. More at some houses, less at others.

This is just the Volt, which has a measly 16KWh battery. The Tesla has a 53KWh battery

The size of the battery pack is 100% irrelevant in terms of total power consumption. What matters is how many Wh/mi it uses and how many miles you drive all day. It could have a billion kWh battery pack, but if you only drove 40 miles a day at 250Wh/mi wall to wheel, it'd be exactly the same power consumption.

the upcoming Chrysler plug-in EV hybrids are expected to have 25-35KWh batteries to acheive the same 40 mile ranges.

Utter made-up nonsense. Chrysler has not announced the range on any of its PHEVs. It hasn't even announced which ones it's going to ultimately produce; it's only listed candidates. The only car it's announced for production is the Circuit, which is a 150+ mile range BEV with a 35kWh pack.

a) They make H2, then use it in the catalytic process.... RWGS/RFTS is you have STILL not follwed the link

1) Once again, *what link?*
2) RWGS is not catalytic. It consumes CO and H2O and needs heat input to make H2. There is *a* catalyst needed for the reaction to occur, but the reaction itself still needs energetic inputs (in this case, CO and heat).
3) RFTS is not catalytic. It consumes CO and H2 to make hydrocarbons. There is *a* catalyst needed for the reaction to occur, but the reaction itself still needs energetic inputs (in this case, CO and H2).

If you want to call those catalytic, you might as well call making a cake a catalytic process since the mixing bowl isn't consumed in the process of making the cake. Free cake for everyone, right?

b) tank costs are NOT expensive, they're generic steel drums

Hydrogen cannot be stored in "generic steel drums". One, hydrogen must be kept either highly pressurized, extremely cold, or in a storage material (such as a metal-hydride). Otherwise, the density is laughably bad (90 grams per cubic meter) and just plain silly to contemplate storing in bulk. You don't store pressurized gasses in "generic steel drums" even if said gasses *aren't* corrosive. You either store it in spherical tanks or cylindrical tanks with hemispheric caps. For a cylindrical tank with hemispheric caps (the closest you can get to your claim), the wall thickness Tw is defined as Tw = P * r * SafetyFactor / 2 * sigma-y where P is pressure (in pascals), r is the radius of the tank, and sigma-y is the maximum allowable stress. The maximum allowable stress for steel is the killer here; it leads to massively heavy tanks, about 100 times heavier than the hydrogen that they contain, that cost about $1,500 per kilogram of stored hydrogen. Compare that to a gas tank.

built on-site, with insulating coatings to limit leakage

Even coated steel has a relatively short lifespan when exposed to high pressure gasseous H2. Composite tanks have to be coated too, not because they get embrittled, but because the hydrogen leaks through them like a sieve without it.

and for the 25 tonnes of H@ per day storage units, will be under $100,000 total cost (one time).

Four dollars per kilogram? You *literally* made me laugh out loud. That's 1/375th the industry standard.

C) it;s NOT compressed to more than a couple of atmospheres, mostly by byproducts of the electrolysis itself. this equipment is CHEAP.

Hydrogen at "a couple atmospheres" -- let's say two -- is about 160g/m^3. This corresponds to a sphere about 250 feet in diameter. Yeah, you'll get a hydrogen-impermiable 250 foot steel sphere for $100k, suuuuuuuuuure....

And are you actually suggesting that electrolyzers are cheap? Are you smoking something?

They'll be storing the H2 at 1 MPa

1 MPA is not "a couple atmospheres"; it's 10atm. So now your hydrogen-proofed steel sphere is down to 145 feet in diameter. That's this tall [jdlasica.com] , in case you're curious. To store 1 megawatt hour of chemical energy, of which only about 500-600kWh is recoverable. IIF you use a fuel cell, not a (much cheaper) combustion generator. Yeah, great plan there.

Current production electrolizer for Doty is running at 72% efficiency TODAY.

Actually, some of the alkaline steam electrolyzers are more efficient than that. The problem with the more efficient systems is that they're far more expensive to build than the lower efficiency systems. Hence the reason why the Hogen 40 and 380 is popular despite only 56% efficiency in the latter and less in the former.

Yes, this fuel will only be burned at 20% efficiency, resulting in a 10% efficiency cycle

10% efficiency? God, why not just propose powering the world with hamsters on treadmills?

Here, have a start with this.

Oh, hey, if "Doty Energy" says so, it must be true! Never mind the actual going rates for the equipment...

Per the Argonne National Laboratory, with current reserves, and the speed at which we're expanding Litium mining, combined with 100% successful recycling, we won;t be able to meet LiIon vhchile demand for the USA until near 2035 , and we can't meed world demand until 2050.

Yeah, cute "proof by ghost reference". Argonne says supply should not be an issue [anl.gov] . And it's just plain stupid to think that we can't raise the rate of production of *anything* on the planet to a target level when such vast reserves exist for forty years.

LiIon batteries that are 100% non-toxic are beginning to become available, but at the moment, GM and Thoyotas batteries being manufactured for their vehicles still do contain toxic metals

GM and "Thoyotas" use *nickel metal hydride* batteries, not li-ion in their current hybrids (and lead-acid in their conventional offerings).

including some murcury, and are banned from disposal

"murcury" is not a relevant component of either lead-acid or NiMH. Both NiMH and lead-acid need to be recycled, but because of nickel and lead, respectively, not mercury.

Though they can be nearly 100% recycled, the process is currenty extremely expensive

Both processes are profitable. And lead-acid batteries are the most widely recycled product on Earth, bar none.

LiPo and LiTi cells improve recycling

LiPo means "Lithium Polymer", while you almost certainly meant LFP or LiP, for the phosphate chemistries (in particular, lithium iron phosphate). LiTi is not a standard name for the titanate chemimstries. The titanates do not improve recycling over conventional LiCoO2/graphite cells, as the changes are to the already harmless graphite electrode, not the cathode (cobalt is the problem in traditional li-ion).

and have little fire danger, but they're not expected to appear in vehicles for 5-10 years due to manufacturing costs and reduced battery charge life issues they're still struggling with.

For God's sake, *please* stop making stuff up; you're making yourself look like an idiot. One, virtually every professional EV being made today, with the exception of the Roadster, is using either manganese spinel or phosphate olivine (the two cheap long-life, fire-resistant, nontoxic cell types). Want me to start running down the list? BYD: Phosphate. GM: Manganese. Mitsubishi: Manganese. Aptera: Phosphate. Subaru: Manganese. I can go on as long as you want. These cells aren't new; they've been in power tools and RC aircraft for years now. They do *not* have "charge life" issues; quite to the contrary, they have far, far greater longevities than traditional LiCoO2/graphite cells -- thousands of charge cycles and decades of shelf life.

In short, *Quit Making Sh*t Up*.

Re:New Idea? (1)

confused one (671304) | about 5 years ago | (#29043143)

Wasting wind power to create hydrogen through electrolysis(only 60% efficient)

Actually, despite the lack of efficiency, that might be a good way to store any excess energy produced by the wind turbine. When the demand picks up then you can reconvert it to electricity using fuel cells.

Re:New Idea? (1)

Rei (128717) | about 5 years ago | (#29043915)

If only facilities to create and store hydrogen were free to build and maintain, rather than being hugely expensive as they are in real life. And way less efficient than just storing it in EV batteries at night (which the grid operators get at no extra charge to themselves).

Re:New Idea? (1)

confused one (671304) | about 5 years ago | (#29044477)

That only works if the EV batteries 1.) exist in large numbers and 2.) are allowed to be used that way. There's lots of talk about using consumer's EV batteries for energy storage on the grid; but, personally I'm not real wild about the electric utility running the expensive battery in my car through extra charge and discharge cycles.

There's no (zero) doubt that utilizing large scale wind power requires an energy storage system to balance out demand vs available wind. Current suggested plans use such methods as pumped water and pressurized air. These might be more efficient than hydrogen, if you have advantageous geology providing the natural resource for storage (a hill-top lake, a valley you can dam, a cave or cavern, etc). Without that, you have no choice but to build a hugely expensive storage system...

Re:New Idea? (2, Informative)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 5 years ago | (#29041053)

Here is a link to one of the few intelligent articles I found written on the subject. link [cornell.edu]

Waste of money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29040959)

Ummm, hasn't this been tried many of times?? Why is this news?? It's not, it is some scientists trying to get more hype to be able to justify the 1 million pounds they are requesting. Unless they have an insight that all the other scientists in this world don't, then this is just a waste of money.

It takes millions of years to make oil (1)

hoggoth (414195) | about 5 years ago | (#29041533)

It isn't always a good idea to copy nature exactly.

Think about the 'natural' process for creating oil: Take millions of plants using photosynthesis to create carbon based material. Run for millions of years, accumulating the product. Then put a mountain on top of it, shove it deep under the Earth. Apply tremendous heat and pressure for millions of years more. Remove mountain top and extract.

So even if we are able to copy photosynthesis, what does it get us? We use energy several hundred million times faster than nature collects it.

Re:It takes millions of years to make oil (1)

Sandbags (964742) | about 5 years ago | (#29041855)

granted, if we can understand the process with which wavelengths of light are used to convert matter using catylists, we can design a more efficient process based on it, likely using substrates and not actual biological processes.

That said, we get H2, which other than being burned directly on site has little value to the rest of ut. We can NOt afford to use it in our cars, ever. It costs too much to build an infrastructure, we have to reengineer all the cars, and it's WAY too dangerous. instead, we could use the H2 to MAKE gasoline (RWGS/RFTS processing, it;s been used since WWII).

Dotyenergy.com is a pioneer in the field of turning H2 and CO2 into usable fuels, They;ve got over 60 world patents that have improved the process enough to make ti highly competitive with oil. ($60-80 per barrel equivalent, ie, we can MAKE gas for less than $3 a gallon pump price without using any oil, and by sequestering re-using waste CO2 in the process). Check it out...

Re:It takes millions of years to make oil (1)

defireman (1365467) | about 5 years ago | (#29047411)

Pardon me... but you're describing the process for making coal.

Oil is made by millions of tiny microorganisms. It would be hard to shovel fossilized lumps of wood into the car now would it?

Re:It takes millions of years to make oil (1)

hoggoth (414195) | about 5 years ago | (#29052729)

> Oil is made by millions of tiny microorganisms.

Citation needed.

You are alone in this view. The accepted source of the creation of oil is organic matter under high heat and pressure. The unaccepted contrary view is it is an abiotic process. Nobody except you claims it is made by microorganisms.

From Wikipedia:
crude oil and natural gas are products of heating of ancient organic materials (i.e. kerogen) over geological time. Formation of petroleum occurs from hydrocarbon pyrolysis, in a variety of mostly endothermic reactions at high temperature and/or pressure.[14] Today's oil formed from the preserved remains of prehistoric zooplankton and algae, which had settled to a sea or lake bottom in large quantities under anoxic conditions (the remains of prehistoric terrestrial plants, on the other hand, tended to form coal). Over geological time the organic matter mixed with mud, and was buried under heavy layers of sediment resulting in high levels of heat and pressure (known as diagenesis). This process caused the organic matter to change, first into a waxy material known as kerogen, which is found in various oil shales around the world, and then with more heat into liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons via a process known as catagenesis.

Hydrogen? (1)

caseih (160668) | about 5 years ago | (#29043435)

Seems a bit daft to create methane and other organic molecules using sunlight, and then burn the methane to make hydrogen for use a fuel cells! If methane is produced, then why not burn it directly for maximum efficiency. Or convert methane into a heavier, gasoline-like molecule to burn in a conventional engines.

Re:Hydrogen? (1)

confused one (671304) | about 5 years ago | (#29043651)

it's a game you play with the efficiency numbers. IF, it turns out that the fuel cell is sufficiently more efficient than the engine + generator, then you burn the methane to make hydrogen for the fuel cell. Of course to do this you have to have a reliable efficient fuel cell.

"Your Green Life" segment on a similar device? (1)

mattack2 (1165421) | about 5 years ago | (#29044725)

I can't find a reference to it, but I saw a segment on a TV show (I think "Your Green Life", which according to the local station, is nationally syndicated) about a company that was already working on a device that mimicked photosynthesis. I seem to remember the device looks sort of like venetian blinds.

Does anybody else remember seeing that segment or have more info about that company?

Math check: They're going to need a lot of space (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#29050887)

Mimicking photosynthesis for hydrogen and methanol fuel generation is obviously a fascinating notion, but I question how feasible it might be on a production scale, considering the surface area needed, as given by the article: 0.16%. My first thought was: "Is that all?"

If my math is correct, 0.16% of 510,072,000km2 (the surface area of Earth [wikipedia.org] ) is 816,115.2km2. That's larger than the state of Texas. So, this proposal may well be something which is humanly achievable. But I wonder how realistic it is. And whether or not there are precedents for "papering" the Earth on such a scale. And why highly speculative, alternative energy science is so often "pressured" by the mainstream press to be capable of entirely replacing all current forms of energy, in order to be relevant for publication.

Since civilization currently uses various power generation methods to meet its needs, maybe looking for a single, new method to replace 20 terawatts (I'm assuming TFA meant terawatt-hours per year) is setting the bar a little high.

How much space was that again? (1)

jarocho (1617799) | about 5 years ago | (#29058351)

This is obviously a fascinating concept, but I wonder how realistic its chances of succeeding are. As well as what "success" would actually mean. If my math is correct, 0.16% of Earth's [wikipedia.org] surface area (510,072,000 sq. km) is 816,115.2 sq. km. That's larger than the state of Texas, and sounds like a lot of artificial leaves. As for defining success, today, civilization relies on various methods of generating the power it needs. Yet the mainstream press continue to often "pressure" highly speculative energy science projects to replace all 20 terawatts (did the author of TFA actually mean terawatt hours per year, or..?) the world is going to need in the next 20 years, in order to be relevant for publication. Seems to be setting the bar a little high, wouldn't you agree?
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