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Solar-Powered Electrochemical Cell Used To Produce Formic Acid From CO2

samzenpus posted about 5 months ago | from the give-me-your-carbon dept.

Earth 133

Zothecula writes Rising atmospheric CO2 levels can generally be tackled in three ways: developing alternative energy sources with lower emissions; carbon capture and storage (CCS); and capturing carbon and repurposing it. Researchers at Princeton University are claiming to have developed a technique that ticks two of these three boxes by using solar power to convert CO2 into formic acid. With power from a commercially available solar panel provided by utility company Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G), researchers in the laboratory of Princeton professor of chemistry Andrew Bocarsly, working with researchers at New Jersey-based start-up Liquid Light Inc., converted CO2 and water to formic acid (HCOOH) in an electrochemical cell.

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Efficiency (2, Informative)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47374379)

Claimed efficiency is only 2%, using PV panels. It would make more sense to just use the PV panels to replace coal fired plants for generating electricity.

Re:Efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47374401)

Unless, of course, you also wanted to remove CO2 from the atmosphere?

Re:Efficiency (2)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47374445)

There's no point at removing a small amount of CO2 if you continue to add 10 times the amount somewhere else.

Solar efficiency (3, Informative)

Firethorn (177587) | about 5 months ago | (#47374459)

Indeed. For the foreseeable future you'll reduce CO2 more by using the panels to displace coal power and even Natural Gas. Only after you've shut ALL of them down and still need to reduce CO2 does this make sense.

Even in ~20 years we'd be better off doing something like use all the retiring EV batteries* to help stabilize the grid and shift solar power to the 7-9 pm peak.

*10 years for EVs to actually reach significant market penetration, 10 years more before people start replacing the batteries in them.

Re:Solar efficiency (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 5 months ago | (#47375875)

So basically you're saying that now is the perfect time to be doing this research so that it can possibly reach useful levels by the time fossil fuels have been largely phased out within some jurisdictions? After all even if we shut down all fossil fuel plants today, we'll still have a century or so of elevated CO2 levels and continuing warming if we only rely on natural processes.

On the other hand, this fellow seems to be on to a way to capture atmospheric CO2 much faster and more profitably with nothing more than stone age technology informed by a bit of modern science. Reverse tens of thousands of years of human-initiated desertification simply by restoring something resembling pre-human densities and behaviors of grazing animals. https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

There's even some evidence that you don't even need direct human intervention to start seeing the benefits, you can just reintroduce top predators such as was done with wolves in Yellowstone, and let them encourage similar grazing behavior as occurred in eons past. https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

Re:Solar efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47376457)

Reverse tens of thousands of years of human-initiated desertification simply by restoring something resembling pre-human densities and behaviors of grazing animals.

Which pre-human densities? There has never been any kind of constant, standard or benchmark levels of CO2 in the past. Are you talking about an average? If so, over what time period, because it always has and always will be changing.

Re:Solar efficiency (1, Interesting)

Immerman (2627577) | about 5 months ago | (#47376841)

Actually there are - it fluctuates of course, but there is a normal range of fluctuation - ice cores going back over the last million years show fluctuations between about 175 and 275ppm, with the highest peaks occasionally, and very briefly, just breaking 300ppm. At ~400ppm we're currently almost as far beyond the highest historical peaks as the peaks are above the troughs.

But that's neither here nor there - reread that sentence, I was discussing the density of *grazing animals*, not CO2. Since the ecosystem changes occurred at a nearly geological pace as our ancestors gradually spread across the globe it didn't cause significant changes in atmospheric CO2 levels - but intelligently reversing desertification could potentially increase biomass dramatically in a matter of decades, stripping an enormous amount of CO2 from the atmosphere in the process, in addition to producing enormous numbers of well-exercised meat animals and converting vast near-desert regions into thriving grasslands. And as long as we stay away from the serious methane producers like cows that should be a dramatic win for slowing global warming, possibly even reversing it for a while. Of course we'd still need to cut way back on fossil fuel use, but we could potentially buy ourselves several decades, possibly as much as a century, of extra time to do so, which should be enough for new energy technologies and market forces to start implementing a long-term solution in a far less painful fashion.

Re:Efficiency (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 5 months ago | (#47374507)

There's no point at removing a small amount of CO2 if you continue to add 10 times the amount somewhere else.

The point is, we may very well reduce our CO2 emissions at some point... then what?

Maybe this tech works out and we force fossil fuel producers to make enough of these gadgets to offset what they're putting out?

Re:Efficiency (2)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47374523)

Of course, after you've replaced all or most CO2 sources, then you can work on sequestering the CO2 that's already been produced. But that wouldn't involve formic acid, because that's not a very convenient storage material.

Re:Efficiency (1)

TapeCutter (624760) | about 5 months ago | (#47374589)

If we need to do an Apollo 13 and scrub build a CO2 scrubber from parts we have on board Earth, then I think this is a better idea [theaustralian.com.au] .

Re:Efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47374609)

Non paywalled version.
http://news.discovery.com/earth/global-warming/carbon-capture-antarctica-south-pole-120831.htm

Re:Efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47377399)

Send it to Mars.

The point (1)

sjbe (173966) | about 5 months ago | (#47374877)

There's no point at removing a small amount of CO2 if you continue to add 10 times the amount somewhere else.

Sure there is. It keeps you from adding 11 times the CO2. Granted you could accomplish more by getting rid of whatever is adding the CO2 but that doesn't make this a futile endeavor. Furthermore if we eventually are going to need CO2 scrubbing technology to survive then we may as well get busy developing it now. This strikes me as the sort of technology we don't want to start thinking about after climate change gets out of hand.

Re:The point (1)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47374903)

I'm talking about a coal plant generating 10 units of CO2 for a given amount of electricity, and then adding PV panels that generate the same amount of electricity to scrub 1 unit of CO2. You're still left with 9 units of CO2. On the other hand, if you shut down the coal plant, and use the PV panels to generate the same amount of electricity, you've saved all 10 units.

Re:The point (1)

BosstonesOwn (794949) | about 5 months ago | (#47375063)

And then what happens after the sun goes down and we don't have enough storage capacity to run the peak times ? We just fire up more solar... oh wait no sunlight. A well balanced approach is much better, replace some with solar and wind, and also try and scrub out what we can when we can.

Re:The point (1)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47375395)

A large part of the peak power consumption coincides with the daylight times, so there's plenty of low hanging fruit. Beyond that, you'll need storage, but it doesn't make sense to pick a storage option that uses CO2 if you plan to release it again during the night time. In that case, any other storage option would also work, and probably with better than 2% efficiency.

Coal isn't going away unfortunately (1)

sjbe (173966) | about 5 months ago | (#47375087)

On the other hand, if you shut down the coal plant, and use the PV panels to generate the same amount of electricity, you've saved all 10 units.

Except we aren't going to shut down the coal plants any time soon and we do not presently have the ability to use PV panels to replace it. There is NO energy scenario for the next 40 years which does not involve substantial amounts of burning fossil fuels, including coal. Even if we reduce the amount of coal used and thus reduce CO2 emissions, why would we not reduce them further (even if only a little) by other means if those means are economically viable? Your point is valid theoretically but it's a bit of a strawman.

Re:Coal isn't going away unfortunately (1)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47375337)

If you don't have the PV panels to reduce coal, you also don't have them to generate the formic acid.

Re:The point is lacking (0)

noshellswill (598066) | about 5 months ago | (#47375171)

Problem is you CANNOT  produce enough PV panels to replace the fossil-fuel generated electricity, unless you are (otherwise) willing to live like a Kalahari-Desert bushman.  Civilization costs Gaia an *zzwhole fyucking.  Deal with it. No free lunch GREEN-WARMEST-BYTCHBOI.

Re:The point is lacking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47375959)

Sure you can. Not only is it possible, it wouldn't take that much land. http://cleantechnica.com/2011/12/14/solar-energy-from-the-sahara-desert-could-power-the-world-but-will-it/

Re:The point is lacking (4, Insightful)

Immerman (2627577) | about 5 months ago | (#47376075)

Sure we can - our current usage is rife with waste. We could easily cut US energy consumption by 50+% simply by wasting less energy, we'd only need to drop per-capita energy usage to levels comparable to such backwards wastelands as the UK and France - and even they've really only taken advantage of the low-hanging fruit so far.

Meanwhile even at current energy consumption levels US per-capita energy consumption is 308 million BTU per year, or 247 kWh per day. At 5kWh per square meter of solar panel per day (a conservative number achievable almost anywhere with low-to-mid-range solar panels) that's only 49.5 meters of panels per person, or 532 square feet. A little high, but not unachievable.

Meanwhile we've recently made some great breakthroughs in solar panel technology, for example discovering that panels made with relatively common and non-toxic magnesium salts can perform on par with our current best-of-breed panels based on gallium arsenide and other extremely rare and toxic elements. Let that hit mainstream and we can cut those panels to 266 sq.ft. Add in European-class efficiency and we'd only need 133 sq.ft. of solar panels per person. Eminently achievable - all we need is decent batteries for daily power buffering and we're set. And advances in virtually "immortal" ultra-high-power liquid metal batteries look quite promising, not to mention businesses like Aquion that are already scaling up production for grid-focused saltwater batteries. And if you happen to live in mountainous areas pumped water gravitational batteries are a moderately mature and inexpensive technology already, if not quite so efficient.

1% at 1% (1)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | about 5 months ago | (#47376971)

Well from what I have read [nasa.gov] we could meet out existing energy needs by covering 1% of earth's surface with 1% efficient solar panels since the earth receives about 10,000 times the energy from the sun that humans consume daily. Now granted we probably couldn't extract all that energy, and we would need to have some surplus built in for times like cloudy days so something like 10x our current daily consumption should be plenty which is still doable since 5% efficient panels are the really cheap crap and that only would require covering 2% of earth's surface. Now jump up to 10% efficient panels and we are back at 1% coverage and these are common and the numbers only get better with something like the higher end but still fairly common 14% panels. Granted local storage would be needed to provide smoothing and having a large national grid with larger regional storage would also probably be needed (if you have huge local storage this becomes less important) but with more intermittent renewable entering the energy market things like this will be needed anyway.

This also doesn't even get into cutting down on wasted energy which we have a lot of in the US. I don't want to sacrifice my standard of living one bit and I wouldn't want anyone else to either but to say going green would require living a lifestyle comparable to that of a nomadic loner is just being stupid.

Re:The point (3, Interesting)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | about 5 months ago | (#47375459)

We've already got CO2 scrubbing technology that is remarkably effective: photosynthesis in plants. In terms of cost/benefit, this method is by far more efficient than the one talked about in TFA. Plus there are numerous advantageous byproducts, like grains, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.

What we could use is a more effective means of sequestering the carbon in vegetation materials. Charcoal is great for sequestration: chemically inert for thousands of years, and with microscopic structures that promote good soil ecologies, much like coral promotes sea life. Currently most methods of producing charcoal return about 2 parts of carbon to the atmosphere for every part that is potentially sequestered ("potentially" since it needs to be put in soil or water and not in the barbeque).

"Biochar" [wikipedia.org] is the word to google on for more about this form of carbon sequestation.

Re:The point (1)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47375613)

What's the point of digging up coal, and at the same time bury charcoal ? It's almost the same stuff.

Re:The point (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47377423)

You don't burn the coal. You leave it in the ground and bury charcoal.

Re:Efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47375483)

There's no point at removing a small amount of CO2 if you continue to add 10 times the amount somewhere else.

The Prius dealership will disagree with you on that.

Re:Efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47375601)

The Jurassic period. O2 in atmosphere 130% modern levels. CO2 is 1950ppm, 5-7 times modern levels. Temperature a WHOLE 3 DEGREES C over modern times - Oh noes! The Jurassic DGW, Dinsaurogenic Global Warming, shows that those Dinosaurs, with their Airplanes, and Cars, and stuff, you know, those Dinosaurs and their DGW destroyed THE WHOLE PLANET with their DGW! Look, who wants 26% atmospheric oxygen? More air to breathe? Who wants that! And who wants more CO2 @1950, you know, to make all those plants and trees convert that CO2 into a higher O2! Who wants that! And we donâ(TM)t want the massive biodiversity of the Jurassic, no, we donâ(TM)t want more plants and animals and trees, no.

The Dinosaurs and their horrible DGW, Disnosauric Global Warming, destroyed the Jurassic (wait, no , it didnâ(TM)t, it was the best time for life on earth with 1950 ppm CO2.

Re:Efficiency (0)

sumdumass (711423) | about 5 months ago | (#47377073)

It makes a lot of sense. For one, you don't need to store and then release the electricitt. For two, you don't need all the infrastructure upgrades for three, and probably the most important, this is somethingt the government can do without a major backlash from everyone who thinks global warming is nothing but a redistribution scheme designed to take right and wealth from the people while making government unneccesarily more powerful.

Re:Efficiency (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 5 months ago | (#47374493)

Claimed efficiency is only 2%, using PV panels. It would make more sense to just use the PV panels to replace coal fired plants for generating electricity.

The point is, those solar lights at the dollar store? Yea... Make millions of them, throw them out in the desert, viola, carbon sink. You need to do something more with it beyond the acid, but this is the sort of idea we need to reduce already emitted CO2 after we've stopped creating all the extra.

Re:Efficiency (1)

jenningsthecat (1525947) | about 5 months ago | (#47375125)

The point is, those solar lights at the dollar store? Yea... Make millions of them, throw them out in the desert, viola, carbon sink. You need to do something more with it beyond the acid, but this is the sort of idea we need to reduce already emitted CO2 after we've stopped creating all the extra.

And how much greenhouse gas are you going to add to the atmosphere when you make 'millions' of those 'solar lights'? That manufacturing process had better have a very small carbon footprint if you're going to come out ahead with only a 2% conversion efficiency...

Re:Efficiency (3, Informative)

Idarubicin (579475) | about 5 months ago | (#47375553)

The point is, those solar lights at the dollar store? Yea... Make millions of them, throw them out in the desert, viola, carbon sink. You need to do something more with it beyond the acid, but this is the sort of idea we need to reduce already emitted CO2 after we've stopped creating all the extra.

Even if we ignore the carbon (and other toxic) footprint of creating and strewing millions of semiconductor devices across the desert, I really think you need to think about what happens to the formic acid. Left to its own devices, formic acid slowly and spontaneously decomposes to water and...carbon monoxide. Which is unpleasant enough by itself (and a greenhouse gas in its own right), but which in turn is slowly oxidized in the atmosphere right back to...carbon dioxide.

Re:Efficiency (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47374501)

Solar doesn't work at night, but if you can store the solar energy as formic acid, you can burn the formic acid at night, to get a nice 24-hour baseload power source. Unfortunately, at 2%, it's worse than just storing it in lead/sulfate batteries.

Re:Efficiency (1)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47374545)

We also need much more power during the day, so until you've replaced all daytime peak load with solar (or other low-CO2 source) there's not much need for storage. However, if you wanted storage, a good idea would be to make a smart grid + electric vehicles. The vehicles would automatically choose to charge when power is cheap, or discharge into the grid when power is expensive and the battery is full.

Re:Efficiency (3, Interesting)

ultranova (717540) | about 5 months ago | (#47374553)

Claimed efficiency is only 2%, using PV panels. It would make more sense to just use the PV panels to replace coal fired plants for generating electricity.

Suppose, however, that you could alter the chemistry to get oil? Even at 2% efficiency, we'd be looking at an infinite, carbon-neutral, enviromentally nondestructive alternative to oil shales and tar sands.

Re:Efficiency (1)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47374783)

It would be cheaper to use electric vehicles and PV panels.

Re:Efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47374939)

Oil and it's variants are used for a lot more than just fuel for cars. Indeed, a lot of crucial industries depend on oil and gas as raw materials.

Re:Efficiency (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 5 months ago | (#47376115)

If you're producing plastics, or anything else that doesn't involve burning the fuel and producing CO2, then you're not really contributing to global warming so it's not a particularly urgent problem. Sure there's still some geopolitics involved, but I'd bet good money that we'd care a lot less about the Middle East if we only needed their oil to produce cheap plastic crap rather than to fuel all aspects of our civilization.

Re:Efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47375751)

Energy density's high for oil, though.

Re:Efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47377553)

Doesn't matter if there's none left - or conversely, the cost is too high per unit of workable energy.

Re:Efficiency (2)

Ihlosi (895663) | about 5 months ago | (#47375467)

Suppose, however, that you could alter the chemistry to get oil?

Electrically-powered synthesis of methane from H2O and CO2 already exists, and the process of forming longer hydrocarbons from methane do, too.

It's just a bit too expensive right now (or rather, oil and coal are still too cheap).

Re:Efficiency (1)

ShakaUVM (157947) | about 5 months ago | (#47376567)

> Electrically-powered synthesis of methane from H2O and CO2 already exists, and the process of forming longer hydrocarbons from methane do, too.

Yep. I think we ought to focus more of our research dollars on making this cheaper.

If we start having more solar/wind than we know what to do with, using excess capacity to build up hydrocarbons is theoretically a great way to store the energy that would play nicely with our existing infrastructure, and would suck carbon out out of the atmosphere (though it'd get cycled back out) rather than from the earth's crust.

Ta Da (1)

mdsolar (1045926) | about 5 months ago | (#47377449)

http://hardware.slashdot.org/s... [slashdot.org] "New Scientist reports that, faced with global warming and potential oil shortages, the US Navy is experimenting with making jet fuel from seawater by processing seawater into unsaturated short-chain hydrocarbons that with further refining could be made into kerosene-based jet fuel.

More here: http://blogs.discovermagazine.... [discovermagazine.com]

Re:Efficiency (0)

EmagGeek (574360) | about 5 months ago | (#47374677)

Shhhh. This is Slashdot. Common Sense is not allowed.

Re:Efficiency (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | about 5 months ago | (#47375193)

Coal is baseload solar is not a replacement for baseload. The only good renewable replacement for baseload is hydro "the original baseload source of power". Wind is a marginal replacement for baseload but you really need large natural gas peaking plants to back up wind.

Re:Efficiency (1)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47375455)

Solar is not a 100% replacement for base load, but in a country like the USA, there are plenty of areas with 90% sunny days. With a good interconnected grid, you can get even closer to 100%. The remainder can be provided by a peak load plant or by storage. In combination with a weather forecast that can give you a decent head start on when to power up the peak power generators, that should be enough to cover most needs.

Re:Efficiency (1)

Gr8Apes (679165) | about 5 months ago | (#47376441)

Coal is baseload solar is not a replacement for baseload. The only good renewable replacement for baseload is hydro "the original baseload source of power". Wind is a marginal replacement for baseload but you really need large natural gas peaking plants to back up wind.

That's a false premise. You can build large cisterns that store excess energy by pumping in water, then using that during peak periods to meet demand. It's 100% solar. These could be built on the coast or even slightly in the sea, so there's no shortage of water until we run out of sea water. It also serves to level demand, since all excess demand can always go to the cisterns, even if they're full, since they'd just overflow and form a nice waterfall or similar water feature. The same could be used to store excess wind generated power, completing removing the need for fossil fuel or nuclear energy. Maybe keep one plant as a museum piece.

battery charged by tailpipe (2)

globaljustin (574257) | about 5 months ago | (#47374395)

so theoretically, we can develop a process to turn harmful emissions (or any emissions) into the same stuff that goes into batteries, which we can use for power?

honestly mind blowing! if I'm reading this right this is cool

Re:battery charged by tailpipe (1)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47374491)

Not all harmful emissions, just CO2. And you'd need a big area of solar panels to negate the CO2 production of a single car.

Re:battery charged by tailpipe (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47374881)

so theoretically, we can develop a process to turn harmful emissions (or any emissions) into the same stuff that goes into batteries, which we can use for power?

2% efficiency. So, if you want to get a gallon-of-gas equivalent by electrolysis of your car's exhaust, you have to burn 50 gallon-of-gas equivalents. If you want to do it to scavenge CO2 from a fixed installation, you need 50MWh of solar power generation for every MWh of formic acid you want to harvest. If you have a 1 MW coal plant, which itself runs at 35% efficiency, you will need 140 MW of solar to harvest the CO2. (Actually, more like 430 MW of solar, because the coal can run all night)

If you want to use solar to generate energy storage, you're probably better off ignoring carbon and generating H2.

Great... Instead of CO2 we get CO (5, Interesting)

kolbe (320366) | about 5 months ago | (#47374397)

Why would you want to convert Carbon Dioxide into Carbon Monoxide?

If not used immediately, Formic acid decomposes into carbon monoxide and water when exposed to air and heat. I wouldn't exactly call this a "game changer" unless the target of it all is to give everyone A) a lot of toilet bowl cleaner for cheap or B) a silent death.

Great... Instead of CO2 we get CO (5, Interesting)

JPyObjC Dude (772176) | about 5 months ago | (#47374473)

Formic acid can be stored and used in a fuel cell to have a very good solar storage fuel. No need to worry about CO if kept within this fuel cycle.

Related Abstract: http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content... [rsc.org]

Re:Great... Instead of CO2 we get CO (1)

dotancohen (1015143) | about 5 months ago | (#47374879)

Formic acid can be stored and used in a fuel cell to have a very good solar storage fuel. No need to worry about CO if kept within this fuel cycle.

Related Abstract: http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content... [rsc.org]

And what is the byproduct of that fuel cell? No, let me guess... a potent greenhouse gas?

I agree that this could be a useful fuel cell if the energy density is high enough, but the net CO2 change in atmosphere is 0. All the CO2 that came out, goes back in.

Re:Great... Instead of CO2 we get CO (2)

Ihlosi (895663) | about 5 months ago | (#47374599)

Why would you want to convert Carbon Dioxide into Carbon Monoxide?

Because carbon monoxide can be used as fuel and substrate for further synthesis processes.

Re:Great... Instead of CO2 we get CO (1)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | about 5 months ago | (#47375587)

Photosynthesis offers the same advantages, without the technology overheads. In addition it offers some nice byproducts, like grains, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.

Using vegetation as feedstock for charcoal production will effectively sequester carbon for tens of thousands of years, if not longer. Additionally, carbon sequestered in this way is a good soil ammendment, that can make poor soils more productive.

Google on href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biochar">"biochar" for more about this approach.

Re:Great... Instead of CO2 we get CO (2)

wiggles (30088) | about 5 months ago | (#47376549)

Problem with that is, vegetation rots eventually, releasing methane - a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. Sure, you can flame it off, but then you're still releasing that captured CO2 back to the atmosphere. Only by increasing the forest footprint of the world, or causing massive algae blooms in the oceans [wikipedia.org] can you really sequester CO2 in vegetation.

Photosynthesis has its disadvantages. (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | about 5 months ago | (#47376575)

Photosynthesis offers the same advantages,

Photosynthesis has a comparatively low efficiency, which will come back to bite you if the space for your application is limited.

Also, only works in a fairly narrow temperature range (if it's 10 degrees below zero, fairly little photosynthetic activity will happen even you have plenty of sunlight). In addition it offers some nice byproducts, like grains, tomatoes, zucchini, etc.

The electricity-to-hydrocarbon route can use space that's unsuited for growing plants. Also, if you want to use plants to bind CO2, you won't be using grains, tomatoes or zucchini - because these plants aren't optimized for maximum CO2 conversion.

Re:Great... Instead of CO2 we get CO (1)

userw014 (707413) | about 5 months ago | (#47377625)

I didn't see where Carbon Monoxide (CO) is mentioned in the articles or the summary of the paper. (The paper itself is more than I can read right now.)

Where is CO involved in this process?

Given that methane synthesis ... (1)

Ihlosi (895663) | about 5 months ago | (#47374403)

... from H2O, air-derived CO2 and electricity is already at 40% efficiency (which, considering a 15% efficiency of the solar panels, would translate into about 6% sunlight->methane efficiency), they still have a lot of work to do on the process.

However, I believe that (electricity and/or heat)+H2O+CO2->some hydrocarbon is going to be the next big thing in the chemical industry. The company or individual that comes up with a practical, inexpensive solution will basically have a license to print money.

Re:Given that methane synthesis ... (1)

FishTankX (1539069) | about 5 months ago | (#47374439)

If the goal is to reduce global warming however, methane is a much more powerful warming gas. What I think would be a better use is transformation to calcium carbonate. This would produce cement.

http://www.scientificamerican.... [scientificamerican.com]

Re:Given that methane synthesis ... (1)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47374447)

Obviously, the methane would be used as fuel, not released into the atmosphere.

Re:Given that methane synthesis ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47374615)

Which would release the CO2 back into the atmosphere.

Re:Given that methane synthesis ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47374675)

Which is fine, because it's a closed loop with no net gain in CO2.

Re:Given that methane synthesis ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47374499)

They can't use air-derived CO2 because it needs high concentrations of CO2 to pass through the sea water. So that technique can be used to reduce the CO2 emitted, but not to remove the gas already in the atmosphere. Refining our vocabulary would be useful. Perhaps, only use "carbon capture" when generated CO2 is captured instead of emitted. And "carbon scrubbing" or "carbon removal", when diffuse CO2 is removed from the atmosphere.

Re:Given that methane synthesis ... (4, Interesting)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 5 months ago | (#47374611)

The two dreams are:
- A 3D printer that takes its ink from the atmospheric carbon.
- A solar panel that produces lipids, sugars and proteins.

So... a tree.

Re:Given that methane synthesis ... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47375589)

So... a tree.

No, no, no no no no no.... We are too technologically advanced to use common sense and cheap readily available natural processes. We must pour billions of dollars into a self-created industry to develop technologies that are expensive to build and maintain to solve a problem that only exists in computer models mostly based on assumptions and "best guesses". This is because of our scientific superiority over nature. We are smart. This is what smart people do.

Amazing technology (2)

zeigerpuppy (607730) | about 5 months ago | (#47374405)

There is an amazing piece of technology that harnesses sunlight, converts water and CO2 into complex carbohydrates, useful proteins and even medicines. It self propagates and can be installed in a variety of environments. There is an existing harvesting infrastructure and it also produces an essential building material. It is known as trees.

Re:Amazing technology (2)

aurb (674003) | about 5 months ago | (#47374419)

Yes, but who owns the patents? If you cannot keep others from using this technology and make all the money, it's useless...

Re:Amazing technology (1)

Thanshin (1188877) | about 5 months ago | (#47374691)

Indeed! Because before patents nothing useful was ever invented.

The order is as follows:
1 - Fire making. (useless)
2 - Patents.
3 - The wheel.

Re:Amazing technology (1)

sjbe (173966) | about 5 months ago | (#47375353)

Yes, but who owns the patents?

Probably Monsanto...

Re:Amazing technology (0)

dave420 (699308) | about 5 months ago | (#47374475)

Trees decompose, returning their CO2 into the atmosphere, so it's useless for permanent sequestration. The coal we use was created before bacteria evolved the ability to decompose trees, so it's not quite as simple as you seem to think...

Re:Amazing technology (2)

Captain Hook (923766) | about 5 months ago | (#47374505)

The coal we use was created before bacteria evolved the ability to decompose trees, so it's not quite as simple as you seem to think...

bollocks

Re:Amazing technology (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47374579)

Bollocks indeed. Coal mostly consists of the tiny little black spores on the undersides of fern leaves. Over a hundred million years or so, these tough little tarry thingies could collect into a coal seam. After several hundred million years, there could be a usable coal deposit. Sometimes, some of the ancient tree roots are preserved inside the coal. The rest of the forest and ferns rotted - bacteria ate it.

Re:Amazing technology (2)

Will.Woodhull (1038600) | about 5 months ago | (#47375661)

Trees (and agricultural "waste") can be converted to charcoal through pyrolysis. About 1/3rd of the carbon that was captured by the plants becomes biochar, which is a useful soil ammendment, and which sequesters the carbon for tens of thousands of years. So in effect as good as changing it back into coal (but with nicer side effects, like apples, zucchini, etc).

Re:Amazing technology (1)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | about 5 months ago | (#47377203)

And even there you aren't maximizing the value. I end up making a fair amount of biochar every year in my smoker and BBQ, both are home made since I didn't like the ones available for sale. Put in some trimming from relatives' apple, pear, or cherry trees and use those to give a nice flavor, I have also been know to dispose of apples and pears that aren't fit for consumption in similar fashion which really adds flavor. I save up the char from these and it gets added to the garden every year which also is where lots of other things end up like fish remains and other organic composts. Basically this is making some terra preta [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Amazing technology (1)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47374483)

But photosynthesis efficiency is really poor, and using the wood as fuel isn't very efficient either. With modern technology we can do much better than trees.

Re:Amazing technology (1)

zeigerpuppy (607730) | about 5 months ago | (#47374519)

While the solar illumination -> biomass conversion is only about 6%, one needs to consider the whole life cycle of the technology.
Trees have a number of difficult to beat efficiencies.
Firstly, they do not require manufacturing (which uses a significant amount of energy and materials). Secondly, they do not require transport to site. They also self replicate which is a huge bonus that other technologies cannot currently compete with. Also, trees produce a variety of highly useful materials. Yes there is some need to refine these end products.
To your second point, one does not want to use wood as fuel if the aim is to harvest CO2. Use as a building material, however is ideal and also saves more CO2 as concrete or steel are much more carbon intensive.
If you look at the whole life cycle of a CO2 removal system, it is hard to beat, but please post back some figures if you think there is a tech with better efficiency considering these factors.

Re:Amazing technology (1)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47374555)

On the other hand, trees need plenty of fresh water and nutrients. In places where these are available, we often remove the trees to clear the area for food production. I don't think this is going to improve any time soon. High tech solar plants can be set up in the otherwise useless deserts. By the way, your 6% number seems rather high. Which tree is that ?

Re:Amazing technology (1)

zeigerpuppy (607730) | about 5 months ago | (#47374587)

It's lucky that we have so many different trees (and plants in general) that given a start can colonise almost any environment. The 6% figure comes from Zhu, Ort, and Long 2008, see this post for some discussion: http://biology.stackexchange.c... [stackexchange.com]

Re:Amazing technology (1)

itzly (3699663) | about 5 months ago | (#47374601)

But not every plant is suitable. It's rather pointless to grow some weeds or grasses and let them decay a few years later. For a quick glance, it looks like the 6% figure comes from ideal circumstances, but without extensive help, most places in the world are lacking water and basic nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium for optimal growth.

Re:Amazing technology (1)

zeigerpuppy (607730) | about 5 months ago | (#47374613)

I agree, carbon sequestration technology requires use of the end products in ways that don't return the CO2 to the carbon cycle (or at least slow down turnover). This is no different for any technology (including tree biotech). However, there is no technology that I have seen that is more efficient in life-cycle analysis than the well considered use of biological methods of CO2 harvesting. Water use is also a key requirement of other CO2 harvesting techniques so not a specific negative of the use of plants.

Re:Amazing technology (1)

Immerman (2627577) | about 5 months ago | (#47376213)

Quite so. Tangentially related, have you seen this talk on reversing desertification? The fellow seems to be on to something, and even if you're mostly growing grasses and meat, if you can drastically increase the biomass in areas where vegetation is currently extremely sparse that's an enormous amount of carbon sequestration potential, in addition to the numerous other environmental and climatological benefits of nurturing a thriving biosphere.

  http://www.ted.com/talks/allan... [ted.com]

Re:Amazing technology (1)

quarterbuck (1268694) | about 5 months ago | (#47374995)

That path doesn't directly produce formic acid. Plant trees->Grow Aphids on them ->Feed Aphids to ants -> Harvest ants->Voila! Formic acid.
Once you have your formic acid, bury the Plants,Aphids and Ants and you have sequestered tons of carbon under ground, clearing up the air.

No such thing as 'global warming' (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47374409)

There is no such thing as 'catastrophic man-made global warming'. I see that the new tactic of the LIARS behind this scam is no longer to use the dishonest phrase 'climate change' (which is ALWAYS meant to imply 'catastrophic man-made global warming', without actually saying it), but to use the word 'carbon' or 'CO2', over and over again, as if saying it repeatedly somehow makes it a 'threat' to the environment.

www.climatedepot.com

Why does Slashdot keep repeating this LIE, over and over and over?

plant some trees (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47374435)

Trees breathe CO2. Problem solved.

Re:plant some trees (1)

bunratty (545641) | about 5 months ago | (#47374923)

We're releasing far more CO2 into the atmosphere than can be recovered by merely planting more trees [theguardian.com] .

Ants celebrate (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47374449)

Ants celebrate

Just like a mom should do. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47374525)

Solar-Powered Electrochemical Mom Used To Produce Formic Acid From CO2

Energy is a problem everyone wants solved (2)

Crashmarik (635988) | about 5 months ago | (#47374547)

But I read this and went HUNH ?

Formic acid isn't used for much of anything except preservatives and antibacterials, and some niche tanning and cleaning uses. It allready has biological means of production (Hint this traps CO2 as well), and this diverts electricity (read energy) from uses where it's already well employed ?

The only renewable environmental thing here is the solar panel and some future research on maybe fuel cells.

Re:Energy is a problem everyone wants solved (1)

anubi (640541) | about 5 months ago | (#47374605)

Formic acid ( MSDS - 4 page PDF ) [reagents.com] is a kinda nasty little chemical... Are you sure anyone wants to make it?

Re:Energy is a problem everyone wants solved (1)

Crashmarik (635988) | about 5 months ago | (#47374887)

Well pretty sure nobody wants to make the stuff for energy storage. I didn't catch what the efficiency of the solar panel was but 2% final efficiency ? You might as well just hook the panel up to the grid, eat the transmission losses and store the energy in batteries.

Oh Goody... (1)

roger10-4 (3654435) | about 5 months ago | (#47374831)

I can't help but wonder how much formic acid would be generated to reduce the excess CO2 we create in any significant measure.

Just me or is carbon capture dumb? (1)

fygment (444210) | about 5 months ago | (#47374875)

It just sounds like nuclear waste programs, capture and store .... sure, but sooner or later you still have to come to grips with the amount of waste whether in raw form or captured form. It just seems like doing something simply for a short term gain, to be seen as doing something. Yet the real problem seems to be the inefficiencies of the processes producing the CO2 in the first place.

It's like flooding in a ship, you don't try to stop the flooding, you seek to slow the flooding to a manageable rate. The CO2 will be produced, the best you can hope is to slow the rate at which you're producing it.

Re:Just me or is carbon capture dumb? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47375635)

It just seems like doing something simply for a short term gain, to be seen as doing something.

We call it "opportunities" so future alarmists can have their own battle cry about how we are destroying the planet and "must do something right now" or "face impending doom". There are many budding scientists and CEO's who will etch a career out of this.

We've created synthetic ants? (1)

swb (14022) | about 5 months ago | (#47374943)

Maybe we should just breed more ants.

This myth brought to you by PSE&G (1)

pla (258480) | about 5 months ago | (#47375083)

With power from a commercially available solar panel provided by utility company Public Service Electric and Gas (PSE&G)

Why the hell would you even mention that? The source of the electricity for an electrochemical proof-of-concept reaction matters not at all - Much less, the company that happened to sell you the solar panel. If the core reaction works, you can prove it just as thoroughly using grid power as you can using Product Placement-powered Greenwashing.

That said, running this reaction from the grid would more directly expose the real problem with it - at 2% efficient, it would produce far, far more CO2 than it sequesters; which in turn means you would never, ever want to actually do this using solar power, rather than just using the solar power directly instead of coal.

And in the interest of full disclosure, I would love to see massive adoption of solar, and consider the residential zero-net-energy movement a huge step in the right direction. But the planet will sequester CO2 all by itself; we just need to stop making more.

law of Problems (1)

jbmartin6 (1232050) | about 5 months ago | (#47375221)

A co-worker has a law of problems, which states that problems, like matter, can neither be created nor destroyed. They can only be moved around. In this case we are exchanging a carbon problem for a formic acid problem.

Ouch! (1)

macraig (621737) | about 5 months ago | (#47376715)

Nothing hurts worse than these synthetic bee stings.

Crazy ants! (1)

Wargames (91725) | about 5 months ago | (#47376913)

Crazy ants use formic acid and are impervious to fire ants. Do they get it from CO2? How much CO2 does a crazy ant sequester? If you've never seen a crazy ant they don't bit or sting but they are FAST and they are MANY.

http://www.ibtimes.com/crazy-a... [ibtimes.com]

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