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    • PJ

      I don’t know who else has read this article but I found it very interesting and perhaps a bit uplifting.

      The general idea is that there is a Canadian company called Carbon Engineering that partners with Harvard and has been working on taking Carbon dioxide out of the air and turning it into different liquid fuels!

      It is an electric intense process but I believe they are using renewable hydro power! I guess it takes little more than air, water, and the previously mentioned electricity..

      It’s considered zero emission technology because when the fuel is burned it releases the same amount of CO2 that went into making it.

      Their process is somewhere around 6 times cheaper than the process has been in the past but they still are looking for ways to reduce the cost so they can be competitive with oil...

      you can read more here but it surely peaked my interest!

      https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2018/06/carbon-engineering-liquid-fuel-carbon-capture-neutral-science/

    • Richard

      Yeah, I saw that report. I suppose carbon sequestration technologies may help undo the damage we have already done, but that doesn't mean that we can continue to do damage without consequences. When you're in a hole, stop digging. It would be great if this could scale up to replace all other energy sources, but that seems like a distant future project, and it will face the same political opposition that renewables do now.

    • Chris
      Chris MacAskill

      There was a fascinating short video on that National Geographic page promoting a high-end FLIR (brand name) gas detection camera called Carbon Can't Hide Anymore. They had a really good setup that let them film cars, jets, smokestacks and people breathing out C02. At first I thought of how powerful it will be to help people visualize the vast quantities of CO2 being dumped in the atmosphere.

      My second thought was, I wonder how I can get ahold of a loaner and do like a time-lapse film in and around SF that could be beautiful. The images are pretty haunting.

      But I'm pretty sure what it's really doing is thermal imaging, and CO2 coming right out of the tailpipe is hot. It's a shame.

    • kikoteixeira

      It will never scale.

      Carbon Engineering, if you read their paper just published in Joule, ends with the production of high pressure CO2 directly captured from air with energy from natural gas. Even though I calculated a modest net-negative carbon balance from their numbers, which is good but not great, they cannot generate a business because nobody is going to buy huge amounts of CO2 (there is no market) or pay to bury it under rock in the near future.

      On the other hand, if we eventually put a high price tag on CO2 emissions, then everybody can deploy processes such as this one, which is nothing new and is something we considered and rejected a long time ago.

      Also, Carbon Engineering talks about liquid fuels but they have not done that at all. Unfortunately, capturing CO2 is the easy part, converting it into fuel or any valuable molecule that can scale to the level that can reduce atmospheric CO2 is the hard part that nobody has figured out, and they are no closer despite having worked at this problem for 10 years.

      It can make sense only if done electrolytically because then you can use solar electrons. Opus12 is a Stanford startup that is trying to scale exactly this, but they are also going to fail because they are not aware their is a fundamental efficiency drop-off at the current densities needed for a commercial facility. It is sad because VCs have invested heavily in them without proper understanding, so when they get burned they are going to run from the whole space instead of examining what went wrong, reducing the chances for better ideas to bear fruit.

      Sorry to burst your bubble, but its better to recognize that this is a very, very tough problem.

    • PJ

      I’m just happy someone is working on this very tough problem and maybe it leads to other useful discoveries... rather than taking your approach of it too hard or impossible so don’t bother....

    • wx

      Thanks, I read the report and I didn't understand how they'd be able to sell CO2, which I think was described as "fuel" in the report I read. That didn't compute.

      The other thing that caught my eye was the cost. It was not inexpensive, to put it mildly.

      All of this stuff speaks to the human tendency to try to engineer our way out of problems instead of changing the fundamental behaviors which gave rise to them. We want a hangover pill instead of not drinking too much. We want cancer cures instead of methodically removing as many carcinogens from our envorinment as possible. And we want to geo-engineer the environment rather than stop emitting carbon.

    • kikoteixeira
      Rodrigo

      We will never stop emitting CO2. You are contributing to global warming right now just by breathing. Converting chemical energy with CO2 as by-product is life in this planet, by definition. What we can do is increase efficiency while switching to more sustainable forms of energy. That is what we must do.

      Also, humans have always engineered our way out of problems. This too is what humans are, by definition (Homo sapiens). We think our way into controlling our environment and harnessing ever increasing sources of energy. There is no stopping that, and that is ok. We are perfectly capable of solving this one too, and switch to sustainable energy quickly.

    • wx

      Thanks. I thought it was self-evident that when I wrote "stop emitting carbon" I meant from burning fossil fuels. That's what we must find a way to, if not eliminate, then greatly reduce.

      I don't agree that it's always OK to engineer our environment. I first came to this realization years ago, when I read some of the hare-brained and dangerous schemes some folks had come up with to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Albedo modification? Be scared, be very scared.

      When I consider the Colorado river mismanagement and that we're starting to tear down ill-conceived dams, I feel justified in my caution about always reaching for an engineered solution to a problem. Not all water management is bad, of course. But we humans tend towards hubris and impetuousness. We invite unintended consequences.

      "In her recent book on climate change,
      social activist Naomi Klein devoted an entire chapter to
      geoengineering. She said geoengineering could be seen as a kind of
      Noah’s ark, a last minute, supernatural intervention.

      “If geoengineering has anything going for it, it is that it slots
      perfectly into our most hackneyed cultural narrative… It’s the one that
      tells us that, at the very last minute, some of us (the ones that
      matter) are going to be saved.”"

      https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/feb/11/is-geoengineering-a-bad-idea-climate-change

    • Chris

      In the first 10 years of my career, some of my work was geoengineering for environmental spills. For example, here in the Silicon Valley, we have plumes of chemicals in the water table that spread from the chip manufacturing plants of HP and Fairchild. One of our jobs was to clean that up.

      Here's the thing: how? If you were to spill some of those chemicals onto your clothes, could you get them out? When they are in the ground water migrating in the micro pores of rocks, reacting with the rocks, it's just so hard.

    • kikoteixeira

      It seems you are equating technology with disaster. Yes, hubris masks the realization that knowledge is incomplete and the stakes are high. There have certainly been unintended consequences: oil spills, nuclear plant meltdowns, viruses wiping entire populations.

      But, it seems to me that despite setbacks, we are endlessly creative and capable of continuous technological miracles. The tremendous drop in cost per kWh of photovoltaics, increases in crop yield throughout the world, medical and infrastructure advances leading to a huge drop in infant mortality, these are just some of the recent advances leading, exactly, to a reduction of our impact on the planet.

    • kikoteixeira

      Oh by the way, Naomi Klein is completely nuts. She joined the Koch brothers in defeating a carbon tax that would have helped, actually, that would have been a godsend to startups trying to innovate our way to zero emissions.

    • Richard

      The immediate problem with geoengineering is that some politicians are using it as an excuse to avoid taking mitigation measures today, saying that we'll figure it out in the future. Well, maybe we will but maybe we won't. While there's basically no doubt that we are contributing to climate change, we are still discovering new mechanisms in the global climate system. Our models are improving but are incomplete. To me, that suggests that we should be very cautious about any large scale interventions, as there could easily be unintended side effects. On the other hand, we do know that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be beneficial, so that should be our first priority.

    • PJ

      When I first posted this I was never under some illusion that this will save the world and we will be able to remove as much CO2 that we produce and then some.. I happily agree that the best way to “save” the world is to do our best to reduce CO2 emission in the future.

      I don’t understand why both can’t play a part in a better future. I mean I think it can be agreed that there is currently more than enough CO2 to go around.

      So I’m interested to see what comes out of further innovation even if it ends up being some positive side effect technology or something of the ilk.

      As I said before I’d rather see some kind of money being spent to try to innovate then just to hear how impractical/impossible it is.

      I also agree that humans try to engineer to solve issues and maybe that isn’t the best way to solve certain problems but id surely rather be able to fly or drive a car cross country rather than walk for 200 days or ride a horse for several months..

      yes you will have some part of the crowd that uses it as an excuse not to reduce their foot print or perhaps even to increase their foot print, but I wouldn’t mind seeing many solutions including drastically reducing output of CO2.

      I mean after all how many years have scientist been going around telling companies and people to reduce their carbon emissions? How’s that worked for them!?

      So I feel like simply telling people it’s important to reduce carbon emissions doesn’t seem to be very effective...

    • wx

      We don't disagree that science has achieved wonderful things. I'm not a science-phobe.

      My issue is that too often our first response is to reach for an engineered solution when a more organic response might be better. I also believe we put unreasonable faith in our ability to "science" a way out of problems.

      I would guess that relative prosperity and security is the single largest reason for the decline of traditional religions in Western societies. But I think their place has been taken by a like faith in science.

    • wx

      Oh yes, I certainly agree with you.

      What I'm preaching is caution. What I dread is some government rushing into an ill-advised geoengineering solution as the effects of climate change become more pronounced, and by doing so inviting a different kind of disaster.

    • Chris

      Once upon a time in my earth science days me and a lot of other scientists became fascinated by the idea of compressed natural gas as a fuel. I would stand in the deserts of Saudi Arabia and watch them flare it in the most giant torches you can imagine because it was hard to transport and didn't fetch high enough prices compared to the sweet crude they had so much of.

      We wanted to use it for vehicle fuel because it had the lowest carbon output. It was so clean you could burn in in an open flame in your kitchen. And it was the safest fuel.

      But try as we might, we couldn't get the federal government interested. They wanted to go alcohol fuel mixtures. It would help the farmers. I didn't like it at all because it's a poison, burns with an invisible flame, isn't as safe or environmentally sound, yada. But we lost.

      And then came along the liquified gasses and some high-profile accidents with them that pretty much killed compressed natural gas in cars, even though compressed is a very different proposition from liquified.

      However, I see that they have succeeded in building some zero-emission natural gas power plants. I didn't think they could ever succeed at zero emissions, but apparently they did.

    • hpsvfr

      Chris, I don’t know what technology is being used for those photos, but I did hear a piece on Colorado public radio a month or so ago about a handful of companies developing commercial, direct-detection technologies for greenhouse gasses. I think they were looking primarily at Methane (of obvious interest to the oil/gas industry), and I recall most of them were using some sort of laser technology.

      I think the spot ran on the ‘Colorado Matters’ show, but don’t recall the details just now. I might be able to dig them up if there’s interest, though time for such research is pretty limited these days due to family obligations.

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