Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Greenhouse Gases to Natural Gas

I was reading up about Edison International (an Southern California Edison subsidiary)'s deal with Stirling Engine Systems to produce a 500-850 MW plant in southern California using solar energy completely to power stirling engines (instead of using...say...photovoltaic cells) (hat tip from Paul over at Wizbang!), when I discovered something else over at Pure Energy Systems.

Apparently a company called IAUS ( International Automated Systems), the group that pioneered self-checkout lanes (that we all love so dearly), has come up with a way to produce natural gas from carbon dioxide economically. If you read all the way down past the solar turbines (which sound really neat), you get to this part:
Solar to Methanol -- Natural Gas

Another process that the company is capable of involves a method of producing methanol from carbon dioxide and hydrogen. This technology is already developed and in existence elsewhere, but their apparatus will make it more economical, to the point where methanol could be made available at approximately the same cost as gasoline.

The UV energy from the sun will split CO2 (carbon dioxide) into CO (carbon monoxide) and O2 (oxygen). Then the CO along with hydrogen (H) bubbles through a catalytic unit containing copper and zinc powder suspended in a kind of oil. The CO and H combine into CH2OH (Methanol). The H is released through electrolysis from water.

The catalytic process requires about 600 psi, and 500ºF. The heat from the solar collectors initiates the process, and once it takes off, it generates excess heat, which can then be used to turn the turbine, to create more electricity by which they can run the electrolysis.

The IAUS concept is to produce methanol fuel using carbon dioxide -- a primary greenhouse gas -- from the environment -- at a cost comparable to gasoline. The CO2 could come either from ambient air, or from a smoke stack, to help clean it up the atmosphere.

Being a very small molecule, methanol, or natural gas, burns much more cleanly and efficiently, resulting in less emissions when it is used as a fuel.

This method solves the Hydrogen transport problem as well. The solar panels generate electricity to split off hydrogen from water, and rather than having to then ship the hydrogen, which is problematic, IAUS runs the hydrogen through this process to convert it to methanol, which can easily be contained and shipped.

Now this does sound promising, but I will believe it when I see it (and the levels of carbon dioxide in the air holding steady at least...we don't want the levels to go down, because then what will our plants and trees get to breathe?).

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