We Can Use Nanotechnology to Scrub CO2

Scientists working with nanotechnology to try and create methanol from CO2 accidentally discovered that they made ethanol. Happy accidents are always welcomed – particularly when it can help the environment in multiple ways. The electrochemical process uses tiny spikes of carbon and copper to turn carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into ethanol. This is fantastic news if it can be scaled up as it’s a way to something bad for the environment into a fuel source. The team that worked on the project is hoping that it can be used to store energy from renewable sources.

“A process like this would allow you to consume extra electricity when it’s available to make and store as ethanol,” said Rondinone. “This could help to balance a grid supplied by intermittent renewable sources.”

The researchers plan to further study this process and try and make it more efficient. If they’re successful, we just might see large-scale carbon capture using this technique in the near future.

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3 thoughts on “We Can Use Nanotechnology to Scrub CO2

  1. Adam, sorry to burst your balloon, but this technology doesn’t “scrub” anything. It takes liquefied CO2 and transforms it into ethanol. The process of obtaining the feedstock CO2 is distinct from this technology. Most liquefied CO2 is obtained from exhaust or smokestack scrubbers that capture a modest percentage of the exhaust greenhouse gas, typically from coal burning power plants. This gives rise to the risible notion of “clean coal.”

    Ethanol has the mantle of clean, renewable energy because it is commonly processed from corn and other vegetation which brings it into the “surface carbon” cycle instead of fossil carbon. This process, however, is not part of the surface carbon cycle. It uses captured CO2 to produce another form of hydrocarbon transport fuel that is then burned releasing greenhouse gases and other “regulated pollutants” into the atmosphere. To the extent it scavenges from emissions fuel that can be used in place of more fossil fuel it’s not all bad but it’s hardly as beneficial as the articles suggest.

    What I fear is that it’s a distraction that will be pounced upon by the fossil energy giants and their denialists brigades to say “problem solved.” Carbon capture is important but more important is what’s done with it afterward. This proposal would see it burned but what’s really needed is safe, permanent carbon sequestration. This scheme has nothing to offer in that regard.

    1. Wow, excellent response! I agree with your points, I didn’t realize what you point our in your second paragraph. In retrospect, I should’ve put more thought into this post.

  2. This blogger from Discover Magazine is cautiously optimistic:

    “It may not be nuclear fusion, but making our own hydrocarbons is an important step towards weaning us off the limited natural stores of fossil fuels that currently power our civilization.”

    I think what is more important than technology is economic theory. During the Progressive New Deal era that began with FDR and was ended by Reagan, big-government mega make-work projects were not uncommon. Like how Ike built the US interstate highway system. (Had a 90% top tax bracket.) Back then we had to compete with the Soviet Union’s 5 year plans. (No one knew back then how the Cold War would turn out.)

    Infrastructure investments always pay good dividends.

    So long story short: we invented the economic wheel: i.e. the Keynesian ‘New Deal’ mixed-market economic system. It worked incredibly well, creating modern living standards during the post-war era which were unprecedented in history. Strong, stable growth based on investments in people that raised living standards in a virtuous cycle. Therefore, all we have to do is put it back on. With progressive taxation we can subsidize green energy so it’s cheaper than dirty energy. Phase this in over 30 years, which is moderate by any reasonable standards, and Voila! the West goes to zero emissions by 2050.

    With social and green tariffs, we force undeveloped countries to develop: i.e. properly distribute income and wealth so there are moderate levels of inequality (that allow for liberty and meritocracy.) And force them to go to zero using the same economic theory. Fair-trade globalization inversion.

    Economic development should be directed towards virtual experiences in cyberspace. Very cheap and very green. An infinite resource (no scarcity.) It could trigger an explosion of human development across the undeveloped world with little in reparation costs. Sal Khan of Khan academy believes bringing free education to people in undeveloped countries will lead to economic development.

    As it stands right now, Dr. Jill Stein (Harvard graduate; 25 years internalized medicine — the corrupt media very dishonestly portrays her as a kook) has a very realistic vision of what needs to be done based on these tried-and-true Utopian economics. (Yes Keynes was an Utopian. But no rainbows and unicorns. Just putting an end to 500 years of Western barbarity and crimes against humanity and making appropriate reparations to the people of color that were, and still are being, violated across the globe. It’s an offer we can’t and won’t refuse once it’s put out there.)

    It all boils down to restoring the Progressive New Deal Era and putting an end to the disastrous Friedmanian neocon/neoliberal era (before it puts an end to civilization.) Restore democracy; restore the economy; restore the fourth estate. Green New Deal 2020.

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