Recycled CO2 produces sustainable energy
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories have developed a prototype machine that utilizes the sun’s energy to convert water and carbon dioxide into the molecular building blocks that can be utilized as transportation fuels. If researchers can make this device produce twice the energy generated by the natural process of photosynthesis, it will do great service to environment. It will pave the way to recycle CO2.
A demo machine was successfully tested by researcher Rich Diver, inventor of the device.
“In the short term we see this as an alternative to sequestration. If we think beyond just pumping CO2 underground for permanent storage and utilize the sun’s abundant energy for “reverse combustion” that will help in converting carbon dioxide back into a fuel. It’s a productive utilization of CO2 that you might capture from a coal plant, a brewery, and similar concentrated sources.”
Solar heat activation
The machine resembles a cylinder and is christened as Counter-Rotating-Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator (CR5). It is dependent on concentrated solar heat to activate a thermo-chemical reaction in an iron-rich composite material. The material is designed in such a way that when exposed to extreme heat, it gives up an oxygen molecule and then retrieves an oxygen molecule once it cools down.
The machine has two chambers, one on each side. One side is hot, the other cool. In the center is a set of 14 Frisbee-like rings rotating at one revolution per minute. The outer edge of each ring carries an iron oxide composite supported by a zirconium matrix.
Scientists also installed a solar concentrator to heat the inside of one chamber to 1,500 º C. This results in giving up of oxygen molecules by the iron oxide on one side of the ring. Now the affected side of the ring rotates to the opposite chamber. Slowly it looses its heat and carbon dioxide is pumped in. This cooling helps the iron oxide to get back oxygen molecules from the CO2, leaving behind carbon monoxide. The process is repeated continuously using up an incoming supply of CO2 and giving out stream of carbon monoxide.
Miller is of the opinion that hydrogen can be produced by using the same process. The only difference will be that water, instead of carbon dioxide, is pumped into the second chamber. The two gases namely hydrogen and carbon monoxide can be then mixed together to make syngas. This syngas can be used to make a ‘drop-in replacement’ for traditional fuels.
Still it takes another 20 years
Scientists are of the view that people have to wait for at least 15 to 20 years before the technology is ready for market.
“Our short-term goal is to get this to a few percent efficiency. It might seem like a low number, but we like to compare that to photosynthesis, which is actually a very inefficient way to use sunlight. So we may be starting very low, but we’d like to keep it in the context of what we have to beat. Ultimately, we believe we have to get in the range of 10 percent sunlight-to-fuels, and we’re a long way from doing that.”
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