Reutilizing carbon dioxide to produce clean burning fuels

Carbon dioxide

David Go has always seen himself as something of a black sheep when it comes to his scientific research approach, and his recent work in developing clean alternative fuels from carbon dioxide is no exception.

In 2015, Go and his research team at the University of Notre Dame were awarded a $50,000 grant to purse innovative electrochemical research in green energy technology through the ECS Toyota Young Investigator Fellowship. With a goal of aiding scientists in advancing alternative energies, the fellowship aims to empower young researchers in creating next-generation vehicles capable of utilizing alternative fuels that can lead to climate change action in transportation.

The road less traveled

While advancing research in electric vehicles and fuel cells tend to be the top research areas in sustainable transportation, Go and his team is opting to go down the road less traveled through a new approach to green chemistry: plasma electrochemistry.

(MORE: Read Go’s Meeting Abstract on this topic, entitled “Electrochemical Reduction of CO2(aq) By Solvated Electrons at a Plasma-Liquid Interface.”)

“Our approach to electrochemistry is completely a-typical,” Go, associate professor at the University of Notre Dame, says. “We use a technique called plasma electrochemistry with the aim of processing carbon dioxide – a pollutant – back into more useful products, such as clean-burning fuels.”

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A team of researchers from Iceland is looking to fight climate change by turning greenhouse gases into rocks.

A recent paper published in Science details how researchers have been able to capture carbon emissions and lock them in the ground, transforming them from harmful atmospheric greenhouse gases to volcanic rock.

“Our results show that between 95 and 98 percent of the injected carbon dioxide was mineralized over the period of less than two years, which is amazingly fast,” said lead author Juerg Matter.

A large majority of all electricity in Iceland come from geothermal energy. While geothermal may seem like a very clean source of energy, it is not carbon dioxide independent.

In fact, the geothermal energy of Iceland produces 40,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year. That is only about five percent of what a fossil fuel plant of the same size would emit, but research team is looking to work toward a completely carbon dioxide independent economy.

An infographic that can visually tell the story of climate changes has been making its rounds on the internet.

Brainchild of climate scientists Ed Hawkins and Jan Fuglestvedt, the animation shows how global temperatures have spiraled upwards and outwards since 1850.

The magic number here is 2°C. Once the global temperature hits 2°C above the average temperature between 1850 and 1900, many scientists believe that at least some aspects of climate change will be irreversible.

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Old People and Climate Change

We talk about climate change a lot here at ECS, but the realities of rising sea levels and record-breaking carbon emissions in the atmosphere makes for pretty grim material. In an effort to drum up support for environmental protection, Defend Our Future teamed up with Funny or Die to give the climate change discussion a little comic relief.

Funny or Die

Cloris Leachman, Michael Lerner, and a few other funny people discuss how seniors view climate change – or as they describe it, the “after I’m dead problem.”

After all the laughs, Defend our Future has one simple message: old people don’t care about climate change, that’s why you have to.

MITThe Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Climate CoLab is currently running a series of contests where people all over the world can work with experts and each other to develop climate change solutions.

The waste management contest is now open. We are seeking practical proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from waste and waste management that can be rapidly implemented, scaled-up and/or replicated. We especially encourage proposals that address national (e.g. Intended Nationally Determined Contributions or National Adaptation Plans) and/or sub-national strategies to address the challenges of climate change and aim to help countries, states, and communities implement those strategies.

The Judges’ and Popular Choice Winners will be invited to MIT to present their proposal, enter the Climate CoLab Winners Program and be eligible for the $10,000 Grand Prize. All award winners will receive wide recognition and visibility by the MIT Climate CoLab. See last year’s conference. Entries are due May 23, 2016. Early submissions welcome — entries can be edited until the contest deadline.

Even if you don’t have new ideas yourself, you can help improve other people’s ideas and support the ones you find most promising. Visit the CoLab to learn more.

Upcycling has become a huge trend in recent years. People are reusing and repurposing items that most wouldn’t give a second glance, transforming them into completely new, high-quality products. So what if we could take that same concept and apply it to the greenhouse gas emissions in the environment that are accelerating climate change?

An interdisciplinary team from UCLA is taking a shot at upcycling carbon dioxide by converting it into a new building material named CO2NCRETE, which could be fabricated by 3D printers.

“What this technology does is take something that we have viewed as a nuisance – carbon dioxide that’s emitted from smokestacks – and turn it into something valuable,” says J.R. DeShazo, senior member of the research team.

The fact that the team is attempting to produce a concrete-like material is also important. Currently, the extraction and preparation of building materials like concrete is responsible for 5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. The upcycling of carbon could cut that number drastically all while reducing the enormous emissions being released from power plants (30 percent of the world’s emissions).

“We can demonstrate a process where we take lime and combine it with carbon dioxide to produce a cement-like material,” says Gaurav Sant, lead scientific contributor. “The big challenge we foresee with this is we’re not just trying to develop a building material. We’re trying to develop a process solution, an integrated technology which goes right from CO2 to a finished product.”

President Obama has pushed through the first installment of a pledged $3 billion from the cabinet to help poor countries fight climate change.

The first chunk of change went to the Green Climate Fund, an international body created to assist developing countries adapt to and mitigate climate change.

The effects of climate change often hit the world’s poor the hardest. Millions of the poorest families around the world are farmers, suffering from the devastating effects of harmful emissions affecting local climates. This could sink those families even deeper into poverty, yet they are typically the ones least at fault for the rising levels of emissions such as carbon dioxide.

The $500 million is part of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which is aimed at cutting U.S. carbon emissions in order to fight climate change. The first transaction shows that the cabinet is committed to delivering on its pledge made at the United Nations’ climate change conference in Paris in late 2014.

“The United States provided a $500 million grant to the Green Climate Fund,” a State Department official said. “This grant is the first step toward meeting the president’s commitment of $3 billion to the GCF, and shows that the United States stands squarely behind our international climate commitments.”

Not only does this payment help enact measures to fight climate change, President Obama also hopes it will act as a signal to the national and international community after the supreme court block a major piece of the cabinet’s climate plan last month.

Globally, carbon dioxide is the number one contributor to harmful greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions accelerate climate change, leading to such devastating effects as rising sea levels that can dislocate families and radical local climates that hurt food production levels.

But what if we could turn those harmful emissions into useable fuels through a simple, one-step process?

Researchers have proven that through a process combining concentrated light, heat, and high pressure, carbon dioxide and water could be directly converted into usable liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

Not only would this effort offer some relief in the energy infrastructure, it would also aid efforts against climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

“Our process also has an important advantage over battery or gaseous-hydrogen powered vehicle technologies as many of the hydrocarbon products from our reaction are exactly what we use in cars, trucks and planes, so there would be no need to change the current fuel distribution system,“ said Frederick MacDonnell, co-principal investigator of the project.

The corresponding paper was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We are the first to use both light and heat to synthesize liquid hydrocarbons in a single stage reactor from carbon dioxide and water,” said Brian Dennis, co-principal investigator of the project. “Concentrated light drives the photochemical reaction, which generates high-energy intermediates and heat to drive thermochemical carbon-chain-forming reactions, thus producing hydrocarbons in a single-step process.”

In order to meet increasing water demands and combat the devastating effects of climate change, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is looking toward scientific innovation to help quench the Persian Gulf’s thirst.

Increasing water shortage in UAE

The first issue that leads to UAE water shortages is the essentially non-existent rainfall paired with the country’s high water consumption. The UAE’s capital of Abu Dhabi receives only 75mm of rainfall annually, with the country as a whole receiving less than 100mm of rainfall each year . Pair that with a water consumption that is the highest in the world, coming in at 82 percent above global average, and the situation starts to look serous.

But that’s not the only issue in the UAE’s water supply problems. Climate change is making this land even hotter and drier than ever before, with a study stating that the effects of climate change may make the Persian Gulf uninhabitable by 2071.

(MORE: See how ECS scientists are addressing water and sanitation issues around the world.)

For this reason, the UAE is turning toward German and Japanese researchers, offering a $5 million reward to researchers who could help solve this problem.

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Solar Geoengineering and Climate Change

The Earth is getting warmer and greenhouse gas emissions are on the rise. With carbon dioxide levels at their highest in 650,000 years, scientists across the global are grappling with the question of how to stop global warming.

For many, alternative energy sources are the answer. While the implementation of this technology is crucial for the development of a carbon-free society, flipping the grid is easier said than done. The U.S. alone is highly dependent on fossil fuels, which emit high level of greenhouse gases. Additionally, transitioning the grid to 100 percent renewables would not fully solve the issue. Emissions will still exist in the atmosphere, with warming happening right now.

“When people emerge from poverty and move toward prosperity, they consume more energy,” said Adam Heller in a recent plenary lecture.

The Need for a Solution

Currently, 13 percent of carbon dioxide emissions stem from two industries: steel and cement. According to Heller, these industry are directly correlated to global wealth—what he deems the driving force of acceleration in climate change. To put that in perspective, the solar energy technology that is currently in place in the U.S. saves only 0.3 percent through the use of solar energy, according to Heller. With carbon dioxide emissions constantly accelerating, increasing by 2 percent every year, scientists are looking for solutions to this pressing issue.

“This will lead to a catastrophe,” Heller said. “The question is, what do we do about this catastrophe?”

For Heller and other scientists, part of the answer lies in solar geoengineering (SGE).

“We need to learn something about geoengineering,” Heller said. “We need to learn something about reflecting light from the sun through aerosols in the atmosphere.”

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