Posted on August 3, 2017 by Stephen Herrmann
Alchemy 1.0 hoped to turn coal into diamonds. Alchemy 2.0 plans to turn coal-fired power plant effluent into useable products — and thus keep millions of tons of CO2 from polluting the atmosphere.
Capturing CO2 from sources such as coal-fired power plants has been studied for a number of years. But the plan has always previously been to store the CO2. The “Global CO2 Initiative” (Global) was launched in 2016 during the meeting of the World Economic Forum as a non-profit corporation to stimulate innovative research in carbon capture and utilization (“CCU”). An independent market analysis of the climate benefits and market potential of carbon capture and utilization funded by Global Initiative showed that there was a potential to remove 10 percent of annual global CO2 emissions from the atmosphere by 2030, while creating an estimated $1 trillion yearly market for at least 25 CO2-based products. The products would include concrete, fuel, industrial gas/fluid, plastics, asphalt, agricultural products, construction fills and new materials. The assessment catalog of CO2-based products was done by McKinsey & Company based on rigorous projections of the potential revenues and carbon capture.
Unlike coal to diamonds, coal-fired power plant effluent to useable products has firm footing in science. Also in 2016, UCLA researchers, led by Gaurav Sant, Associate Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering; Richard Kaner, Distinguished Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry; Laurent Pilon, Professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Bioengineering; and Mattheiu Bauchy, Assistant Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, have developed a closed-loop process: capturing carbon from power plant smoke stacks and using it to create a new building material — CO2NCRETE – that is fabricated using 3D printers. Thus far, the new construction material has been produced only at a lab scale. However, this type of innovative research hopefully will drive not only corporations seeking commercial products, but also governments to fund other Alchemy research as a strong additional pillar of limiting greenhouse gas usage worldwide.
A second example of products from CO2 has been put forward by Stuart Licht, a Professor of Chemistry at George Washington University. Licht says his group has demonstrated technology which both captures the CO2 from the air and employs an electro-chemical process to convert it to carbon nanofibers and oxygen. The conversion process is much more efficient and potentially a lot cheaper than existing methods. But, it has this additional salutary benefit. In recent demonstrations his group used a unique concentrated solar power system, which makes use of effluent sun light to generate the large amount of heat needed to run the desired reaction to produce nanofibers.
For further information, on the work of global CO2 initiative, check in at GlobalCO2Initiative.org.