Saturday, June 30, 2018 by David Williams
Carbon dioxide is always going to be an unfortunate byproduct of burning fossil fuels. But researchers have been looking for ways to minimize this in order to reduce the harmful effects to the environment. Now according to a recent report, one group of hard-working experts may have finally found a breakthrough.
According to a news release from the Ohio State University, a group of engineers have successfully developed new technologies that “have the potential to economically convert fossil fuels and biomass into useful products” including electricity while skipping all the harmful carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. The details of these new technologies have been laid out in two separate papers, both of which were published in the journal Energy & Environmental Science. According to the report, the findings allow for a fossil fuel that doesn’t cause pollution.
While that may seem contradictory, that’s really the simplest way to describe their breakthrough. The first of their two research papers details a new process that reportedly “transforms shale gas into products such as methanol and gasoline” while consuming carbon dioxide at the exact same time. They said that the process can be used on coal and biomass in order to produce useful products.
Meanwhile, their second paper goes over a new way of extending the lifetime of the particles that “enable the chemical reaction to transform coal or other fuels to electricity” as well as other useful products over a certain period of time. They are hoping that these resulting items can then be used for commercial operations.
The engineers also managed to discover and later patent a new way that is said to have the potential to “lower the capital costs in producing a fuel gas called synthesis gas,” by about 50 percent over the old way. They refer to this technology as chemical looping, which is a process that “burns” fossil fuels and biomass by using iron oxide particles in high-pressure reactors in order to avoid the need for oxygen in the air. Basically, the iron oxide serves as the source for all of the necessary oxygen.
Despite its usefulness, however, the researchers don’t view chemical looping as the end point of their study. As a matter of fact, they are treating it as a kind of stopgap technology that they said can be used in the meantime, as the world pushes for wider adoption of more affordable renewable energy sources.
According to Liang-Shih Fan, a professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and lead on the study, renewable energy sources are the future. “We need a bridge that allows us to create lean energy until we get there – something affordable we can use for the next 30 years or more, while wind and solar power become the prevailing technologies,” Fan said.
The new energy breakthrough discovered by the team being led by Fan is actually based on an older technology that was first discovered half a decade ago, which they dubbed coal-direct chemical looping (CDCL) combustion. According to their description of it, it’s a process that allowed them to release energy from coal while also capturing over 99 percent of all the resulting carbon dioxide, thereby preventing it from entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The challenge then, as it is now, is how to maintain the materials used in the process and make them last long enough for sustained regular use.
Andrew Tong, a research assistant professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, said that the main problem that needs to be solved involves keeping the particles used in their technology from wearing out. “The particle itself is a vessel, and it’s carrying the oxygen back and forth in this process, and it eventually falls apart. Like a truck transporting goods on a highway, eventually it’s going to undergo some wear and tear,” said Tong. “And we’re saying we devised a particle that can make the trip 3,000 times in the lab and still maintain its integrity.”
For now, the researchers are going to continue working on developing the technologies that they have found to be effective, hoping that they could soon create a fully working commercial solution.