Here’s a promising idea that could help alleviate two environmental problems at the same time: potentially decreasing carbon emissions while also generating renewable energy for transportation and electricity. Clifford Kubiak and Aaron Sathrum from the University of San Diego have devised a way to use solar energy to obtain both fuel and electricity from CO2, and have a working prototype to prove it. Talk about killing two birds with one stone! (metaphorically of course).
The prototype works by turning the solar energy into electrical energy. The energy created is used to activate two layers of catalysts which then convert the CO2 into Oxygen and Carbon Monoxide, that while highly toxic on its own, is actually a fairly useful and very sought after chemical that is commonly used in the production of products such as laundry detergents and more importantly methanol, which can be used as a fuel. The technique itself is not new; there are plenty of scientific papers that speak about similar proposals. The aim of this particular prototype is to get it to a stage that allows for this to work purely by solar, something which the current prototype does not do.
While I like the idea, and think that shows great promise, I had some thoughts about the idea of taking CO2 and turning it into CO and Oxygen. First of all I admit that I’m not an expert and my word should not be taken as such. In doing a bit of research, I found the while output of this process, carbon monoxide, is not a greenhouse gas by itself, it tends to combine with hydrogen and oxygen to produce methane, which has a greenhouse factor bigger than that of carbon dioxide by about four times. Furthermore, if you use carbon monoxide as a fuel, you turn it back into CO2.
However there are uses to carbon monoxide, which involve making products which are used in our daily lives. Increasing the availability of this chemical, while decreasing the CO2 in the atmosphere, as well as not burning natural gas to obtain it, is a benefit outcome from this technique, and this is why it is worthy of highlighting it.
I’m sure that there are a few experts around that are reading this, so if they like to let me know how right or wrong I am, please feel free to illuminate me using our handy comments feature.