CONVERTING CO2 TO ENERGY: Environmental 2-For-1

by , 05/26/07

carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, CO, CO2, solar panels, green technology

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).

carbon dioxide carbon monoxide CO CO2 solar panels green technology

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.

+ University of California San Diego
+ Carbon Monoxide Fact Sheet

Via Engadget

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  1. kovaltech April 13, 2014 at 3:28 am

    I have a prototype… Home build with commercial available materials… it turns co2 into co and i use it on daily base…
    using it for cooking, driving the motorbike, water pumping, charging the home battery set, generating electricity at work…
    more at our website:

  2. Sebastian Bruce February 26, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    the idea works but obviously the by product has common flaws shared with other ideas that are already out there and are used on a day to day basis, lpg; where i think this has the attraction is that it also leaves room that with some vague testing out in more so unpopulated areas there could be a compromise between wastage and already provided atmosoheric conditions already provided i.e. tokyo, new york, london, all of these have the co2 that could be better used but still a “cancelling out affect” would have to be put in place before it would be able to be released to the vast machine that is “world”

  3. ronnie2177 October 17, 2011 at 10:36 am

    How about nucleosynthesis (fusion) of carbon & oxygen into neon, using resulting energy to power the planet (same as what massive stars do), and neons for fancy displays.

  4. poomithat July 24, 2010 at 5:14 am

    how to covvert co2 to energy can you show me please

  5. December 1, 2008 at 1:28 am

    it’s has review many sites like gas for free,run your car on water etc.

  6. Adam McKay June 17, 2007 at 1:45 pm

    Finally, someone is trying it. I thought about this a while back after the global warming issue became a media attention getter. It seems like it should be quite possible. Plants do it, we have to be able to.

  7. JAMES GEDDES May 27, 2007 at 10:28 pm

    Dear Sir/Madam,

    There are alot of computers and mobile phones being wasted, can the glass or plastic be
    recyled and combined with other alternative & additives to create solar panels ?

    I am pushing as hard as I can in the “school and multi -res” architectural practice I am in, to
    make electrical engineers and school boards accept mass scale photvoltaics, but there
    are so many techinical hurdles, and issues to changes of employment to people working
    in the electricity industry. Not only are the creation of more jobs an issue, but also the fact
    that for a $6 M multi -purpose builing , we can only supply about 10-15% of the power
    required with photo-voltaics, what can be done to ECONOMICALLY to increase this

    Currently one idea is not to use batteries, and pump the electricity straight back into the grid,
    as batteries are expensive, large and don’t have long lives ?

    There must be a by-product, or waste material that these things can be made out of.

    And just a general issue on wind power, I think people would like to a greater variety of
    turbine shapes if these are ever to be used on a mass scale.

    The other thing I am pushing for is a continuously, updatable internet list for the building industry, that
    contains embodied energy quotas of common proprietry products.

    And finally, another thing I am pushing for is standard green specifications for the building industry,
    particulary in architecture , but obviously this should apply to mech, elec, hydraulics, civil and structural
    consultants as well.

    I would very much appreciate to know of any econimically applicable advancements that have been
    made in your country that have general industry acceptance?


    James Geddes

    Mobile – Australia – 0431 855 937

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