Jorge Chapa

Harvest Fuel from the Air with GREEN FREEDOM

by , 02/18/08
filed under: Renewable Energy

nuclear, fuel from air, carbon dioxide harvesting, los alamos labs, green freedom program, los alamos, green freedom, air, CO2, carbon dioxide, cooling towers, alternative energy, power, electricity

Most of us are worried about increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the air – and if you aren’t yet concerned about this, you should be. However, now there is a reason for hope: researchers from the Los Alamos National Laboratory have just announced a groundbreaking new project called Green Freedom, which will extract CO2 from the air and convert it into fuel to power cars and airplanes. Talk about killing two birds with one stone! Not only will this remove some of the greenhouse gas currently in our atmosphere, but it will prevent future CO2 from being added to our air, by providing a new renewable form of fuel to power our lives.



Green Freedom would provide a large-scale production method for carbon-neutral, sulfur-free fuels and organic chemicals from air and water. The technology essentially extracts carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and, using a form of electrochemical separation, turns it into fuel. Their goal is to create a fuel that will work with existing vehicle and aircraft infrastructure.

As for the catch, the program would rely on large cooling towers and nuclear power plants from which the CO2 would be gathered. Green Freedom would use existing plants with carbon-capture equipment, so instead of constructing new facilities, the primary environmental impact would be limited to the footprint of the plant alone.

Whether or not this concept is viable remains to be seen. Hopefully we will learn all the details of this technology soon. Even so, it is exciting to add another technology to the growing list of alternative energy sources.

+Los Alamos National Laboratories’ Green Freedom


Via DotEarth

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14 Comments

  1. Mike March 12, 2008 at 9:19 pm

    Pruitt – Good point. Energy storage is very important, even for fixed (non-mobile) energy consumers. But, energy storage is more important for mobile consumers: cars, trucks, trains, airplanes. Many car trips may be converted to battery only, with plug in hybrids. (I have a Prius.) But, the other mobile consumers are not so lucky. They need much power, and small energy storage, so high energy density. That is what gasoline and diesel and jet fuel are. So, this process is not energy free. But, it is a practical means of storing energy in an energy dense form, easy to transport for mobile energy users.
    Professional Engineer (electrical, agricultural, Minnesota)

  2. Dunkman March 12, 2008 at 8:29 am

    It would be amusing if it weren’t so sad to read all the neo-luddites bash a technology they have no real knowledge of. I don’t know if this is a good solution or not; I have no idea if it consumes more power than it produces; and who knows whether this will turn out to be feasible? But good grief, do you have to fall back on “only wind, sea and sun” as the solution to every problem?

    We didn’t arrive where we are using only one energy form and we won’t replace fossil fuels with only one approach either. Don’t be the same kind of hammerhead as the guys who continue to support fossil fuels. Innovation doesn’t cxme out of closed minds.

  3. Bpaw February 25, 2008 at 9:59 am

    Although I like the idea of recapruting CO2, I think creating hundreds of new nuclear plants is a huge mistake. The hidden costs of nuclear fuel are enormous. The disposal of nuclear waste has never been solvd yet, as it is highly radioactive AND corrosive for tens/hundreds of thosands of years.

    And nuclear power is not 100% safe. Chernobl (probably spelled wrong) is a good example; Russia will be spending billions (possibly trillions) in the coming decades to keep the radioactive material there contained, as the concrete “coffin” that was placed there after the meltdown is corroding away.

    Creative ideas in energy transfer are important, but we really need to focus more on how to best use the energy that comes from our one and only true energy source – the sun. Any solution that includes nuclear isn´t getting my vote.

  4. Jack February 24, 2008 at 5:29 pm

    This is at least a method of sequestering the carbon. If you want to release it again into the air, is an optional act.

    Yes, it will take more energy to separate the carbon from the oxygen than you get from ‘burning’ carbon (the normal oxidation process). But the direct side ‘pollutants’ should be oxygen and carbon.

    Now to get the energy to do this it is interesting that they want to put it on site at nuclear power plants. This implies to me that it needs considerable energy to do this on a commercial scale, but at least they are not paying the ‘electricity transportation tax’ (losses due to transmission in power lines, transformers, etc) normally associated with electric power transportation.

    If we are going to keep burning carbon based fuels, this makes some sense. But I am sure that the production of fuel this way will cost much more energy (from the local power plant) than will be realized by burning the fuel. The national defense argument for doing this is real. To much of our life is tied up in the hands of foreign nations (even though we did it to ourselves in many ways) and at least doing this and numerous other ways we need to bring our use of foreign provided energy in line where they do not have a ‘strangle hold’ on our energy needs. [i.e. it won't cause a real crisis when the pipeline gets cut off or significantly reduced]

    The only real need to add to our current fuel distribution method would be to run transmission pipes from the current pipeline systems to the participating fuel generating power plants. Pipelines are the cheapest way to move liquid over long periods of time. (This from a guy that has spent most of his career in the oil patch as a computer geek).

    I wonder what form the ‘fuel’ will come out as. I assumed a gas or liquid but it could be as solid (ok, powdered, so it would be basically a very high grade powdered coal). If solid, or powder, it would be possible to sequester the carbon by storing it in old coal mines :)

  5. MW February 23, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    According to the Los Alamos press release, the advantage of this technology is that it would not require new infrastructure to distribute the resulting fuel. This differs from battery, fuel cell and hydrogen technologies. It is not, however, a new source of energy. The technology requires electricity, which its developers apparently believe will come from nuclear power plants.

  6. GT February 23, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    Maybe you should get your facts straight. Nuclear power would be used to POWER the process of gathering carbon. Gathering carbon emmissions from nuclear plants (as you say) would be foolish since they produce 3.3g/KWhr verses a coal plant at 700g/KWhr. In fact the link where you got your story doesn’t even hint at gathering carbon emmissions from nuclear plants.

  7. Stephen Pruitt February 23, 2008 at 12:35 pm

    This article basically describes using carbon as a battery, in the same way that a hydrogen economy uses hydrogen as a storage medium for the energy we produce. The basic laws of physics tell us that any storage medium we use is going to use more power than it produces – there’s no denying friction on any scale, whether it be macro or molecular. So why is everyone getting upset over the fact that it’s not going to PRODUCE energy, when they aren’t making that claim? Do you get angry about the fact that it takes more energy to produce that AA battery in your TV remote than you get out of it?

    The problem with electricity has always been that there’s no good way to store it. We have to keep enough generators sitting around to cover the amount of power we need at the highest peak of the day. If we were to find an extremely efficient energy storage medium, whether it be hydrogen, carbon, high tech lithium batteries, or some other unknown method for storing power, electrical energy would become much more efficient, and suddenly the door would be open to moving in a completely renewable direction of energy generation. Who cares that the sun and wind can’t always generate power as long as you can store it when they do? Conversely, if no good storage medium is ever found, solar and wind are useless except when they are located in general proximity to cities and when the day is sunny and windy.

    If you are looking for a clean fuel and renewable energy economy, then projects like this are exactly what you should be pushing. Solar cells and wind are making great strides in efficiency… but that is only half of the problem. Even when/if they become 99% efficient, we still have to deal with the fact that half the earth is always in darkness, and the wind isn’t always blowing. The solution to that problem is energy storage – if someone thinks they can do that by sucking carbon out of the air and building it into molecules that are then later broken down to release that power where and when we need it, more power to them! I’d rather use a car that runs on that process than a hydrogen fuel cell or lithium battery that requires a fairly toxic chemical process to manufacture and then recycle. The nature of research is that only by investigating ALL the solutions do we find the Best one.

    -Pruitt

  8. greg February 20, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    This is a really BAD idea.

    we get energy by breaking bonds in organic (carbon containing) molecules, whether eating or driving. It therefore requires energy to form bonds and make organic molecules. Every energy conversion invovles a loss of energy (is not perfectly efficient).

    So, in this process of building organic molecules to break them apart (no net reduction in CO2) we must have a HUGE source of energy. Thus the need for nuclear power plants. Plural. Many… hundreds, all involved in an inefficient energy conversion process, all generating nuclear waste, all of them generating massive amounts of carbon dioxide emissions in the construction proocess alone. YUCK! This pales in comparison to the benfits of expanding our investment in real solutions like solar and wind power generation. For a more detailed analysis, see:

    http://climateprogress.org/2008/02/19/turning-co2-into-gasoline-a-new-way-to-waste-energy/

    This is a pipe dream on the scale of hydrogen cars.

  9. Nick Simpson February 19, 2008 at 6:55 pm

    Barbara, I suppose the idea is that it creates a means of storing energy (difficult with electricity at the moment) whilst actively reducing CO2 levels. So killing two birds with one stone, doubling CO2 savings… The only question is, seeing as energy is always lost in conversions, would we not simply save more CO2 by just using the electricity directly produced by the nuclear plant? Like Barbara I’m not technically minded in this area so wouldn’t know.

  10. Barbara February 19, 2008 at 11:49 am

    I thought the argument for nuclear power plants was that they produce no (or at least less) carbon dioxide. What is the point than in harvesting CO2 from them? Please, inform a technically not so versed person.

  11. Steve Tenbrink February 18, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    I would like to think that this will address the problem of replacing carbon fuels for automobiles as well as provide electricity (using current generating techniques for electricty). Unless Hydrogen fuel cells prove useful for powering vehicles we need to find a replacement for gasoline. If this can do this than I believe it is worth the effort to use nuclear power plants to generate it especially if the result is less carbon in the atmosphere.

  12. litteuldav February 18, 2008 at 2:00 pm

    Whenever you read the words “clean coal” “carbon capture and storage” and others “scientific patch”, you can ask yourself one good question : “What’s the point ?”

    What is the meaning of burning Carbon (C) with Oxygen (O2) to get energy and carbone dioxide (CO2) (some water involved H2o, but who cares ?) and then try to “technomagically” reverse the procesus to get rid of that CO2 WITHOUT using most of the energy you get in the first place.

    This is first and second laws of thermodynamics folks ! It CAN’T possibly work anyway.

    This is absolute non-sense.

    We don’t need all this buried carbon, hey this is 21st century, we have all the energy we could ever imagine with Sun, then Wind, then Waves and Geothermal. (and some others minor sources)
    Stop sticking to obsolete 18th century technology, go forward !

  13. Nick Simpson February 18, 2008 at 10:42 am

    Doesn’t seem entirely feasible as Jorge points out (or suggests is questionable) but it’ll be interesting to see where this goes. Either way I think I’d rather the nuclear power is simply used to create electricity for direct use? Or am I missing something? Equally I’m not sure about the need for cooling towers, can’t the heat be pumped elsewhere for use?

  14. Hugo February 18, 2008 at 5:36 am

    yeah right! The catch? You’ll need even more energy to seperate the co2 then you can harvest from it. CO2 is a substance without any energy, that’s why it is produced and not used.

    The only positive thing about this program is that one can create synthetic ignitable fuels using electricity, no energy is extracted out of the CO2 (impossible anyway).

    The proces of creating fuels like this will mean a certain loss of energy, by heat or whatever. Again (same as the maglev transport item, which was highlighted earlier last weak), an investment of this magnitude should, in my opinion, be used for decentralised use of electricity (electric cars and such). Otherwise, electricity is centrally generated, and centrally converted to carbon based fuels, which are burned to extract energy, and exhaust CO2 (most likely the same amount as used to create the fuel).

    So, not a good idea!

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