We Can Now Literally Pull Fuel Out of Thin Air

We Can Now Literally Pull Fuel Out of Thin Air

Scientists from the University of Southern California have managed to convert CO2 from the atmosphere into usable methanol fuel.

A new study shows how both the world's pollution problems and fuel shortages could be solved with what amounts to some chemical sleight of hand. Imagine the classic "what's that behind your ear?" trick - now, instead of your ear, you have the atmosphere, and instead of a shiny nickel, you've got pure methanol. That may have ruined your sixth birthday party, but it could also save the planet. So stop crying and eat your cake.

Researchers from the University of Southern California, including Nobel laureate George A. Olah, have managed to do just that: they can pull CO2 directly from the air, and convert it quickly and efficiently into methanol.

Olah's colleague, G. K. Surya Prakash, told Phys.org, "direct CO2 capture and conversion to methanol using molecular hydrogen in the same pot was never achieved before. We have now done it!"

Methanol has lots of uses. As fuel, it is an alternative to gasoline, and as a building block it contributes to some of the most widely-produced organic compounds - ethylene and propylene - which go into plastics, among other products.

The trick to the new process is in the catalyst that allows the transformation to take place. The conversion requires high temperatures (about 150 degrees Celsius, or 300F), and previously-attempted catalysts have broken down under the heat. Enter the metal ruthenium: its stability under fire allow it to catalyse the reaction, while sticking around to be used over and over again.

All this seems pretty cool. I'm going to go produce some CO2 right now, actually, just to make sure we have a big supply ready when this technology is brought to market.

Source: Phys.org

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Cool, but i wonder if the materials used to generate the heat needed are more or less than what is produced by the end of the process.
Whatever the case, progress is good.

I wonder what the density ratio is, during the conversion process. It is a huge stretch, especially since I claim no intimate knowledge on the processes involved, but it got me to wondering if mass conversion of CO2-->Methanol would affect the chemical output of local plant life, in the conversion of CO2+H20-->O2.

This is hardly news, else you're about 2 years late to the party.
I get that you're a US company and if it didn't happen in the USA then you're unlikely to have heard about it, but this technology was discovered, shown to be cost effective and reported in March 2014.

cikame:
Cool, but i wonder if the materials used to generate the heat needed are more or less than what is produced by the end of the process.
Whatever the case, progress is good.

Well... if we assume that the first law of thermodynamics is still in effect then... at least an equal amount? Again assuming that energy transfer is not 100% then... You put more energy into making the methanol then you will get out of it burning said ethanol.

Not really the point though. You can use solar energy to produce the methanol and then distribute it as an alternative to fossil fuels. Achieving a new carbon neutral energy source.

Bunch of smart cookies, those USC researchers.

So, no more energy crisis. All those big oil and energy companies will go softly into the night, and everyone will have free electricity and heat forever.

Right?

C'mon. What's the catch?

Let me know when a single plant can process at the minimum at least a a thousand tons of air per hour.

Well making H2 is energy intensive and you need to heat up the reaction, so it's not going to be any use until we figure out nuclear fusion, you know in 30 year.

ChaoGuy2006:
So, no more energy crisis. All those big oil and energy companies will go softly into the night, and everyone will have free electricity and heat forever.

Right?

C'mon. What's the catch?

The catch is that the energy returned on energy invested is most likely way in the negative so it takes more fuel to produce to methanol than what you get out of the process.

Sure, no problem. Let me just heat up the earth's atmosphere to 300F real quick.

Saippua:

ChaoGuy2006:
So, no more energy crisis. All those big oil and energy companies will go softly into the night, and everyone will have free electricity and heat forever.

Right?

C'mon. What's the catch?

The catch is that the energy returned on energy invested is most likely way in the negative so it takes more fuel to produce to methanol than what you get out of the process.

Yeah, as might be expected, its not a lossless conversion.

Also, methanol can be used as an energy source, but its not the easiest thing to work with. Toxic, highly flammable, corrosive to many metals that regular fuel comes into contact with (when they use it in racecars, they basically have to flush the system immediately after, or all the seals in the system dissolve). Beyond fuel, it would mostly be used to make plastics, which is an environmental crisis in of itself.

This is great news or people in, oh say, the greater Los Angeles area. Too bad it'll be years, decades even, before any method like this will be viable for widespread atmospheric decontamination.

Remus:
This is great news or people in, oh say, the greater Los Angeles area. Too bad it'll be years, decades even, before any method like this will be viable for widespread atmospheric decontamination.

Hey, fixing the environment is fixing the environment. If the air problem is solved via recycling in say 30 years, the quality of the planet bounces back, climate change issues get nipped in the bud, and people in SPACE get a nifty tool that allows them to breathe easier.

FalloutJack:

Remus:
This is great news or people in, oh say, the greater Los Angeles area. Too bad it'll be years, decades even, before any method like this will be viable for widespread atmospheric decontamination.

Hey, fixing the environment is fixing the environment. If the air problem is solved via recycling in say 30 years, the quality of the planet bounces back, climate change issues get nipped in the bud, and people in SPACE get a nifty tool that allows them to breathe easier.

Pollution in general wasn't what I was referring to. It's the plant that's a gas version of the BP incident still spewing methane into the air as we speak. The air is literally flammable and very soon, the water will be too.

ChaoGuy2006:
So, no more energy crisis. All those big oil and energy companies will go softly into the night, and everyone will have free electricity and heat forever.

Right?

C'mon. What's the catch?

Oil companies have countless trillions in existing infrastructure, good look competing with that kind of market behemoth.
It's like a corner trinket stand going up against Walmart, best they can hope for is the big guy to buy them out and use their tech for themselves.

There have been all sorts of solar distiller ideas around for years now, but it always goes the same way, no one will use it unless someone big enough tells them to use it.

From reading up on this, what's interesting is more-so the tech itself rather than the practicality of it. It really isn't practical at all so they're trying to achieve conversion with better reagents and at lower temperatures in order to make this viable. Would be really cool if so.

I am all on board with developing any kind of tech that removes CO2 from the atmosphere. Hopefully someday we'll have something that can do that in meaningful numbers.

iseko:

cikame:
Cool, but i wonder if the materials used to generate the heat needed are more or less than what is produced by the end of the process.
Whatever the case, progress is good.

Well... if we assume that the first law of thermodynamics is still in effect then... at least an equal amount? Again assuming that energy transfer is not 100% then... You put more energy into making the methanol then you will get out of it burning said ethanol.

Not really the point though. You can use solar energy to produce the methanol and then distribute it as an alternative to fossil fuels. Achieving a new carbon neutral energy source.

This is a harvesting of fuel, it isn't creating more energy from energy, it is refining a non-fuel into a fuel. Applying the logic of conservation of energy here would be like claiming that it must take equivalent energy to acquire and refine petroleum which we know isn't even close to that.

The way it is generally applied is that you can't produce energy itself in a way that produces more energy than what went into the system. Even in regular fusion reactions the goal is to use the fuel in a way that generates more energy than the energy that was requires to achieve a fusion state. So even that isn't breaking conservation even though it appears to.

Lightknight:

iseko:

cikame:
Cool, but i wonder if the materials used to generate the heat needed are more or less than what is produced by the end of the process.
Whatever the case, progress is good.

Well... if we assume that the first law of thermodynamics is still in effect then... at least an equal amount? Again assuming that energy transfer is not 100% then... You put more energy into making the methanol then you will get out of it burning said ethanol.

Not really the point though. You can use solar energy to produce the methanol and then distribute it as an alternative to fossil fuels. Achieving a new carbon neutral energy source.

This is a harvesting of fuel, it isn't creating more energy from energy, it is refining a non-fuel into a fuel. Applying the logic of conservation of energy here would be like claiming that it must take equivalent energy to acquire and refine petroleum which we know isn't even close to that.

The way it is generally applied is that you can't produce energy itself in a way that produces more energy than what went into the system. Even in regular fusion reactions the goal is to use the fuel in a way that generates more energy than the energy that was requires to achieve a fusion state. So even that isn't breaking conservation even though it appears to.

Ermm... You are not pulling methanol from the air. You are pulling CO2 from the air and converting it to methanol. You are taking an inert gas (very low energetic value) and converting it to fuel: methanol. Methanol contains more energy then CO2. Thus, yes you need to input energy to create the methanol. Methanol here is just the "storage container" or battery if you will.

Fusion is a whole different beast. The most stable atom is iron. Neither fusion nor fission will result in a net gain of energy. Fusion of deuterium does result in a net gain because of the energy being released from gainig higher stability. I know this is not the proper nomenclature but I don't want to get into that.

My original point is valid though: you need to pump in energy to convert CO2 into methanol. The energy stored in methanol due to this conversion can never be greater then the energy that was put in. Basic chemistry/physics.

If you were harvesting methanol from the air directly I would agree with you. But that is not the case. In your petroleum example: you are refining an already existant molecule. Offcourse the energy required for refinement can be lower than the inherent energy in the molecule. But the petroleum allready exists. The methanol does not exist yet. It has to be made.

Cartographer:
This is hardly news, else you're about 2 years late to the party.
I get that you're a US company and if it didn't happen in the USA then you're unlikely to have heard about it, but this technology was discovered, shown to be cost effective and reported in March 2014.

Don't bother to provide a link or anything; I'm sure everyone will believe you.

Remus:
This is great news or people in, oh say, the greater Los Angeles area. Too bad it'll be years, decades even, before any method like this will be viable for widespread atmospheric decontamination.

I don't think the problem with Los Angeles is too much CO2 in the air; it's too much of the "dirty" pollutants, the stuff that we were focused on getting rid of before we discovered the greenhouse effect and that took over our attention.

Steve the Pocket:

Cartographer:
This is hardly news, else you're about 2 years late to the party.
I get that you're a US company and if it didn't happen in the USA then you're unlikely to have heard about it, but this technology was discovered, shown to be cost effective and reported in March 2014.

Don't bother to provide a link or anything; I'm sure everyone will believe you.

Because Google is hard?

Sure lets see now:
Paper from 1998
Industrial plant doing this since 2011
2014 news

Literally two things typed into google and it's on the first page, here let me help you out.

Is OP unable of writing critical journalism or merely unaware of the first law of thermodynamics? These processes will by the laws of physics never be efficient.

Remus:

FalloutJack:

Remus:
This is great news or people in, oh say, the greater Los Angeles area. Too bad it'll be years, decades even, before any method like this will be viable for widespread atmospheric decontamination.

Hey, fixing the environment is fixing the environment. If the air problem is solved via recycling in say 30 years, the quality of the planet bounces back, climate change issues get nipped in the bud, and people in SPACE get a nifty tool that allows them to breathe easier.

Pollution in general wasn't what I was referring to. It's the plant that's a gas version of the BP incident still spewing methane into the air as we speak. The air is literally flammable and very soon, the water will be too.

Well, I was thinking more 'long game' in that this could - even taking time - be a proper boon to mankind before situations grow too severe, which is certainly what we want.

Cartographer:

Steve the Pocket:

Cartographer:
This is hardly news, else you're about 2 years late to the party.
I get that you're a US company and if it didn't happen in the USA then you're unlikely to have heard about it, but this technology was discovered, shown to be cost effective and reported in March 2014.

Don't bother to provide a link or anything; I'm sure everyone will believe you.

Because Google is hard?

Don't give me that shit. There was literally no reason not to just provide a link in the first place.

Steve the Pocket:

Cartographer:

Steve the Pocket:

Don't bother to provide a link or anything; I'm sure everyone will believe you.

Because Google is hard?

Don't give me that shit. There was literally no reason not to just provide a link in the first place.

Just because you display the same amount of ignorance as the article writer with regards to established technology, *I* should be the one to do the work filling in your educational chasms?

As I intimated, literally 2 words in google and all the information is there, if you're too lazy to even bother with that, there's no helping you.

 

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