Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Skipping the Middle Man: Direct Solar Fuel

Some scientists and engineers want to skip all the intermediate nonsense of using biomass, gasifiers, chemical refineries, etc. to produce fuels. Why not go to the source, and produce fuels directly from sunlight, water, and CO2?
  • BioCee and the University of Minnesota wants to take sunlight, carbon dioxide and two organisms (cyanobacteria for sunlight capture and shewanella for metabolic transformation) to produce a liquid hydrocarbon....
  • Researchers at Penn State say they can do something similar, but instead of microbes, they mix a membrane of titanium dioxide nanotubes in with sunlight and carbon dioxide....
  • MIT-spin out Sun Catalytix, meanwhile, captures solar energy and exploits it to split water to produce hydrogen. ...
  • Stanford's James Swartz isolated a microbe that metabolizes sunlight to split hydrogen from water...
  • A few small startups in Israel and the U.S. have experimented with microbial fuel cells....
This is the most sustainable approach in the long run. Of course, there is a very real shortage of affordable, concentrated CO2 -- which complicates the process slightly.

Algal biofuels are very close to direct solar fuels. Algae need much higher CO2 levels than the atmosphere provides, to truly thrive. If Al Gore and his merry band of larcenous con artists wanted to help the planet, they would be devising ways to concentrate CO2 for making direct solar fuels. Instead, they got sidetracked on highly corrupt scams, to make their fortune. Too bad, yet clearly par for these times.

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