Monday, July 26, 2010

More Scientific Interest in Catching and Using CO2

Brian Westenhaus takes a look at a University of Cincinnati group that aims to turn CO2 into methanol (CH4) using a low temperature catalytic process.
The new paper published June 14th in the American Chemical Society journal Energy & Fuels reports a highly efficient nickel system for the catalytic hydroboration of CO2 to methoxyboryl species using a simple borane. The reactions operate at room temperature with turnover frequencies [495 h-1 based on B-H] at least 1 order of magnitude higher than those of the related reactions.
The improvement comes from the recent development of frustrated Lewis acid-base pair chemistry, which has led to alternative strategies for the reduction of CO2 to the methoxide level given either H2 or H3NBH3 9 as a hydrogen source.

The mechanism involves a nickel formate, formaldehyde, and a nickel methoxide as different reduced stages for the CO2. The reaction may also be catalyzed by an air-stable nickel formate.

An enzymatic approach to capturing CO2 for re-use comes from Codexis, and involves genetically modified enzymes made especially to withstand the higher temperatures involved. The new enzymes are said to be 100 times as efficient at CO2 capture as the standard solvent approach.

This recent scientific groundswell of interest in capturing CO2 and turning it back into fuels was spurred by this Sandia project of turning CO2 plus sunlight into fuels. It sounds almost poetic, even though we know that nuclear energy is far more reliable and potentially plentiful in concentrated form than solar energy.

Regardless, the human imagination has been unleashed in an attempt to solve a perceived problem -- rather than to merely whine about the perception. It will be fascinating to watch and see what problem-solving human minds can devise.

Update 27July2010: DOE to Award $106M to Six CO2 Conversion Projects; $156M in Matching Private Funding
Phycal, LLC (Highland Heights, OH) Phycal will complete development of an integrated system designed to produce liquid biocrude fuel from microalgae cultivated with captured CO2. The algal biocrude can be blended with other fuels for power generation or processed into a variety of renewable drop-in replacement fuels such as jet fuel and biodiesel. Phycal will design, build, and operate a CO2-to-algae-to-biofuels facility at a nominal thirty acre site in Central O’ahu (near Wahiawa and Kapolei), Hawaii. Hawaii Electric Company will qualify the biocrude for boiler use, and Tesoro will supply CO2 and evaluate fuel products. (DOE Share: $24,243,509)

Touchstone Research Laboratory Ltd. (Triadelphia, WV) This project will pilot-test an open-pond algae production technology that can capture at least 60% of flue gas CO2 from an industrial coal-fired source to produce biofuel and other high value co-products. A novel phase change material incorporated in Touchstone’s technology will cover the algae pond surface to regulate daily temperature, reduce evaporation, and control the infiltration of invasive species. Lipids extracted from harvested algae will be converted to a bio-fuel, and an anaerobic digestion process will be developed and tested for converting residual biomass into methane. The host site for the pilot project is Cedar Lane Farms in Wooster, Ohio. (DOE Share: $6,239,542)

Skyonic Corporation (Austin, TX) Skyonic Corporation will continue the development of SkyMine mineralization technology-a potential replacement for existing scrubber technology. The SkyMine process transforms CO2 into solid carbonate and/or bicarbonate materials while also removing sulfur oxides, nitrogen dioxide, mercury and other heavy metals from flue gas streams of industrial processes. Solid carbonates are ideal for long-term, safe aboveground storage without pipelines, subterranean injection, or concern about CO2 re-release to the atmosphere. The project team plans to process CO2-laden flue gas from a Capital Aggregates, Ltd. cement manufacturing plant in San Antonio, Texas. (DOE Share: $25,000,000)

Calera Corporation (Los Gatos, CA) Calera Corporation is developing a process that directly mineralizes CO2 in flue gas to carbonates that can be converted into useful construction materials. An existing CO2 absorption facility for the project is operational at Moss Landing, Calif., for capture and mineralization. The project team will complete the detailed design, construction, and operation of a building material production system that at smaller scales has produced carbonate-containing aggregates suitable as construction fill or partial feedstock for use at cement production facilities. The building material production system will ultimately be integrated with the absorption facility to demonstrate viable process operation at a significant scale. (DOE Share: $19,895,553)

Novomer Inc. (Ithaca, NY) Teaming with Albemarle Corporation and the Eastman Kodak Co., Novomer will develop a process for converting waste CO2 into a number of polycarbonate products (plastics) for use in the packaging industry. Novomer’s novel catalyst technology enables CO2 to react with petrochemical epoxides to create a family of thermoplastic polymers that are up to 50% by weight CO2. The project has the potential to convert CO2 from an industrial waste stream into a lasting material that can be used in the manufacture of bottles, films, laminates, coatings on food and beverage cans, and in other wood and metal surface applications. Novomer has secured site commitments in Rochester, NY, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Orangeburg, SC and Ithaca, NY where Phase 2 work will be performed. (DOE Share: $18,417,989)

Alcoa, Inc. (Alcoa Center, PA) Alcoa’s pilot-scale process will demonstrate the high efficiency conversion of flue gas CO2 into soluble bicarbonate and carbonate using an in-duct scrubber system featuring an enzyme catalyst. The bicarbonate/carbonate scrubber blow down can be sequestered as solid mineral carbonates after reacting with alkaline clay, a by-product of aluminum refining. The carbonate product can be utilized as construction fill material, soil amendments, and green fertilizer. Alcoa will demonstrate and optimize the process at their Point Comfort, Texas aluminum refining plant. (DOE Share: $11,999,359)

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