Researchers Reveal Study on Carbon Dioxide Conversion to Electricity

Netherlands researchers look to reduce environmental impact

Netherland researchers show study on CO2 to electricity

Complaints won’t see an easy release as the price of the electric bills continue to increase, especially during the summer months. Air conditioners blast to cool heated bodies and hotter heads when the bill arrives. Far too often is the scope and inquiry about another source of electricity. Researchers are not turning a page in the history book with reports stemming from the science community, this fantasy will be a future reality. The concept of this innovative science? Turning carbon dioxide into electricity. Research has been going on for years regarding the specifics of this study, but a recent publication this week in the journal ‘Environmental Science & Technology Letters’ revealed a positive update. Documented and studied by researchers in the Netherlands, the publication states that CO2 could be mixed with a fluid electrolyte, generating electrical energy in the process.

A new method for producing electricity from carbon dioxide could be the start of a classic trash-to-treasure story for the troublesome greenhouse gas, scientists are reporting. Described in an article in the ‘ACS’ newly launched journal, ‘Environmental Science & Technology Letters’- the method uses CO2 from electric power plants and other smokestacks as the raw material for making electricity.

Bert Hamelers, Ph.D. and colleagues explain that electric power-generating stations worldwide release about 12 billion tons of CO2 annually from combustion of coal, oil and natural gas. Home and commercial heating produce another 11 billion tons. Smokestack gas from a typical coal-fired plant contains about 10 percent CO2, which not only goes to waste, but is a key contributor to global warming. Hamelers’ team sought a way to change that environmental trash into a treasure.

They describe technology that would react the CO2 with water or other liquids, and with further processing, produce a flow of electrons that make up an electric current. It could produce about 1,570 billion kilowatts of additional electricity annually- if used to harvest CO2 from power plants, industry companies and residences. That’s about 400 times the annual electrical output of the Hoover Dam. Like the Dam and other hydroelectric power facilities, a mass amount of electricity would be produced without adding more CO2 to the atmosphere, Hamelers pointed out.

The team used a device called a ‘capacitive electrochemical cell.’  Built roughly like a battery, the cell has two electrodes, one surrounded by a membrane that allows hydrogen ions to flow in and out. The other use the same process with bicarbonate ions which are produced when carbon dioxide is bubbled through water.

They developed a two-stage process to harvest the chemical energy in CO2 emissions. They pump water flushed with CO2 through the cell, which causes the hydrogen and carbonate ions to flow into their respective electrodes. This separation of ions charges the cell and drives an electrical current. Once the electrodes have absorbed as many ions as they can, the researchers begin to pump air-bubbled water through the cell. This drives the ions out of the electrodes and back into the cell. By constantly alternating between these two stages, the cell can produce electrical power.

While this new concept has yet to be tested, and it remains to be seen how CO2 harvesting can be implemented on a large scale, the idea to convert CO2 to electricity is promising. Researchers continue their study and only time will tell the reliability of the process. For all we know, this could very well become the viable alternative energy source that brings an end to our global warming crisis.

Forrest L. Rawls

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