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Friday, September 10, 2010

Why carbon recycling will help power the future of energy!

by Byron Elton, President and Chief Operating Officer, Carbon Sciences Inc.

In the 1970s the late Dr. Lewis Thomas published an influential essay that has become a scientific classic. In it, he described three types of medical technologies - non-technologies, which are caring and supportive; halfway technologies, which are expensive, risky and not especially effective; and decisive technologies, which are inexpensive, easy to deliver and solve the underlying problem
 A “halfway” technology for polio, for instance, was the iron lung; a cylindrical steel chamber that allowed patients whose respiratory muscles had been paralyzed by the disease to breathe, while a “decisive” technology was the polio vaccine.

Although Thomas was writing about medicine, his descriptions of the three levels of technology, which have since become a part of the scientific lexicon, are equally applicable to efforts find a solution to the duel problems of the increasing demand for energy and the consequent release of billions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, accelerating climate change.

These two problems, which threaten our planet’s ecosystems, our way of life, our economic well-being and our national security, are the most critical of our time.

While past approaches for dealing with these problems have fallen into Thomas’ non-technology or halfway technology categories, our company, Carbon Sciences, based in Santa Barbara, Calif., is developing “decisive” new technologies that will create new sources of gasoline and other transportation fuels while addressing the challenges of climate change.

These breakthrough carbon-recycling technologies “harvest” harmful CO2 emissions from the smokestacks of large CO2 emitters such as oil refineries, coal-fired power plants and concrete factories and convert it into gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel and other fuels. As a decisive technology, Carbon Sciences’ carbon recycling technologies are highly efficient and the resulting fuel can be used in the existing infrastructure, supply chain and vehicles.

We believe that carbon-recycling technologies can produce nearly 30 percent of the world’s liquid fuel supply and mitigate 11 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions, thus curbing the need to drill for additional oil and bringing the world closer to addressing its climate change challenges. This estimate is based on the processing of only 25 percent of the CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Advantages Over Biofuels 
The liquid and gaseous petroleum hydrocarbons that are now the source of our transportation fuels were formed from the preserved remains of prehistoric organisms such as phytoplankton and zooplankton that absorbed CO2 as part of their biomass. Similarly, solid fuels such as coal are formed from the remains of terrestrial plants that absorbed CO2 as part of their biomass.
Most fossil fuel alternatives are based on the same concept: sugars found in grains such as corn or in microorganisms such as algae are recycled into hydrocarbons such as ethanol or biodiesel. Although more sustainable than fossil fuels, the production of biofuels is energy- and water-intensive and causes agricultural and chemical pollution; it also takes up land that could otherwise be used for growing food.
By contrast, Carbon Sciences’ proprietary CO2-to-fuel multi-step process bypasses the inherently energy intensive and time-consuming tasks of growing and processing biomass into fuel. The technology is based on the direct molecular transformation of CO2 and water into fuel molecules. Moreover, it is scalable, meaning that it is capable of transforming large quantities of CO2 into transportation fuels.
Still another important advantage of carbon recycling is that the resulting fuel molecules are identical to those of the fuels we use today. Unlike biofuels, they can be used “as is” in the existing infrastructure, ensuring cost-effective and non-disruptive implementation: they do not require engine modifications or costly new investments in refineries or delivery infrastructures, such as gasoline stations
Advantages Over CO2 Sequestration
Another strategy that has been proposed to deal with CO2 emissions is carbon capture and storage (CCS). These technologies, which are now under consideration by large CO2 emitters, involve capturing CO2 emissions, compressing the gas or converting it into other forms and injecting it into underground geologic formations or depositing it on the ocean floor, isolating it indefinitely from the atmosphere
U.S. and foreign governments are providing funds for research on CCS technologies, as well as for training geologists and engineers to work in the field. Although these technologies are considered promising, they pose problems that are typically associated with halfway technologies: they are expensive, risky and, although still unproven, of questionable effectiveness.

As with nuclear waste, geologic and/or ocean storage raises the prospect of infinite ongoing costs due to the need to continuously monitor and manage these deposits.  Also, the deposits pose risks to the environment. In addition, there is the question of scale: given the rapidly rising levels of CO2 emissions, it is probable that we could not store enough CO2 to make a meaningful impact.

Finally, the technologies, which are still in their infancies, are at least a decade away from implementation.

The Carbon Recycling Paradigm
 By contrast with these halfway technologies, carbon recycling, or carbon capture and recycling (CCR) is quickly becoming a viable alternative to biofuels, as well as to burying CO2 underground or sequestering it on the ocean floor.

Carbon recycling recycles carbon dioxide directly into fuel. Carbon dioxide is one of the most prevalent forms of the carbon atom, the raw material for the hydrocarbons such as gasoline that we use for fuel. The trouble is that carbon dioxide is a highly stable molecule, meaning that it requires a great deal of energy to break it apart in order to extract the carbon atoms.

Although conventional engineering approaches exist to achieve this goal, they use immense amounts of energy due to the high temperatures and pressures of the chemical processes involved, making them prohibitively expensive for all but very limited purposes.

Carbon Sciences’ technology, which bridges the disciplines of chemical and bio-engineering, on the other hand, uses inexpensive organic substances as biocatalysts to create the chemical reactions required to transform carbon from CO2 and hydrogen from water into fuel molecules. Moreover, the process occurs at low temperatures and pressures, thus using less energy than other processes.

While carbon recycling technology using bio-catalysts already exists, the bio-catalysts employed until now to break apart the carbon dioxide molecule could only be used once, rendering the process prohibitively expensive. Carbon Sciences’ technology, by contrast, uses a polymer shell to protect the biocatalysts that are responsible for this transformation so that they can be used many times over. The result is a process that is novel, elegant and energy-efficient -- in Thomas’s terms, a “decisive” technology.

The raw material that is used in carbon recycling is one of nature’s most abundant molecules. The world is already producing 27 billion metric tons of CO2 annually and is expected to produce 43 billion tons annually by the year 2030 -- an increase of 60 percent -- due to skyrocketing demand for fossil fuels from emerging industrial nations such as China and India.

Although it is true that the fuels produced from carbon recycling technology will create new CO2 emissions, the net process is carbon neutral -- in other words, it does not accelerate climate change by contributing additional CO2 to the atmosphere.

Finally, a powerful new incentive exists for implementing our technology in the form of regulations aimed at addressing climate change that exact fines for greenhouse gas emissions. Initially, we expect the primary market for our technology to be oil refineries, which not only produce large amount of CO2, but also have the expertise and infrastructure to produce gasoline from hydrocarbons.

We believe that the use of our breakthrough technology can mitigate a significant share of the world’s CO2 emissions at the same time that it produces a large portion of the world’s liquid fuel supply. The result will be a direct and immediate reduction of the demand for fossil fuels, thus reducing dependence on foreign oil as well as on biofuels that compete for land with food crops.

Modern chemistry is said to have developed out of the ancient practice of alchemy, whose goal was to transmute common metals into gold. Indeed, alchemy was called the spagyric art after Greek words meaning to separate and to join together. The agent of this transformation was the highly elusive philosopher’s stone, the “decisive” technology that was the object of the ancient alchemists’ quest.

Carbon Sciences has discovered a modern philosopher’s stone in the form of its revolutionary CO2-to-fuel technology, which uses biocatalysts to separate the ubiquitous carbon molecule from CO2 and join it together with hydrogen to create transportation fuels. In doing so, we are transmuting a base substance into the “black gold” that is the most valuable currency of our modern world.

 Since the onset of the Industrial Revolution, low-cost fossil fuels have provided the power for the advanced technologies that have created an unparalleled level of comfort and prosperity. But demand for these rapidly depleting, non-renewable resources has driven the price of energy to previously unimaginable levels while releasing billions of tons of damaging CO2 into the atmosphere.

By producing transportation fuels and reducing harmful CO2 emissions in the same process, our unique solution supports the continued consumption of the hydrocarbon fuels that have revolutionized our lives, but in a sustainable manner that promotes the health of the environment and fosters climate stability.

Previous Articles about Carbon Sciences new Gas to Liquids fuel technology.

Carbon Sciences successful in making gasoline without crude oil
Ex Shell Oil scientist joins Carbon Sciences  
Gas to liquids (GTL) fuel technology is key to energy independance
Carbon Sciences files land mark GTL patent application 
Carbon Sciences files second patent application for breatthrough energy technology 
Oil, Gas and a sea change in energy policy - Obama 
Getting in on the ground floor of world changing green technology 

Editors Disclosure: Long CABN
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