Posts tagged ‘Kubic Jr’

First Question: Ask About the Energy Balance

Over the coming months and years, you are going to see a ton of stories like this for somehow storing or reprocessing CO2:


If two scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory are correct,
people will still be driving gasoline-powered cars 50 years from now,
churning out heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere "” and yet
that carbon dioxide will not contribute to global warming.

The scientists, F. Jeffrey Martin and William L. Kubic Jr., are
proposing a concept, which they have patriotically named Green Freedom,
for removing carbon dioxide from the air and turning it back into

The idea is simple. Air would be blown over a liquid solution of
potassium carbonate, which would absorb the carbon dioxide. The carbon
dioxide would then be extracted and subjected to chemical reactions
that would turn it into fuel: methanol, gasoline or jet fuel.

This process could transform carbon dioxide from an unwanted,
climate-changing pollutant into a vast resource for renewable fuels.
The closed cycle "” equal amounts of carbon dioxide emitted and removed
"” would mean that cars, trucks and airplanes using the synthetic fuels
would no longer be contributing to global warming.

Although they have not yet built a synthetic fuel factory, or even a
small prototype, the scientists say it is all based on existing

You are going to see a ton of stories like this from academia because academics respond to incentives like everyone else -- faced with billions of dollars available for funding research into carbon-neutral technologies, they are going to publicly promote their ideas in an attempt to garner this funding.

The first question you should always ask is about the energy balance.  I am sure that this is technically possible.  Today we can create hydrogen fuel from sea water, but it is atrociously expensive from an energy standpoint.  The problem, then, is whether it makes any sense from a cost and energy balance point of view.  This is a good hint that it does not:

Even with those improvements, providing the energy to produce gasoline
on a commercial scale "” say, 750,000 gallons a day "” would require a
dedicated power plant, preferably a nuclear one, the scientists say.

We have to be suspicious that the carbon benefits come from the nuclear plant they require, not the process itself.  In fact, one is left to wonder why we would go through so much effort at all rather than just charge electric cars directly from the nuclear plant.  My sense is we are much closer on battery technology than on this stuff.