Beyond Peak Oil and Climate Change

A breakthrough


Photo: Amehare/Flickr

When plants grow they convert CO2 and water into carbohydrates with the help of sunlight. This process is called photosynthesis. For many years scientists tried to mimic photosynthesis to produce methanol. It wasn’t easy. The main challenge was to design a catalyst that would allow the whole process to work. And it’s exactly a right catalyst that was recently discovered by professor Dobieslaw Nazimek from Poland. His team also found the way to provide the optimum conditions for production of methanol from CO2 and water. If their method was applied on a commercial scale, it could allow the production of methanol at 3 cents per liter (or US$0.11 per gallon) (1). Methanol can be used directly as a fuel for cars or it can be further processed to create regular gasoline or diesel (e.g. in the Mobil methanol-to-gasoline process). And it would be a clean fuel with no sulfur at all. Artificial photosynthesis can be also used to make fuel for electricity generation, heating or cooking. If designed with the cradle to cradle principles and introduced in a socially desirable way, it could provide a meaningful solution for the post oil future and help to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Following the plant’s trail

How does the artificial photosynthesis work? CO2 emissions from coal-fired plants or fertilizer companies are captured and dissolved completely in water. Then the simple catalyst splits CO2 molecules and converts them into CH3OH, which is methanol. The energy for the process is provided by a special light. The end product of artificial photosynthesis is a kind of wine which contains 15% alcohol (2). All that is left to do is to separate methanol from water and… voilà! The fuel is ready.

It will take another year of research to design the large scale facility in Poland. If there is sufficient funding for the project, the first fuel for sale could be produced within 2 years. Professor Nazimek insists that the whole project should be funded from public money and for the benefit of people. This technology is already patented and some details are to be revealed in a publication later this year (3).

What is seminal about this method is that CO2 emissions can be reused. This creates a whole new situation. From unwanted waste from coal-fired plants, CO2 becomes a commodity. It gets a market value, because you can actually make something from it. One tonne of CO2 could provide around 918 liters of methanol. Nevertheless, the technology discovered in Poland is still dependent on fossil fuels to produce the CO2 needed. The efficiency of coal or natural gas is highly increased – they are used once for burning them directly and a second time for production of methanol from the CO2 emitted. Although the need for oil for transportation is eliminated (which is a huge reduction in greenhouse gas emissions!) carbon extracted from coal still comes out of the car pipe and contributes to climate change. Right, but what if we captured this CO2 and used it to make fuel again and again, like plants do… then what?

Capturing carbon dioxide is possible in two ways. One way is on board the vehicle – before burning methanol a fuel processor separates carbon dioxide and stores it in a liquid form on board a private car or a truck. Although methanol goes into the tank with this method, it is hydrogen that powers the car. Hydrogen can be used in an internal combustion engine or in fuel cells (4). The energy density of methanol is higher than a lithium ion battery, so a tank filled with methanol could allow the driver to go further than a car with a battery. The drawback, however, is a slightly increased weight of the vehicle (5). For widespread use several major improvements are necessary including development of a new material for a selectively permeable hydrogen membrane (currently the best one is made of the rare and expensive metal – palladium) (6).

The second option is capturing carbon from the air. Fuel is burned in a car engine and the CO2 emitted is captured from the air in any other location. So, we can take a ride on a bus, for example, in London and catch the equivalent CO2 emissions in Stockholm or Berlin (we can certainly do it in the same location as well). In this way CO2 emissions do not increase the overall CO2 level in the atmosphere. There are several technologies currently developed for capturing carbon dioxide from the air, like absorbing it into a potassium carbonate solution and then using low-energy electrolytic stripping process for CO2 recovery (7). If the captured CO2 is reused, than the carbon cycle is closed. However, doing it on a large scale could be a real challenge. For example, the tower scrubber designed at the University of Calgary is able to capture the equivalent of about 20 tonnes per year of CO2 on 1 square meter of scrubbing material (8). Capturing 2 billion tonnes of CO2 emitted by the transportation sector in the US would require 100 km2 of scrubbing material (9). Nevertheless, for fuel production a new method could be invented for capturing CO2 in water using passive air flow system.

Although artificial photosynthesis seems to be very promising as an alternative source of energy, there may not be enough time to develop the infrastructure to produce large quantities of methanol before the oil crunch. In the future, when coal and natural gas reserves are depleted, it would have to rely on recycling CO2, which is good, but the total capacity is as yet unknown. There are other bottlenecks and loopholes possible, nevertheless, it seems to me that the right question to ask is not whether we can replace oil. A more important question is do we really want it? Do we wish to sustain car-centered cities and consumer culture, even if we could?

Life without oil

Though peak oil is certainly a challenge, it is also as an opportunity. It is like someone hitting you on the head: “Hey, wake up! What are you doing?”. Without sufficient supplies of cheap oil the consumer society is brought to a halt and it is an opportunity for positive change. It is a chance for a good life. As oil becomes less available we could redesign our neighborhoods, so that they become walkable and more people-friendly. The pace of life could be slower, people could be able to meet more often, work less and perhaps even eat together like in the village of Gaviotas in Columbia. We could reweave social ties, produce food locally, provide meaningful jobs and become independent from a global economy where people must work 10 hours per day because for some unexplainable reason they have to compete with each other and be more and more efficient. We could finally get past the culture where the quality of life is measured by a number of goods and services consumed.

It is certainly useful to have trains and buses connecting cities and villages, or even airplanes if their CO2 emissions could be captured. But trying to sustain car-dependent societies and the idea of never-ending economic growth is not the best way to make us happy. There are already places in the industrialized part of the world that are car-free, not because we have run out of oil, but because the quality of life in the city or on an island is better when there are no cars. There are a car-free areas in Copenhagen (Denmark), Prague (Czech Republic), La Rochelle (France), Freiburg (Germany), Siena (Italy), Växjö (Sweden) and even the entire city of Zermatt in Switzerland. When tourists come to Zermatt they leave their cars 5 km outside the city and arrive to Zermatt by train. Inside the city there are electric vehicles allowed for local commerce, horse-drawn carriages, electric taxis and buses and of course bicycles. To learn more about car-free cities you can download the sourcebook “Car-Free Development”.

Artificial photosynthesis could bring some immediate environmental advantages. If cheap methanol was widely available then the price of crude oil would go down so much that it no longer would be profitable to exploit tar sands in Canada. Tar sands could simply stay in the ground, possibly forever. What’s more, an incentive could appear to further develop air carbon capture technologies that could in the future lower the CO2 level in the atmosphere. Methanol produced in this way could also slow down the rate of CO2 emissions from transportation because less oil or in some countries no oil would be necessary. The need for biofuels could be eliminated, thus freeing agricultural lands for crop production for the growing population. The demand for palm oil would go down as well, so possibly less rainforest would be burned in Borneo and some of the natural habitat for orangutans could be saved. “The exploration of oil fields in the Amazon could stop as well,” I said in a conversation with professor Nazimek. “Yes” he answered, “We are aware of what we have come up with.”

If the plan in Poland works then in 2011 around 25% of Polish CO2 emissions could be converted to fuel (10). There are no modifications in car engines needed. It’s a regular gasoline that could go straight into tanks, only the input material for chemical reactions would be different. No changes in infrastructure for fuel distribution would be necessary. Nevertheless, if we are to replace oil with another cheap fuel, let’s do it wisely.

It is important to remember that CO2 to methanol technology is not the ultimate solution for environmental problems around the world. It’s just a “patch” that we can apply to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help to deal with peak oil. The sustainable, long-term solution is changing our ethics. It is embracing the ethics of earth care and people care, it is the ethics of sharing with others and compassion. It is the cultural change that is needed most. The real solutions for forging a new sustainable world are promoted e.g. by the Transition movement, the ecovillages movement and permaculture.

Transition to CO2-based fuels

Artificial photosynthesis allows us to buy some more time, before fossil fuels run out. It also creates an unexpected situation where large amounts of oil that were about to be extracted may be left untapped. We still need to power down, consume less and make a transition to a sustainable way of living. We still have only one planet to live on and we need to share the available resources in a just way. CO2-based fuels are a surprising opportunity that potentially allows us to solve the climate change problem. As long as CO2 is emitted from power plants we can produce cheap fuel. Within this time we should construct a transportation system that will be able to run on a CO2 derived fuel in a closed cycle. We can do it before we will need to use crude oil again. It can be a system where the basic mode of transport is a bus or a train rather than a private car and where food is grown locally so that the need for long-distance transport is dramatically reduced. With the invention of affordable fuel made by artificial photosynthesis, we have dodged the bullet, so let’s leave the oil for good, before we’ll be shot at again.

The important issue is how to make this transition? Who will produce these fuels? State-owned companies or private corporations? In many countries, such as the US, citizens could reclaim some of their political power if the CO2-based fuels production facilities where owned by and run by the state. In other words, they would be owned by people. It is an unprecedented opportunity for president Obama to make his country truly independent of imported oil. And it can be done fast. Just within a few years. The amount of funding needed is fairly modest. The fuel distribution infrastructure is already in place. Car engines don’t need to be modified. There are more than 2 billion tons of CO2 emissions from the transport sector in the US every year. They could be eliminated to zero.

Climate negotiations in Copenhagen could provide a world platform for promoting this technology and helping developing countries to build necessary infrastructure. This time China will be very interested to participate. Since they have lots of coal, they can fuel their cars and trucks without importing oil. The risk of resource wars could be minimized. China would no longer have to compete with the USA for oil supplies. And the air in Shanghai could be cleaner. India could be willing to join the project as well.
The target discussed in Copenhagen for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions could really make a difference. Now we can think about at least 90-95% reductions by 2050. Some countries could even soon create zero carbon economies, following the example of Maldives. Within just 5 years CO2 emissions could peak and finally start to go down. We can develop a plan that could make it economically viable and socially acceptable. It could include not only emissions from transportation, but also other sources of greenhouses gases, like methane from paddy rice. For CO2 levels in the atmosphere, we know what’s the safe number – it’s 350ppm, max. We are now at around 388 ppm. It means we need to suck some of the CO2 out of the air, but what we could also do is to cool the planet. I’m not talking about corporate mega projects, but about working with poor farmers around the world to help them grow forest gardens. These gardens provide people with food, clothes, construction materials and medicines. A good example of such a project is community-based reforestation in Borneo. The food forests in Borneo actually cool local climate by 3-5°C, increase air humidity by 10% and increase the rainfall by 25%. When they started, there were only 5 species of birds living in the grassland, but now when the forest gardens are flourishing you can find 137 bird species. What’s more, they provide livelihood for around 3000 people (11). If we could reduce the air temperature in other tropical areas by 3-5°C in just 3 years and tackle hunger and poverty at the same time, wouldn’t it be something?

The new fuel could be accompanied with a set of policies that would promote sustainable transport rather than increasing congestion by selling cheap fuel. Cheap fuel is good, but for the public transport alone. In means cheaper bus tickets or cheaper train fares. But for private cars or delivery trucks there could be a fuel duty that would keep the price reasonably high at the gas station. Why? Because cheap fuel means more cars on the roads, more traffic jams and the spread of suburbia. More cars produced means more resources and more energy used. So, the policy priority could be to develop a sustainable public transport system thanks to low fuel prices. The fuel duty could have one more important role. It could provide funds for the transition to clean, carbon-neutral energy and climate change mitigation.

We need to act fast because we don’t have much time left to stop the melting of the Arctic Sea Ice. The Arctic Sea Ice is vital, because once it’s gone it jumpstarts several reactions that reinforce global warming (positive feedbacks), including the permafrost thaw in the far North and the release of enormous quantities of methane and carbon. There are already lakes forming all over the Arctic and methane is bubbling out of them. The carbon stored in the permafrost could potentially raise global temperatures by 10°C or even more (12). Let’s not mess with the permafrost. We have the opportunity for a global agreement to reduce the human impact on climate change. Indeed, we can solve it.

As Sir Nicholas Stern puts it: “The conference in Copenhagen is the most important international gathering since the Second World War.” Decisions made there will have a profound impact on the future of life on Earth. There are several important meetings on the road to Copenhagen, with the first ones starting in June. A concept of the new plan could be presented there.

Call for Contributions

Dear citizens, Permaculture designers, climatologists, economists, engineers and policymakers. I would like to prepare a Cool Proposal that would present a positive vision of how CO2-based fuels could be introduced in a socially just, economically viable and environmentally friendly way. The aim is to allow governments to reach an agreement in Copenhagen that will solve the climate crisis.

Your comments and suggestions are most welcome! You can add them on this page. If you see any other opportunities for implementing the CO2 to methanol technology or possible threats and unintended consequences, please don’t hesitate to write about it. I hope we’ll be able to find adequate solutions for them.

If you would like to collaborate on the project, please contact me directly at:

coolproposalcop15[at]gmail[dot]com

For collaborators it is essential to have a genuine passion for one of the subjects covered by the proposal and willingness to take a responsibility for writing your piece well. There may be other people also contributing on the subject, so you should be ready to work as a part of a team. And certainly, you must be really good at what you would like to write about.

Ideally, the subjects covered by the Cool Proposal would be: introduction to artificial photosynthesis, replacing oil with CO2-based fuels (including:the methanol to gasoline process and CO2-based fuels potential country by country), a step-by-step plan for developing emission-free transport, saying good bye to coal (including: how to promote decentralized energy systems, financing the transition, car-free development, establishing food forests – including: building a forest economy and creating a Food Forests Fund), restoring rivers and the impact of the proposal on climate change. Let’s create a positive and appealing vision of the future that people and governments at COP15 will be happy to embrace!

Your sincerely,
Marcin Gerwin

Citizens’ power

In a democratic country it is not the government that is in charge. It is always the people. We literally hire the government to run the country on our behalf. The country belongs to the people and people can make decisions regarding the country directly or through their elected representatives. We choose members of the parliament, we choose the presidents. They work for us. President Obama is the employee of American people. Prime minister Gordon Brown is the employee of British people. The climate crisis is not just about technologies. As Al Gore points out, we have to become active as citizens. Politicians will act, if we ask them to act. That’s why the “Not Stupid” campaign in the UK includes a pledge that can be signed by citizens that they will not vote for the Labour Party ever again if the Labour government does not ratify a meaningful proposal in Copenhagen. That’s a strong message!

On the other hand politicians do need our support. They want to know that we are interested in stopping climate change, that we support bold and ambitious actions. It is inspiring for the ministers to know that people support their work. Members of the government are citizens, just like us. They are mothers and fathers. They have kids for whom they would like to provide a good future. It’s just that they are trapped in the political and economic system. It seems to me that in the end of the day, when many of them come back home, they do understand what climate change is about and what is at stake. And they want to do the right thing.

The reason why we can be optimistic about reaching a breakthrough agreement in Copenhagen is that now we have the technology that could eventually replace coal. The CO2 to methanol process provides fuel that can be used to generate electricity and heating in a cogeneration plant. And this process is renewable. The CO2 emissions from burning methanol are captured, dissolved in water and thanks to the catalyst converted to methanol again. Then the process is repeated on and on. There are no emissions from this cycle. The extra source of energy that is needed for the catalyst can come from solar panels, a wind turbine or other renewable source.

We can use this technology to create a distributed energy system that would include small and medium-size generators owned by local trusts or community co-ops like the famous wind co-ops in Denmark. Government support could go to fund local initiatives and this approach could be backed by national policy. We have the opportunity to repower world economies using clean and renewable sources of energy. We have finally the technical solution needed to create zero carbon economies in the short time that we’ve got left. Let’s just do it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Marcin Gerwin is a co-founder of Earth Conservation, a non-profit group working for sustainable development. He graduated with a Ph.D. in political studies, from the University of Gdansk, Poland, with his thesis: “The idea and practice of sustainable development in the context of global challenges”. He is also involved in a local initiative promoting participatory democracy in his home city Sopot, Poland.

References:

  1. Personal communication with Dobieslaw Nazimek, 14.04.2009.
  2. Agnieszka Maderska, Czy CO2 zrobi z Polski drugi Kuwejt?, wnp.pl, http://nafta.wnp.pl/czy-co2-zrobi-z-polski-drugi-kuwejt,5404_2_0_0.html, 30.03.2009.
  3. Personal communication with Dobieslaw Nazimek, 14.04.2009.
  4. Carbon Capture Strategy Could Lead to Emission-Free Cars, Georgia Institute of Technology, http://www.gatech.edu/newsroom/release.html?id=1707, 11.02.2008.
  5. Personal communication with Andrei Fedorov from the MITf-Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology, 12.04.2009.
  6. David L. Damm, Andrei G. Fedorov, Conceptual study of distributed CO2 capture and the sustainable carbon economy, Energy Conversion and Management no. 49, 2008, p. 1682.
  7. F. Jeffrey Martin, William L. Kubic, Green Freedom: a Concept for Producing Carbon-Neutral Synthetic Fuels and Chemicals, p. 3.
  8. U of C scientist captures global-warming gas directly from the air, University of Calgary, http://www.ucalgary.ca/news/utoday/sept29-08/carboncapture, 29.09.2008.
  9. US estimate transportation emissions from: Emissions of Greenhouse Gases Report, Energy Information Administration, http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/ggrpt/carbon.html.
  10. Personal communication with Dobieslaw Nazimek, 14.04.2009.
  11. Willie Smits, TED conference 2009, https://permaculturenews.org/2009/03/30/community-based-rainforest-restoration-work-is-huge-success-in-borneo, slide at: 13:50 min.
  12. Fred Pearce, Arctic meltdown is a threat to humanity, New Scientist, http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20127011.500-arctic-meltdown-is-a-threat-to-humanity.html

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14 thoughts on “Beyond Peak Oil and Climate Change

  1. Great article. I also read about this technology a few weeks ago during my PDC course in hawaii. The best news I’ve heard in a long time. Sure does give me hope for the human race.

    I also suggest that we start reforesting our lands that were once forests but cut down and/or our barren deserts (such as western usa). Not only will this sequester co2 but also create more habitable landscapes and increase in jobs for planting / harvesting.

    A great technology for reforestation is the waterboxx – http://infopatriots.blogspot.com/2009/04/waterboxx.html

    Only disagreement is about the taxes to reduce car use. Some cities are designed for car use and would be incredible energy intensive to redesign. Keep this in mind.

    I’d focus your proposal on the energy and let the taxes/policy be let up to the people. At least you could suggest the idea but not make it sound mandatory.

  2. This is really WOW. IF,IF the technical’s are right then the capacity to easily convert CO2 to methanol would be fantastic.

    Have to say however I find the figure of 3c a litre for petrol unbelievable. For a start the process of capturing the CO2 from power stations is complex and costly in itself. I just can’t see how the entire process could be achieved at such a low cost.

    However if it works at any reasonable cost its a winner. I particularly like the concept of keeping the production process in public hands. And that will require some world shaking changes in current attitudes.

  3. I have never seen CO2 as a problem it is a life creating substance and I’m very excited about this type of technology being discovered. These are the kinds of solutions that will change our planet for the better.

  4. I’m skeptical about the energy transformities and Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) of this scheme. The steps, if I have it right are:

    Capture the CO2
    Disolve it in water
    Produce and add catylist
    Energy is added by a special light
    Separate the methanol out of the “wine”

    All this takes energy inputs, so my interest is in what yield is obtained (the net energy) from all these processes. Seems to me that planting trees and driving less is more straightforward.

  5. Wow, a “special light” powers it all. That explains everything! Is that anything like the “secret recipe” or “special fuel additive” or “self-regenerating power source” or any of the other 1001 scams with the mystery component that is never explained or subject to scientific scrutiny, that we keep being told will save the world if only we will trust the inventor and their black box.

    And the budding entrepeneur wants public funding for his *patented* world-changing mystery technology. How many times have we heard that before?

    AS Dave says, for at least minimal credibility we need to know the energy and material inputs, and yields. My guess is the “special light” is UV (ultraviolet) which is artificially generated (requiring oodles of energy), the mystery catalyst contains Copper+Titanium Dioxide and the conversion process is less efficient than already existing technology or photosynthesis. If it is really patented, at least give us the patent number.

    Please don’t waste people’s time with this stuff until the basic claims have been aired in a peer-reviewed scientific publication and been independently verified, and we have some reasonable idea of the efficiencies and materials involved. Even if it’s proposed in good faith, there are many plausible schemes that never work out because the energy numbers never quite add up.

  6. I was quite exited to read the headline. If only you had found a way to pull CO2 out of the atmosphere and hide it in some sort of stable form… but, alas, this sounds like something else entirely. The net result of efficiency gains like this one may be to simply increase consumption, thereby, giving a new lease to a doomed civilization/economy.

  7. Zachary, I agree that we should be planting more forests. However, if very cheap fuel was widely available, then the result would be more cars sold, more resources used, more traffic congestion and an incentive for urban sprawl. Take Moscow, for example, they have cheap petrol and a huge traffic jam. It seems to me that cheap petrol could be provided for public transportation, but a fuel tax would be necessary for private cars. It doesn’t mean that the price per 1 gallon of fuel would be higher than now. It could be roughly the same. I wish the tax rate could be decided directly by the people, but I guess for now it’s all up to governments.

    Joseph, the price of 3 cents is just a raw cost of producing 1 liter of methanol. If you convert it to petrol, than the cost would increase to 8-11 cents (estimate). To calculate the price at the gas station, you’ll need to add costs of distribution, profits, taxes etc.

    Dave, as far as I’ve learned there is not much energy needed for the process. That’s the whole point. Otherwise the cost of energy would make it too expensive.

    Toby, I agree that the term “special light” is not the most fortunate one (my mistake). It means: a source of photons in the UV range providing optimum color temperature for the reaction. For a non-technical reader it doesn’t help much, so I decided to simplify it. You’re right that since all details are not published it leaves room for speculations and uncertainty. The official publication in the scientific journal was delayed because the scientists decided to patent the technology first. I hope that professor Nazimek will clarify all technical issues himself soon.

  8. I’m with Prof. Plimer completely (have his new book) always have been but I’ve been a methanol economy fan since Prof. Olah’s (Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry) team wrote ‘The Methanol Economy’ a few years back.

    This catalysis breakthrough is fantastic news. Why if I don’t believe the hype around anthropogenic GW then CC now ‘Carbon’! pollution? It will provide a sop for the alarmists so we can utilise our coal, do away with fealty to nasty oil producing regimes, strengthen the family budget, and improve our balance of payments – ie ENERGY INDEPENDENCE! No more export of Islamic terrorism woo hoo!

    Fischer-Tropsch coal to liquids (methanol) doesn’t burn the coal but heats it so the flue gas lacks particulates etc and so is very pure and concentrated CO2 – perfect for converting it all to more methanol.

    Methanol integrates wonderfully with commercial size renewables like wind and solar. Excess off peak energy – electrolysis of water – hydrogen gas to nearby coal deposit or CO2 source – methanol.

    Methanol dissolves in water and bacteria eat it up so no more oil spills – much cleaner burning than petroleum liquid fuels, and provides more power in current I.C. Engines. Only minor modification to petrol stations.

    Methanol fuel cells are soon going to power consumer electronics (see latest laptops) and methanol is a suitable precursor to virtually every petrochemical that is the basis of our modern economy.

    Lets get to it. CNX and LNC have a head start lets follow their lead.

    P.s. Love Permaculture have influenced loads of friends and own ‘Global Gardener’ Keep up the good work guys.

    P.p.s Be careful of being co-opted into global climate warming carbon change or whatever its called fashions (has all the hallmarks of counterfeit religion now) re: Permaculture.org’s long term credibility.

  9. Martin, the idea behind the CO2 to methanol approach is to… leave fossil fuels in the ground. When you use coal to liquid process you are still dependent on non-renewable resource, that being coal, plus you emit a greenhouse gas. While it is certainly a challenge to complete a design of emission-free vehicles, what we can do soon enough is to replace coal-fired power plants. We can do it even in Poland where around 94% of electricity is generated from burning coal. Many of these power plants are old now, and they could be gradually replaced by new power plants using methanol and artificial photosynthesis in a closed cycle. If energy for the process was provided by solar, small hydro or wind energy, then would could have a source of clean, reliable and emission-free energy.

  10. Marcin, I radically disagree with your assessment of carbon dioxide as a greenhouse pollutant, real pollutants are the various products of incomplete combustion – global warming/climate change whatever alarmists are doing their worst to concentrate power even more thoroughly in the hands of a few – energy commissars of the State and an oligarchy of firms who will profit from ‘carbon trading’. The extra expense will be borne by taxpayers making individuals and families even more dependent on Leviathan.

    This transition you are talking about will be massively expensive and cost many jobs, it will slow civilising efforts in the developed world and make people even further dependent on welfare from the State. This human thirst for unity and togetherness is perverted when it seeks its centre in the State, you’ll find the global . .. . . whatever becoming more and more coercive as the facts count against the ideology – they are moving fast.

    What is through and through an empirical question has not been shown to many people’s satisfaction and questioners are being silenced. There are much greater threats to civilisation and lies like these are the perfect way to shield us from the truly pertinent questions.

    A methanol economy is a great way to achieve energy independence, reduce pollution, help developing economies wean themselves off oil cartel dependence and increase family budgets and ability to raise children by utilising our natural resources cleanly and economically.

    I believe Prof. Plimer is correct again and a dispassionate rather than fevered ideological movement stance is utterly necessary at this time. We are in a very dangerous position because of shoddy thinking in finance, we cannot afford shoddy thinking in energy policy given it touches virtually ever aspect of our lives.

    People have to do serious business with thinkers like Prof. Plimer and the thousands of scientist in solidarity with him. This has not been done to date.

  11. Martin, I must confess that calling CO2 a pollutant is a little confusing for me too :) CO2 is essential for plants growth and for keeping a livable climate on Earth. We do need a greenhouse effect, otherwise it would be too cold (around -18°C). Having said that, there is no doubt that pumping too much CO2 into the air is a problem. CO2 traps heat and you can easily confirm it in the lab. The ability of various gases to absorb heat was discovered as early as in 1850s by John Tyndall. The research work of many climatologists (eg. from Met Office) shows that if we didn’t increase the CO2 level in the air then global average temperature would be lower. My personal feeling is that the loss of forests around the world has also seriously affected global climate by changing local weather patterns on a large scale, but that’s just an intuition.

    I hope to have a clear analysis of costs for the electricity generation using CO2 to methanol process for the Cool Proposal along with the forecast of economic impact. Jobs are my concern as well :)

  12. UPDATE: I have some latest news with regards to artificial photosynthesis. I have calculated the estimate costs of production of 1 liter of methanol myself and they are higher than in the article above. What’s more, I didn’t manage to confirm the energy use of the device, even though I have visited the lab in person (the photoreactor was not turned on at that time). This is the most controversial part and I guess for the definite data we’ll have to wait until the first facility is built. The content of the catalyst has been revealed and unfortunately it does contain a rare metal – ruthenium – although I asked at least twice if it did.

    Oh, well…

  13. I’m afraid you may be underestimating the photon energy required to make fuel from CO2. Carbon Sciences CABN.OB in the US has filed for a patent on a similar process. They use methane as a source of energy. Looking at this page of their web site:
    http://www.carbonsciences.com/01/applications.html
    the fuel is made mostly from natural gas with only a little CO2. The Methane has 78 million BTU of energy and the gasoline out has 54 million so that’s 68% efficient ignoring the CO2.

    When the gasoline burns it emits 4.71 tons of CO2 so the 2 tons used cuts net emissions to 2.71

    They may be different processes but we shouldn’t get too excited till we know how much photon energy is needed to make the fuel. CO2 is low energy spent fuel.

  14. Oops! I just found it:
    “Nazimek says his “artificial photosynthesis” process is based on the photocatalytic conversion of water and carbon dioxide under deep ultraviolet light. Synthesis of 1 kmole (32 kg) of CH3OH from CO2 and H2O requires 586MJ of energy, according to Nazimek’s calculations. (Methanol has a HHV of 22.7 MJ/kg, or 726 MJ/kmole).”
    http://www.greencarcongress.com/2009/07/nazimek-20090707.html
    That means (ignoring the CO2) the photon energy is converted with 586/726 = 80.7% efficiency. The problem is that sunlight doesn’t have much UV left because of the atmosphere.

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