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Our primary environmental risk this century seems to be the increasing amount of CO2 emission from energy generating processes. The uncontrolled build up of atmospheric CO2 projects directly to catastrophic global warming (over 4o C by century end). What to do with the excess CO2 is our dilemma. Can Nanotechnology help to stop the growth or even reduce CO2 emission before it is too late? The preliminary answer is "yes … use the excess CO2 emissions to make carbon nanotubes ."
November 15th, 2006
The Greening of Power Plants
The Greening of Power Plants
Emission CO2 Conversion to Carbon Nanotubes
Alan B. Shalleck
Our primary environmental risk this century seems to be the increasing amount of CO2 emission from energy generating processes. The uncontrolled build up of atmospheric CO2 projects directly to catastrophic global warming (over 4o C by century end). Global warming leads to world wide flooding, continental climate change and drought, universal economic depression, regions of famine, mass migration and possibly destruction of the civilized world. That's the conclusion of the MIT panel in May, six Nobel prize winners in Dallas, the British and European science conferences in early fall and almost every learned group in the world. Atmospheric CO2 accumulation will increase as the global economy expands rapidly over the next 10 - 25 years. What to do with the excess CO2 is our dilemma. Can Nanotechnology help to stop the growth or even reduce CO2 emission before it is too late? The preliminary answer is "yes … use the excess CO2 emissions to make carbon nanotubes ."
First a word on risk. A minority of experts disagree about CO2 emission risk. They say that the problem facing the world is an energy shortage, especially in the fossil fuel category required for transportation, and that CO2 accumulation is a secondary issue. One hears "there is a shortage of energy and that will inhibit the global growth of our civilization." That's wrong. A little analysis shows no shortage of energy near term or even longer term. There are over 300 years of coal in the US alone, 50 + years of known recoverable oil reserves worldwide, 75 years of gas currently locked in, an infinite amount of nuclear based power generating potential … plenty of energy sources without considering the many alternative sources discussed in the trade and professional press.
Because most of the energy sources are not where the energy is used, the unit price to supply energy at a usable location is the guiding variable … and any alleged shortage of energy is simply resolved by raising that price. Raise energy ($/btu) prices above current market prices, or subsidize currently uneconomic energy generating alternatives, and normal market forces or demand will respond by developing the next least economic energy source on the above list. For example, raise the price per barrel of sweet crude above $90-100/bbl and the world begins to develop tar sands, shale oil, deep sea oil, alternative solar and wind power, plus serious consideration is given to expanded nuclear power plant construction. There's no shortage. Just a projected shortage at a particular price. Note that every one of the energy source alternatives produces CO2 that is released to the atmosphere.
Another minority claims that potable water is the primary strategic problem. They say that wars over potable water between growing populations with high lifestyle expectations are inevitable and lead to calamitous sociological disruption. Again, there is obviously plenty of water worldwide. It's called ocean and water can be converted, pumped or purified anywhere if price is no object. Note that energy is consumed in any proposed potable water solution. If desalinization is a possible solution, large amounts of energy are required to run the desalinization pumps and filters, and to move the refined water to where it may be needed. Projecting out possible world wide need for potable water generation also results in a large need for energy and consequently in increases in CO2 released to the atmosphere. The CO2 problem is ubiquitous.
Many of the residual power plant products can be used productively. Unfortunately that is not true for CO2. CO2, although liquefiable, it is not a natural feedstock in massive quantities. Storage of excess CO2 has focused on underground storage (with pilot plants in various locations) and storage below the deep ocean floor where pressure and temperature make liquid CO2 heavier and denser than water so the ocean's weight and temperature act as a permanent cap on any stored CO2 gas. Not many experts are comfortable with any of the proposed storage alternatives but investigation continues.
Nanotechnology offers a possible alternative to CO2 storage. Much of the nanotech research with CO2 has concentrated on using CO2 as a catalyst in Carbon Nanotube (CNT) modification. It has not focused on using CO2 simply to manufacture CNTs. Recently, a NY based company that makes machines to manufacture Carbon Nanotubes from various feedstocks casually mentioned to me, as an aside, that they could also manufacture CNT's from CO2 … that their process could make Carbon Nanotubes from excess Carbon Dioxide. Isn't that interesting? It should be investigated immediately.
If true, one possible solution to the excess CO2 is to locate large conversion machines at power generation facilities to use excess CO2 as a feedstock to make very large quantities of CNT's. These inexpensive CNTs then could be used by society in all the wonderful ways projected for CNT use.
If these auxiliary CNT manufacturing plants were successful, CNT's would be available in quantity at very low cost in very useable volumes many places in the world. Available CNT's would create new nanotech based industries worldwide. It is a very exciting idea.
Since there is an energy deficit in the CO2 to CNT conversion process, some of the power currently being produced by a plant would have to be used to power the conversion of feedstock CO2 to CNT. The additional financial cost could easily be subsidized by governments and institutions because the societal result was so important. Conversion equations built on practical assumptions show that if such a strategy were to be pursued and properly sponsored by all governments with justifiable financial incentives, a significant reduction in CO2 released to the atmosphere would begin occur within 3 - 5 years.
Why not put such a man made "Tree" (free oxygen is also produced emulating photosynthesis) on the output of every power plant in the world that can spew CO2 into the atmosphere? It leads to the "Greening" of the Power Industry and a possible solution to society's primary risk.
Alan B. Shalleck
© NanoClarity LLC 2006