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back to article Panasonic: We'll save Earth by turning CO2 INTO BOOZE

Electronics giant Panasonic is showing off its ambitious attempt to tackle global warming – with a plant-like machine that uses light to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere. The Japanese biz's Artificial Photosynthesis System, which turns the greenhouse gas into organic material, differs from other attempts to mimic the behaviour of …

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Devil

News flash from 25 years in the future...

Global problems as all the trees are dying because there is no CO2 in the atmosphere since its all been converted to power cars...

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Holmes

Re: News flash from 25 years in the future...

...and Scotsmen.

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Pint

More likely...

More likely to produce methanol than ethanol at a guess.

My reasoning is that it current mainly produces formic acid. In humans formic acid is produced from the chain:

methanol -> formaldehyde -> formic acid

The reactions being triggered by the enzymes alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase respectively.

The chain for ethanol (non-tramp booze) is:

ethanol -> acetaldehyde -> acetic acid.

So from only my hazy memories of how hangovers work and why tramps go blind I deduce that it is more likely to produce meths than single malts.

Of course meths can run cars. There's a campaign for it somewhere. It's not a top tipple though.

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Thumb Down

"Power cars..."?

The Automobile Association of America reckons you shouldn't use E-15 (gasoline with 15% ethanol) and car makers are saying if you do it will void your warranty!

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/11/30/aaa-e15-gas-harm-cars/1735793/

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FAIL

Re: News flash from 25 years in the future...

And what happens to the methanol/ethanol that powers all the cars? Oh yeh, gets tuurned into carbon dioxide, Net removal of CO2.....zero. OK so it means that Hydrocarbons are not burnt instead, but its is hardly removing CO2 is it?

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Mushroom

Re: News flash from 25 years in the future...

No CO2 from cars is good though surely? What's the greenhouse effect of drinking booze? Beery-farts smell like the end of the world to me.

Also, I think the efficiency might need improving a touch to make this a cheap fuel for cars.

And farts for that matter.

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Pint

Re: methanol

proto-robbie's comment about Scotsmen would still apply...

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Re: "Power cars..."?

" you shouldn't use E-15 (gasoline with 15% ethanol) and car makers are saying if you do it will void your warranty"

Going out on a limb here, but perhaps better advice is to restrict yourself to the fuels your engine is engineered to work with. The same reason that you should not use petroleum in a car designed for diesel. Brazil use 85% ethanol blends.

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Re: News flash from 25 years in the future...

Net removal zero is far better than adding to the total which is what things like digging up coal or fracking do, natural processes remove the stuff eventually. Anyway I'm glad to see the Register publishing something that mentions climate change that isn't complete bollocks.

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Similar to my invention

What I cunningly did, was put a glass container out into daylight. It soaked up CO2 and after a few days I had a lovely green biological material in the container. One that could be turned into foodstuff or with further processing alchohol.

Should I patent this unique process?

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Joke

@Roger

Absolutely!

But don't stop there; once you have the patent you should then try to sue every farmer you can think of for patent violation. Who knows; with a little luck (and some dumb judges and patent office people) you'll be rich in no time!

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Hmm...

...a wind turbine should be able to exceed 0.2% efficiency.

Could that be harnessed via this gizmo to produce methanol/ethanol/something?

Because then the turbine could be attached to a storage device and a generator of some description (or even pump the product to a different facility).

Thus wind over-production (when/if that ever happens) can be chemically stored in a means we are already familiar with.

Why do I have a nasty feeling the loses will be huge?

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Go

Re: Hmm...

http://www.itm-power.com/energy-storage/

Electricity from unreliable renewables can be stored as hydrogen. There are now hydrogen filling stations in California, and vehicles available for lease. There are also hydrogen powered vehicles under test in the UK in non-road situations (again, see the website).

Conversion efficiency isn't massively important if you're harnessing a "free resource" such as wind, as long as the you're covering the cost of the infrastructure.

*(I have no connection to ITM Power)

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Stop

Re: Hmm...

"Electricity from unreliable renewables can be stored as hydrogen. "

Ahhh, but where does all the excess oxygen that you get when splitting water into H & O go to?

Into the atmosphere?

Would that lead to excess O2 in the atmosphere?!?!

AAAARRRRG!

Oxygeddon!!!!!!??

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Re: Hmm...

Hydrogen is a sod to handle. Ethanol (for example) can be safely carried in a bottle.

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Re: Excess oxygen

This is apparently nothing new. Once upon a time there was no fungal decay, so dead trees just lay around locking up carbon, and eventually turning into coal. The result was a much higher proportion of oxygen in the atmosphere, which allowed things like six-foot dragonflies to exist. This sounds very nice, but I suspect the four-foot cockroach and the two-foot ant would be a concern.

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Re: Hmm...

>Would that lead to excess O2 in the atmosphere?!?!

No, it wouldn't.

The article suggests these systems will be placed next to conventional power plants, which take oxygen from the air and combine it with carbon to produce CO2. The oxygen released from the CO2 by Panasonic's machine is only that which was combined with carbon by the conventional power station.

Conversely, there was a local brewery which kept having environmental officers turning up and complaining that the brewing process released CO2... until someone explained to them very slowly that the the CO2 being released had only recently been absorbed from the atmosphere by the barley when it was growing- it was merely being cycled. (Obviously the brewery used fossil fuels too; gas to heat the liquor and diesel to distribute the end product)

(Apologies for not being arsed to format sub-script for the 2 in CO2)

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Happy

Re: Hmm...

In principle these CO2s-to-hydrocarbon technologies could run on anything, although running them on fossil fuels would obviously be stupid.

For example, hydro, wind and geothermal power generators run all the time. You can use a technology like this to effectively store the excess energy produced when there's little demand (e.g. at 3am). Heck, you could even use nuke plants, although that seems somewhat perverse.

Clearly, there's some assembly required here. But if someone can produce a CO2 sequestration unit that runs on electricity, then it might just be a case of plugging it in to the mains somewhere..

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Re: Hmm...

quote: "In principle these CO2s-to-hydrocarbon technologies could run on anything, although running them on fossil fuels would obviously be stupid."

I disagree; running them on fossile fuels will initially overshadow the CO2 absorbtion with CO2 production from the fuel, however it will also use up the fossil fuels quicker. The quicker we run out of fossil fuel, the quicker we have to come up with a viable alternative.

You just need to balance your personal belief on the viability of AGW based Carbongeddon versus the utility of forcing the world off fossil fuels, because we've used them all up so nobody has a choice in the matter ;)

quote: "But if someone can produce a CO2 sequestration unit that runs on electricity, then it might just be a case of plugging it in to the mains somewhere.."

Err... if you want the end result of carbon sequestration then that one is a bit silly, given in most countries a majority of the grid is run on fossil fuels. Much easier to run it off cheap 10% efficient photovoltaic panels, surely? ;)

quote: "Conversely, there was a local brewery which kept having environmental officers turning up and complaining that the brewing process released CO2... until someone explained to them very slowly that the the CO2 being released had only recently been absorbed from the atmosphere by the barley when it was growing- it was merely being cycled."

This brings up one dichotomy I've often had cognitive dissonance over; in the brewery example mentioned above, the CO2 production is fine because it is from a plant source, and therefore previously sequestrated by the plant, from the atmosphere. This is the Carbon cycle, and therefore perfectly acceptable.

However fossil fuels are also initially a plant source, and therefore also initially sequestrated from the atmosphere. I don't think I've ever heard of them referred to as part of the Carbon cycle though. Are they not just part of a geological-timescale (temporally displaced?) Carbon cycle?

Atmosphere -> plant -> fossil fuel -> atmosphere does not look all that different from atmosphere -> plant -> brewery -> atmosphere, except in how long it takes to get back in the air. Everyone I've mentioned this to tends to skirt the issue though... are they also experiencing the same cognitive dissonance?

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Go

Re: Hmm...

".a wind turbine should be able to exceed 0.2% efficiency. Could that be harnessed via this gizmo to produce methanol/ethanol/something?"

This would certainly explain why Scotland's government is so keen on having the largest wind farms in Europe. Free energy and booze?

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Boffin

Re: Hmm...

Allow me to assuage your no doubt painful cognitive dissonance....

The OK-ness about atmosphere > plant > brewery > atmosphere is that on completion it will revert the CO2 levels to what they were before the barley was grown - ie a year ago.

The problem with releasing all the carbon in fossil fuels is that this will revert the atmosphere to the CO2 concentrations of the period before that carbon was taken up by the plants which made the fossil fuel. Since most coal, oil etc was laid down in the Devonian and Carboniferous periods, we're talking about reversion to atmospheric carbon levels of maybe 500 million years ago. Back then (I remember it well) the atmosphere was not terribly human-friendly.

NB I am not a scientist, or -ist of any other relevant discipline. Free free to bat bricks...

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Thumb Up

Re: Hmm...

Re energy storage - the single best store of energy we have available is hydrocarbons. Energy Density higher than H2 and MUCH higher than batteries, it's relatively easy and safe to reansport, ans best of all, we already have all our equipment and infrastructure designed to use it so no need for massive global retooling.

Ideally all renewable power sources in out-of-the-way places that can't practically be hooked to the grid should simply convert water + CO2 into petrol*.

Why get 0.2% efficiency when you can combine solar (approx 20% efficient) and electricity-to-petrol (which surely is more than 1% efficient)?

* I believe some German researchers (Fraunhofer?) already have some working prototypes.

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Pint

Re: Hmm...

" from a plant source, and therefore previously sequestrated by the plant, from the atmosphere. This is the Carbon cycle, and therefore perfectly acceptable."

Due to the wonders of modern agriculture (tractors, harvesters, fertilizers etc), 1 calorie of food requires 10 calories of energy expenditure to produce. Presumably the barley used for the beer is no different. Still, if I had to choose between no global warming and beer, there's a clear winner!

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Re: Hmm...

@Blitheringeejit

I wasn't comparing the cycling CO2 in the brewery to fossil fuels- I was directly addressing the OP's concern that Panasonic's machine would lead to excess oxygen in the atmosphere, whilst comparing those concerns to that expressed by local EHOs about the CO2 released by fermentation in breweries. I acknowledged that breweries as a whole are not carbon neutral, but merely the fermentation stage.

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Black Helicopters

Re: Hmm...

No cognitive dissonance, the geological-timescale Carbon cycle is often mentioned, e.g. in @Kubla Cant's dragonfly comment above. However, I would suggest large, aerial carnivores would be a concern to parents of small children and pet-owners.

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Re: Hmm...

That is the case in the US, where individual farms are typically the same size as Wales. In most of the rest of the world, we get more energy out than we put in.

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Re: Excess oxygen

The future is coming: http://images.wikia.com/fallout/images/b/bb/Radroach_Vault_101.jpg

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Re: Excess oxygen

that "Once upon a time" was before 1.5 billion years ago, when fungi developed .. trees have been around for about 400 million years .. and currently lock up about 80% of the above ground Carbon

The last plant family to evolve .. interestingly enough .. were grasses about 40 million years ago .. able to deal with the lower and decreasing CO2 levels below 1000ppm starting 60 million years ago .. between 250 million years ago and 60 million years ago .. CO2 levels swung between 1000ppm and 2500ppm

over the last 600 million years there was about a 50 million year period when oxygen levels were as high as 25-28% .. 100s of millions of years that it was below 15% .. today it is about 21% ..

the largest dragon fly species had a 30 inch wingspan .. Late Permian . about 280-260 million years ago when both O2 and CO2 levels were similar to today's .. more likely ... those large insects had no predators like birds, allowing the large sizes ..

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Vic
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Re: Hmm...

> Ethanol (for example) can be safely carried in a bottle.

Not so. Bottles leak.

After Christmas, I had three bottles of rather nice Scotch on the shelf. All three are now showing a significant reduction in liquid volume...

Vic.

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Joke

Re: Excess oxygen

"...which allowed things like six-foot dragonflies to exist. This sounds very nice, but I suspect the four-foot cockroach and the two-foot ant would be a concern."

Dragonflies generally do have six feet. Personally I'd prefer cockroaches with only four feet, they'd be a bit slower and therefore easier to stomp on. An ant with two feet would have serious trouble carrying twenty times its own body weight and this could lead to problems with numerous ecosystems which rely on ant's garbage disposal work.

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Could do with one of these for my roof.

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MrT
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Good idea...

... they could install a few in Westminster - finally, all that talk-talk in Parliament could produce something useful.

If they could find a way of fixing methane then the House of Lords could join in too...

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Energy in and out?

Is this a passive system that operates without the use of any electrical components?

How much does it cost to produce one of these, and likewise what is its operating lifespan.

Could these not be just another "Hey we're saving the planet... but we aren't really" ploys?

By that last point what I mean is, do the benefits outweigh the cost. For instance if it took electricity to power these things, did it create more CO2 to create the electricity and send it to the device, than the device absorbs? Likewise if they only have an operating life of 10 years before they need replacing, did the CO2 released during the creation equate to a lower amount of CO2 than these things absorb over their lifetime, or more?

It's all well and good saying "This device absorbs CO2" but if it creates more in the process then it's just a worthless counterintuitive piece of scrap metal.

If the plan is to put these around power plants etc, would it not be just as easy to plant something which thrives in poor environments, with a high CO2 absorption rate and growth rate, which can be harvested as a good source of biofuel, such as switchgrass. Cheaper, and more effective.

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Re: Energy in and out?

The article mentions that the experiment is to mimic photosynthesis, and mentions "sunlight or artificial light", and also a catalyst. The sunlight is the source of the energy, not electricity- unless it is used to power artificial lights.

Obviously it will require energy to build the device.

It isn't clear from the Reg article what advantage this system has over, for example, growing algae in glass tubes in the desert, other than the energy density of the end product (if they succeed in making ethanol) and the lack of post processing required.

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Re: Energy in and out?

The main advantage I can see is that it's probably a lot cheaper to produce an off shore wind farm if you attach one of these with a storage tank attached and send a boat out every few days (or even attach a pipe) and pump it to shore occasionally, than having to process the algae.

Equally, this will (hopefully) produce a usable product directly rather than having to be reprocessed.

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Trollface

Re: Energy in and out?

Actually, even if the device has every one of the drawbacks you cite, it could still be a net gain, as it could provide another channel for converting carbon from one of its most inaccessible forms, to a more accessible form.

With the passage of time, people will come to realise that carbon is a rather valuable commodity, and that burning any more than the minimum necessary amount is a tragic waste.

That's why I just cut sugarcane.

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Happy

Would be useful

Jokes aside if you could take water, air (for CO2) and sunlight and make something useful (and burnable) at a higher efficiency than plants, and low enough capital cost then that is actually useful.

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Pint

Re: Would be useful

I'm more interested in the booze part.

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I applaud these efforts

Makes a million times more sense than "carbon capture and storage" which is the worst idea I've ever heard.

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Re: I applaud these efforts

"Makes a million times more sense than "carbon capture and storage" which is the worst idea I've ever heard."

Sort of. The carbon will still exist in our ecosystem and presumably released again when we use the methanol for fuel. We've inadvertantly released more carbon from the earth than would normally happen, so it's worth trying to get some of it back in again, surely.

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Re: I applaud these efforts

Well, yes, of course. But "carbon capture and storage" offers no benefit. By any count, you're using energy to capture, process and pump it underground, for no benefit other than we feel good about ourselves.

We may as well re-use it for something decent.

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Pint

Isn't everyone missing the obvious.

water + airborne CO2 + sunlight -> everlasting beer* supply

Genius. This is proper creative invention. Saving the planet one pint at a time.

*Or other ethanol based beverage with suitable tweaking.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Isn't everyone missing the obvious.

formic acid, miscellaneous hydrocarbons and alcohol = off-the-back-of-a-lorry vodka, not beer

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Black Helicopters

This will disappear if it ever proves viable

While there's oil in the ground, this will never see the light of day, too many vested interests have too much to lose....

Imagine they get this up to a marketable efficiency... you could cover a car or your house roof in a panel of these and have a steady trickle of ethanol, day in day out.

Based on my vehicle usage of 20 miles/day commute (or around 1.5 litres of diesel/chip fat mix - 16yr old Golf so not even the most efficient), after I've invested in an ethanol-ran vehicle, as long as I have enough panels to generate that 1.5 litres daily, I'll never need to visit a fuel station ever again except for 5 litres of lube oil every 6-10k miles.

Shell, BP and Haliburton shareholders lose out, but more importantly a major slice of taxation is lost.

That is why this will be stifled until a full road-usage charging infrastructure has been embedded to make up for that loss of tax revenue.

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Pint

V8

Now I can have my ethanol filled V8 cake

and eat it too.

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Re: V8

Ah, well here's the rub. These plants produce ethanol or diesel or some other combustible fuel. So, what exactly are you going to do with all that very pure flammable hydrocarbon you've produced? Well, you burn it of course.. and turn it back into CO2, water and energy.

Now, you'd hope that if you could produce fuel from CO2 sequestration, then there would be an reduction in demand for fossil fuels (for example, one barrel of diesel from CO2 means one less barrel out of the ground). But it isn't necessarily the case - increasing the supply of fuel could simply reduce the price and lead to greater demand, cancelling out the sequestration efforts completely.

I'm not saying that it shouldn't be done.. but often the law of unexpected consequences applies.

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Re: V8

But surely if the price reduction/increased demand came about from the sequestration/conversion process, economic pressure would push more and more towards sequestration? Barring a total shift in the way oil is sucked out of the ground, it keeps getting more and more expensive to get at.

There will definitely be unexpected consequences, but if it becomes realistically possible to close the loop and turn our waste fuel products back into fuel with sunlight, then it could be a massive leap forward. Unfortunately this all sounds too good to be true to my ears, I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

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Childcatcher

Re: V8

...increasing the supply of fuel could simply reduce the price and lead to greater demand, cancelling out the sequestration efforts completely.

In fact this is similar to what happened with home lighting. As the relative price of lighting has dropped, the use of household lighting has increased so that the overall price has stayed much the same.

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Megaphone

Atmosphere Processors

I'm not going to be happy until we have impressive atmosphere processors (like the one in the movie 'Aliens'), dotted around the globe. Preferably next to the M1 so they can add a bit of interest to a boring car journey.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Atmosphere Processors

Yeah, that was powered by a toroidal fusion reactor... though it didn't enter a safe shut-down after being damaged.

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