Let's Chemically Rebuild Fossil Fuels To Create Sustainable Energy

Let's Chemically Rebuild Fossil Fuels To Create Sustainable Energy If leaves can do it, why can’t we? Leaf image from www.shutterstock.com

When we burn a fossil fuel – coal, oil or gas – it produces energy that we use, and byproducts such as water and carbon dioxide. It’s the CO₂ that’s proving to be a problem – humans have increased the amount of it in the atmosphere by about 40%, causing the planet to warm by around 1℃ so far. This means we must act quickly, given that the Paris Agreement aims to limit temperature increases to 1.5℃.

The desire for sustainable, low-carbon energy is driving a global boom in renewable energy. But alternative energy sources – particularly wind and solar – come with their own challenges.

What if, instead of burning ancient fossils fuels, we could put the ingredients back together to reassemble the fuel? If we could do so using sustainably sourced energy, we would have a clean, and potentially infinite, fuel supply.

It sounds mad, but actually scientists have made significant advances in recent years. And surprisingly, they are doing so by imitating plants.

Mimicking nature

The amount of solar energy striking the Earth is 5,000 times greater than human demand (around 100,000 terawatts versus 20 terawatts). One problem with solar energy is its reliability. Solar cells don’t produce energy at night or when the sun isn’t shining. This can be fixed by storing solar energy, with the help of several emerging storage technologies.

But we could also use the energy to produce other fuels, which we can burn later to provide a predictable and constant power supply. If we are using solar energy, this process forms a closed, sustainable cycle.

A large amount of research is being carried out in this area, known as artificial photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is the process carried out by plants to store solar energy, indirectly creating fossil fuels, so the name reflects humanity’s attempts to mimic nature.

The electrical energy provided by solar cells can be used to split water and produce a fuel, hydrogen. When hydrogen is burned, water is formed and energy is released. Water is the only byproduct.

Researchers across the globe are working on this process, and recent developments have shown how to make it more efficient. My recent work has reached 22% efficiency, which is double the predicted values for the process to become viable.

The next step

But a gaseous fuel does present practical handling problems. So hydrogen is easier to store than electrical energy, but it’s not our ideal fuel.

Liquid fuels are preferable, because existing fuel pumps, cars and coal power stations would need only minor changes in order to use these carbon-based non-fossil fuels.

Taking inspiration from photosynthesis again, the next step is clear: combine hydrogen with carbon to produce artificial fossil fuels. Work to make this process efficient is already under way across the globe, with impressive results.

The efficiency isn’t as high as for hydrogen yet, but progress is impressive. Liquid fuels are being produced with the systems working more efficiently than plants.

This concept provides a supply of fuel that is limited only by the Sun. It does use carbon-based fuels, but is overall carbon-neutral. All of the carbon dioxide produced when burning the fuel will be used to produce fuel again, by collecting the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to react with hydrogen.

All of the water being split to make the hydrogen will be released as water vapour when the fuel is burned, and will eventually become rain.

Replacing fossil fuels

Existing technology cannot replace fossil fuels. This is an important point when considering necessary investment in solar panels or wind turbines. Replacement of existing energy supplies with an intermittent power source requires storage.

Humanity must be ready for fossil fuels to run out, and because the move away from fossil fuels must happen eventually, it would be wise to focus on researching the necessary technology to allow for a smooth transition so that society is ready.

Fossil fuels are finite, but solar energy is almost infinite, and typically things that are very abundant end up being very cheap.

So can this really work? Well, this process has been carried out for more than 3 billion years. There is literally nothing more extensively tested!The Conversation

About The Author

Shannon A. Bonke, Doctoral Researcher in the School of Chemistry, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
9780143130444In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy

by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
1610919564With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

by Naomi Klein
1451697392In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
by Johnna Crider
Plains, Georgia, is a small town that is just south of Columbus, Macon, and Atlanta and north of Albany. It is the…
Majority of US Adults Believe Climate Change Is Most Important Issue Today
by American Psychological Association
As the effects of climate change become more evident, more than half of U.S. adults (56%) say climate change is the…
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
How These Three Financial Firms Could Change The Direction Of The Climate Crisis
by Mangulina Jan Fichtner, et al
A silent revolution is happening in investing. It is a paradigm shift that will have a profound impact on corporations,…
Investing In Climate Change
by Goldman Sachs
“Top of Mind at Goldman Sachs” Podcast – In this episode, we dig into what may be the most important issue of our time:…
Climate Change: Briefings from Southern Africa
by SABC Digital News
Climate change affects us all, but it can be a confusing business. Three leading South African scientists who have…

LATEST ARTICLES

5 Ways To Teach Children About Climate Change
5 Ways To Teach Children About Climate Change
by William Finnegan
Climate change is an interdisciplinary subject that both school children and adults think is important. And as we deal…
This Is The Arctic's Recent Carbon Emissions We Should Fear For Climate Change
This Is The Arctic's Recent Carbon Emissions We Should Fear For Climate Change
by Joshua Dean
The Arctic is predicted to warm faster than anywhere else in the world this century, perhaps by as much as 7°C.
Why This Is A Once In A Lifetime Chance To Reshape How We Travel
Why This Is A Once In A Lifetime Chance To Reshape How We Travel
by Marcus Enoch and James Warren
This isn’t a normal period of disruption, which is usually caused by failures in supply such as road accidents or…
Why A Better World Needs Better Economics
Why A Better World Needs Better Economics
by David Korten
Science warns us that the 2020s will be humanity’s last opportunity to save itself from a climate catastrophe.
How Plants And Animals Share Response To Climate Change
How Plants And Animals Share Response To Climate Change
by Daniel Stolte
Plants and animals are remarkably similar in their responses to changing environmental conditions across the globe,…
Why Poorer Suburbs Are More At Risk In Warming Cities
Why Poorer Suburbs Are More At Risk In Warming Cities
by Jason Byrne and Tony Matthews
The many reasons for this include urban densification policies, climate change and social trends such as bigger houses…
A Second Us Dust Bowl Would Hit World Food Stocks
A Second Us Dust Bowl Would Hit World Food Stocks
by Tim Radford
When the US Great Plains are hit again by sustained drought, the world’s food stocks will feel the heat.
Rising Seas: To Keep Humans Safe, Let Nature Shape The Coast
Rising Seas: To Keep Humans Safe, Let Nature Shape The Coast
by Iris Möller
Even under the most conservative climate change scenarios, sea levels 30cm higher than at present seem all but certain…