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Tue Aug 30, 2016, 10:28 PM

The difficulty of taking a lab route for usefully fixing CO2 to an industrial level.

Since the early 1990's, it has been known on a laboratory scale, that one can electrolytichemically reduce carbon dioxide to chemicals usually obtained from dangerous fossil fuels, such as methane.

What is more interesting is the possibility of reducing carbon dioxide to compounds that can be polymerized, such as "ethylene" (formally ethene) which can be polymerized to give plastics like, um, obviously, polyethylene. In this case, since polyethylene is a useful material utilized in many products, this would represent a means of theoretically removing carbon dioxide from the air and sequestering it without relying on an expensive (and thus far, despite all the jawboning about it) unrealized series of massive carbon dioxide dumps to contain the more than 30 billion tons we dump each year, a number which is growing, not falling.

The following graphic is reproduced from a fanciful paper published in 2010, J. Phys. Chem. Lett., 2010, 1 (24), pp 3451–3458 about a magical "scenario" wherein we would produce plenty of electricity and greatly reduce our carbon dioxide output.



The title of the paper published in 2010 was "Prospects of CO2 Utilization via Direct Heterogeneous Electrochemical Reduction"

It's been six years since this rosy "scenario" was put forth, and it is germane to the question to ask whether we are moving in the direction, this "Prospects" paper puts forth.

Um, no we aren't. The fastest growing segment of energy production in the United States, and certainly the world is a dangerous fossil fuel - a very dangerous fossil fuel - dangerous natural gas. Back in July, in a post entitled "The fastest growing source of US electricity has lead to large CO2 reductions for US electricity" I noted this, writing, while referring to one mechanism for producing so called "renewable energy:"

In 2005, the wind industry was producing 0.064 exajoules of electricity; in 2015 it was producing 0.69 exajoules of electricity in the United States. It grew an “astounding” – if you listen to the rhetoric of its often delusional supporters – 1072% in size in ten years, and still managed to remain trivial on a scale that mattered. (This shows why the advocates of the failed, and incredibly expensive so called “renewable energy” program continuously use “percent talk” in their disastrous marketing: It is easy to double your money if you have 50 cents, very difficult to do so if you have 500 million dollars.) The reality is that the total electrical energy output of the wind industry in the United States, 0.62 exajoules - for those who can do math and thus are open to questioning this cockamamie useless Don Quixote redux – is just 33% of the increase in the use of dangerous natural gas in the last ten years, and just 14% of the total, rapidly growing, dangerous natural gas powered electrical generation industry overall. This means that the wind industry is not gaining on natural gas, it is in fact losing ground on natural gas. The reason for this is obvious:


The wind industry, since the source of its power the wind is variable, has not, cannot, and will not exist without backup power, a redundancy which advocates never include in the environmental and financial cost of this essentially useless, but expensive, industry.


Many people want to believe that so called "renewable energy" is working. It isn't. It hasn't. It won't.

Note that the graphic produced above is not, as many advocates of the failed and useless so called "renewable energy" are, hostile to nuclear energy.

In this country, if not in Asia, stupid people have grabbed the energy microphone, pushed forth their deadly and dangerous ideas, and nuclear energy is in decline, not in a growth mode, as the wishful graphic of 2010 hoped it would be.

And frankly, we're out of time. Time's up.

The average comparisons of carbon dioxide increases in comparisons of weeks of 2015 (the worst year ever observed in increases in carbon dioxide) to the same weeks of 2016 is now 3.55 ppm higher than last year. (In 2015, this figure as a comparison to 2014's weeks, was 2.23 ppm, then the highest ever observed.)

The rate at which new carbon dioxide is being added to the atmosphere is dramatically worse than anything we've ever seen before.

Still, I sit at computers reading all about what could have been but wasn't, even though it disgusts me at the deepest ethical level that I've been hearing that word could being abused unmercifully as the disaster goes completely out of control. "We could run the whole world on renewable energy by such and such a year" - the year always being at a time that the issuer of this wishful thinking will be dead.

I suppose that the industrial electrolytic of carbon dioxide to ethylene might work, but it would be a very, very, very stupid - and quite possibly dangerous - idea to look at the idea and be comforted while making wild dogmatic statements about energy.

This is what we have done though. And we failed. And those we have failed are all future generations.

So if we've known for sometime that we can reduce carbon dioxide to ethylene, why haven't we done it?

Well, lots of labs are working on it, as I learned after stumbling upon a paper on the subject that caught my eye, this one: Stable and selective electrochemical reduction of carbon dioxide to ethylene on copper mesocrystals (Catal. Sci. Technol., 2015,5, 161-168)

Here's the problem, according to the paper:

C[sub]2[/sub]H[sub]4[/sub] is a particularly valuable product as it has widespread applications in many industries including agriculture and polymer manufacturing. To date, the most promising catalyst that can electroreduce CO[sub]2[/sub] to C[sub]2[/sub]H[sub]4[/sub] is copper metal.2,3However, alongside C2H[sub]4[/sub], many carbonaceous side-products including methane (CH[sub]4[/sub]), carbon monoxide (CO) and formate (HCOO[sup]−[/sup]) are also simultaneously formed.4–7 Furthermore, the Cu catalysts are highly susceptible to poisoning and deactivation, commonly within 30 minutes from the start of the CO[sub]2[/sub] reduction process.8,9 For the above reasons, considerable effort has been dedicated to understand the structure and composition of materials with the aim of developing catalysts that can selectively reduce CO[sub]2[/sub] to C[sub]2[/sub]H[sub]4[/sub] over a long period of time.7,10,11


The paper has already been cited 25 times. There seems to be a lot of work on the copper catalyst involving its nanostructure that makes a difference.

Will it go industrial? Well maybe; there's lots of very smart people working on the project.

Will it make a difference? Will it be on time?

No it won't. It's already too late. It's been too late for a fairly long time now, and to the extent we get all excited when we read this stuff, we're lying to ourselves.

Best wishes on the upcoming Labor Day weekend. I hope you will realize any wonderful plans you may have made.

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