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Category Archives: Caron sequestration

Nature has a wonderful way of capturing Carbon and recycling it through a process called ‘carbon cycle’ for millions of years. The greenhouse gases in the atmosphere were restricted  within certain limits when it was left to Nature. But when human being started burning fossil fuels to generate power or to run cars, the GHG emission surpassed the limit beyond a point where global warming became an issue. The GHG level has increased to 392 ppm level for the first in our long history. Many Governments and companies are exploring various ways and means to reduce greenhouse emissions to avoid global warming. Some Governments are imposing taxes on carbon emission in order to reduce or discourage such emissions. Others are offering incentives to promote alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. Some companies are trying to capture Carbon emission for sequestration.

While we try to capture Carbon and store them underground, there are many potential commercial opportunities to recycle them. This means the Carbon emission is captured and converted into a commercial fuel such as Gasoline or Diesel or Methane so that future sources of fossil fuels are not burnt anymore. But this is possible only by using ‘Renewable Hydrogen’. Hydrogen is the key  to reduce carbon emission by binding carbon molecules with Hydrogen molecule, similar to what Nature does.

When NASA plans to send a man to Mars they have to overcome certain basic issues. Mars has an atmosphere with 95% Carbon dioxide, 3% Nitrogen, 1.6% Argon and traces of oxygen, water and methane.Nasa is planning to use Carbon dioxide to generate Methane gas to be used as a fuel and also generate water by using the following reaction.

CO2 + 4H2—–CH4 + 2 H2O

2H2O——-2H2 + O2

The water is electrolyzed to split water into Hydrogen and Oxygen using solar power. The resulting Hydrogen is reacted with Carbon dioxide from Mars to generate Methane gas and water using a solid catalyst. This methanation reaction is exothermic and self sustaining. How this can be achieved practically in Mars in those conditions are not discussed here. But this is a classical example on how the Carbon emission can be tackled to our advantages, without increasing the emissions into the atmosphere. There are several methods available to convert Carbon emission in to valuable products including gasoline. The  reaction of the methane with water vapor will result in Methanol.

2H2 + CO——– CH3OH

On Dehydration, 2CH3OH —– CH3COCH3 + H2O.Further dehydration with ZSM-5 Catalyst gives Gasoline 80% C5+ Hydrocarbon. Gas to liquid by Fischer-tropic reaction is a known process.

Carbon dioxide is also a potential refrigerant to substitute CFC refrigerants that causes Ozone depletion. Carbon recycling is a temporary solution to mitigate Greenhouse gas emission till Hydrogen becomes an affordable fuel of the future. It depends upon individual Governments and their policies to make Hydrogen affordable. Technologies are available and only a political will and leadership can make Hydrogen a reality.

We live in a carbon constrained world where carbon emission is considered as the biggest challenge of the twenty-first century. We unearthed fossil fuel which Nature buried for millions of years and burnt them for our advantage to generate power and to run our cars. Scientist pointed out that the unabated emission of greenhouse will cause the globe to warm with dire consequences. However this came as an ‘inconvenient truth’ to industries and Governments around the world. The economic consequences of stopping fossil fuels weighted more than the global warming. Governments were in a precarious situation and unable to take a concrete policy decision. Popular Governments were not willing to risk their power by taking ethical decisions and opted for popular decision to keep up their growth. Then the financial crisis became an issue, which has nothing to do with greenhouse emission or global warming. Yet, the economic and industrial growth stumbled in many developed countries and unemployment skyrocketed. Governments are caught in a situation where they need to take a balanced view between an ethical decision and economic decisison.The overwhelming evidence of global warming and their consequences are slowly felt by countries around the world by natural disasters of various sizes and intensities.

Some scientist suggested that there is nothing wrong using fossil fuels; we can continue with greenhouse emission without risking the economic growth by  capturing  the carbon emission and burying  them underground. Carbon sequestration and clean coal technologies became popular and more funds were allocated to them than renewable energy development.Countires like India and China are not in a hurry to discontinue fossil fuels but continue to make massive investments on coal-fired power plants. They neither tried to capture carbon nor bury them, but continue to emit carbon claiming that it is their turn of economic growth and right to emit carbon emission. The chief of UN panel on climate change headed by an Indian has no sayin the matter.Politicians push scientists into the background when the truth is inconvenient to them.

How feasible in the carbon sequestration technology and what is the cost? Even if we can come up with a successful technology of capturing carbon and burying them underground, there will be a cost involved. This cost will invariably be passed on to the consumer which  will  eventually increase the cost of energy. Constraining carbon emission without incurring a cost can only be a dream. Capturing carbon emission is nothing new; Carbon dioxide is absorbed by solvents like MEA (Monoethanolamine) in many chemical industries. The absorbed carbon dioxide can be stripped free of solvent and the solvent can be recycled. This carbon dioxide can be treated with Ammonia to get Urea, a Fertilizer. But the source of Hydrogen can come only from renewable energy sources. That is why ‘Renewable Hydrogen ‘is the key to solve global warming problem. We can produce Urea from “captured Carbon” and ‘Renewable Hydrogen’ so that we can cut a real quantity of greenhouse emission. Carbon recycling is a sustainable solution than Carbon capturing and burying. Countries like India who depend upon import of Urea for their agriculture production should immediately make Carbon recycling into Urea production mandatory. It is a win situation for everybody in the world.

It is clear substituting fossil fuels with Hydrogen is not only efficient but also sustainable in the long run. While efforts are on to produce Hydrogen at a cost in par with Gasoline or less using various methods, sustainability is equally important. We have necessary technology to convert piped natural gas to Hydrogen to generate electricity on site to power our homes and fuel our cars using Fuelcell.But this will not be a sustainable solution because we can no longer depend on piped natural gas because its availability is limited; and it is also a potent greenhouse gas. The biogas or land fill gas has the same composition as that of a natural gas except the Methane content is lower than piped natural gas. The natural gas is produced by Nature and comes out along with number of impurities such as Carbon dioxide, moisture and Hydrogen sulfide etc.The impure natural gas is cleaned and purified to increase the Methane content up to 90%, before it is compressed and supplied to the customers. The gas is further purified so that it can be liquefied into LNF (liquefied natural gas) to be transported to long distances or exported to overseas.

When the natural gas is liquefied, the volume of gas is reduced about 600 times to its original volume, so that the energy density is increased substantially, to cut the cost of transportation. The LNG can be readily vaporized and used at any remote location, where there is no natural gas pipelines are in existence or in operation. Similarly Hydrogen too can be liquefied into liquid Hydrogen. Our current focus is to cut the cost of Hydrogen to the level of Gasoline or even less. Biogas and bio-organic materials are potential sources of Hydrogen and also they are sustianable.Our current production of wastes from industries business and domestic have increased substantially creating sustainability isues.These wastes are also major sources of greenhouse gases and also sources of many airborne diseses.They also cause depletion of valuable resources without a credible recycling mechanisms. For example, number of valuable materials including Gold, silver, platinum, Lead, Cadmium, Mercury and Lithium are thrown into municipal solid waste (MSW) and sewage. Major domestic wastes include food, paper, plastics and wood materials. Industrial wastes include many toxic chemicals including Mercury, Arsenic, tanning chemicals, photographic chemicals, toxic solvents and gases. The domestic and industrial effluents contain valuable materials such as potassium, Phosphorous and Nitrates. We get these valuable resources from Nature, convert them into useful products and then throw them away as a waste. These valuable materials remain as elements without any change irrespective of type of usages.Recyling waste materials and treatment of waste water and effluent is a very big business. Waste to wealth is a hot topic.

The waste materials both organic and inorganic are too valuable to be wasted for two simple reasons. First of all it pollutes our land, water and air; secondly we need fresh resources and these resources are limited while our needs are expanding exponentially. It is not an option but an absolute necessity to recycle them to support sustainability. For example, most of the countries do not have Phosphorous, a vital ingredient for plant growth and food production. Bulk of the Phosphorus and Nitrates are not recovered from municipal waste water and sewage plants. We simply discharge them into sea at far away distance while the public is in dark and EPA shows a blind eye to such activities. Toxic Methane gases are leaking from many land fill sites and some of these sites were even sold to gullible customers as potential housing sites. Many new residents in these locations find later that their houses have been built on abandoned landfill sites. They knew only when the tap water becomes highly inflammable when lighting with a match stick. The levels of Methane were above the threshold limit and these houses were not fit for living. We have to treat wastes because we can recover valuable nutrients and also generate energy without using fresh fossil fuels. It is a win situation for everybody involved in the business of ‘waste to wealth’.

These wastes have a potential to guarantee cheap and sustainable Hydrogen for the future. Biogas is a known technology that is generated from various municipal solid wastes and effluents. But current methods of biogas generation are not efficient and further cleaning and purifications are necessary. The low-grade methane 40-55% is not suitable for many industrial applications except for domestic heating. The biogas generated by anaerobic digestion has to be scrubbed free of Carbon dioxide and Hydrogen sulfide to get more than 90% Methane gas so that it can be used for power generation and even for steam reforming to Hydrogen generation. Fuel cell used for on site power generation and Fuel cell cars need high purity Hydrogen. Such Hydrogen is not possible without cleaning and purifying ‘ biogas’ much. Hydrogen generation from Biogas or from Bioethanol is a potential source of Hydrogen in the future.

Coal is an important fuel that helped industrial revolution. It is still a main fuel for power generation in many parts of the world. It is also an important raw material for number of chemicals and they directly compete with Hydrocarbons such as Naptha.It is abundantly available and it is cheap. We are still able to generate electricity at 5 cents per kwhr using coal. But, now we are entering into a new phase of energy generation and distribution, due to changing environmental and climatic issues of the twenty-first century. We need completely a new fuel to address these issues; a fuel that has a higher heat content, which can generate more power per unit value of fuel, and yet, generates no pollution. It is a challenging job and the world is gearing up to meet these challenges. They affect the world because any issues about energy impacts each and every one of us. Many industrialized countries around the world are reluctant to sign an agreement that compels them to cut their greenhouse emission to an acceptable level set by UN panel of scientists.

Governments such as US, China and India are reluctant to sign such an agreement because their economy and growth depends upon cheap energy, made from coal. Such an agreement will be detrimental to their progress, and the leaders of these nations are not ready to sign such an agreement. They also understand that world cannot afford to continue to use coal as they have used in the past. It is simply unsustainable. It is a precarious situation and they need to carefully plan their path forward. On one hand, they need to keep up their industrial and economic growth, and although they need to cut their emissions and save the world, from catastrophic consequences of global warming.

A simple analysis of the fuel will show that Hydrogen is a potential energy source for the future. It has energy content at least five times more than a coal for a unit value. Coal has an average heat content of 5000 kcal /kg while Hydrogen has an average heat content of 39,000 kcal/kg. Coal has a number of impurities such as ash, sulfur, phosphorous, other than carbon. Burning coal will emit greenhouse gases with toxic fumes that have to be removed. Therefore, these industrialized countries are now looking ways to generate Hydrogen from coal; that too at a cost which will be comparable to other current fuels such as natural gas. It is not an easy task because natural gas is formed by Mother Nature over several hundred thousand years. It is readily available and there is no manufacturing cost except processing cost. We are used to free energy from Mother Nature. This is the crux of the issue.

Hydrogen is the most abundantly available element on earth; yet it is not available in a free form. It is available as a compound, such as, joined with oxygen forming   water H2O molecule; or joined with Carbon forming Methane CH4 molecule.This Hydrogen should be separated in a free form, and this separation requires energy. How can coal, which is just a Carbon, generate Hydrogen?  It requires an addition of water in the form of steam.  When coal is gasified with air and steam, a mixture of Hydrogen and Carbon dioxide is generated, known as Syngas (synthesis gas).

2C + H2O+O2  ———  2H2 +2 CO2

The syngas is separated into Hydrogen and carbon dioxide using various methods using their difference in densities. The Hydrogen can be stored under pressure for further use. Research work is now under way to capture carbon dioxide for sequestering. Carbon sequestration is a method of capturing carbon dioxide and storing it in a place where it cannot enter the atmosphere. But the technical feasibility and economic viability of such a system is yet to be established.

Carbon sequestration is a new concept and the cost of sequestration can potentially increase the cost of energy derived from Hydrogen despite the fact, Hydrogen has energy content five times more the carbon. However, there is no quick fix for our energy problems, and we have to reconcile to the energy cost will increase in the future but eventually cut the greenhouse emissions. These developed countries should at least show to the rest of the world, how they plan to cut their emissions and their action plans; such disclosure should be subject to inspection by UN panel. In the absence of any concrete mechanism, it will be impossible to stop the global warming in the stipulated time frame considering the fact that a number of coal/oil/gas-fired power plants are already under implementation.

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