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Completing the Carbon Cycle: The Future of Alternative Fuels

JeanieM 2 / 2  
Apr 25, 2011   #1
I am taking an Energy and the Changing enviroment class at Penn State Online, and our final paper is a five page or 2,500 - 3,000 word essay on a set of topics the teacher gave us. I chose Synthetic Fuel "Synfuel" for my topic.

I would love some feedback and editing if at all possible. :) I have a paper on Suicide Bombings that still needs some feedback as well... Thank you very much!!

Some of the biggest questions we face as a species are, "How will we leave our mark on this Earth? In what way will we be immortalized?" It is fair to say that no one thought the answer would be leaving a carbon dioxide (CO2) rich atmosphere, in which life struggled to survive due to the increased temperatures. Time is of the essence; it has become abundantly clear that if the world's carbon footprint is not reduced by forty to fifty percent by 2050 the consequences will reshape life for all living creators. Governments, researchers, petroleum companies, collations, and independent investors have launched the race to find an alternative source of fuel; one that not only eliminates producing a CO2 byproduct, but is also comparable to fossil fuel based petroleum and low in cost. Traditionally, it was thought that the engine would need to be rebuilt in order to accommodate battery operation, hydrogen fuel, or a variety of hybrid fuels. Scientists and researchers kept running into the same road blocks however when examining various types of alternative fuels. Try as they might it did not seem possible to keep the miles per gallon (mpg), horsepower, and vehicle space with these new sources of fuel. There would be no way to make up the cost of production in sales if any of the basic luxuries received from fossil fuel based petroleum had to be given up. Even if there was a way to find a low-cost and efficient source of alternative fuel the CO2 rich atmosphere would still need to be dealt with. Enter in one of nature's oldest creations, the plant. Plants and trees use photosynthesis as a way to create sugars and proteins needed for their energy; by absorbing the CO2 from the atmosphere and use the sun's energy to break the stable chemical bonds. What if a method could be developed that followed the same basic idea of photosynthesis using CO2 from the atmosphere and changing it into a synthetic fuel. (Simonite) Well, researchers at the Sandia National Laboratory, University of Minnesota, and University of California San Diego, as well as many overseas research companies have been working on just that; what's more exiting is they have come close to the solution. Synthetic fuel is expected to be ready for industrial use within ten to fifteen years. (Squatriglia)

What does that mean for the public? A synthetic CO2 based fuel would not only mean that our car engines remain the same, but that the infrastructure set up for fuel delivery would not need changing. The estimated price of gas would be $1.50, the CO2 produced from synthetic petroleum (Synfuel) would be reused, and our economic dependency on oil would be broken. The production of Synfuel not only benefits the United States and other first world countries, but it offers third world countries a chance to gain as well. Producing Synfuel would not require vast reservoirs of fossil fuels; just the sun, CO2, and water. With efficient and low-cost petroleum, third world countries would be relieved from their oil dependency as well.

Creating a liquid fuel out of CO2 has been anything but easy scientists and researchers have faced many hurdles along the way. The first obstacle was finding what components were needed to make a synthetic fuel, next a decent solar panel would need to be built, and finally a collection process for CO2 would have to be developed. (Graham-Rowe) The first two problems have been relatively resolved, although scientists and researchers are still looking at methods of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

When looking at various sources of alternative fuel and judging how viable they will be in mass production means looking at how they are made in the first place. Solar panels, wind farms, geothermal pumps, and even municipal solid waste plants all have significant limitations. Solar panels are not able to store any of the energy collected during the day and do not function as well at night. Solar panels also must be in sun saturated areas and need cleaned on a regular basis. Wind farms face a similar problem as solar panels because they need to be in a very windy region. Geothermal pumps and municipal solid waste plants are not compatible with many existing structures. Any building that wants a geothermal pump would need to have its foundation pulled up and then place the piping needed; that can be a problem for many as it is expensive and complicated. Municipal solid waste plants are costly to build and still release unwanted toxins into the atmosphere.

How then, is a CO2 Synfuel made? The process requires a two chamber structure that rotates while a solar panel made of seven mirrored 6,500-watt lamps concentrates sunlight onto a 10 centimeter spot. This solar panel reaches temperatures of 3,600° F, or what is referred to as 3,000 "suns" (one "sun" equals 1,000-watts of solar energy per square meter of surface.) (Morrison) Synfuel production, however, needs zinc and cerium oxides to split the CO2 and water molecules. The chambers start rotating and the cerium oxide is heated by the solar panel to 1,500° F; the cerium oxide becomes starved for oxygen and that is when the CO2 is introduced. The oxygen starved cerium oxide is able to pull what it needs from the CO2 leaving a chamber full of carbon monoxide (CO). The same process is used to separate the hydrogen and oxygen molecules in water. Once the molecules are separated, the two major components of Synfuel are present and production can begin. (Ra)

The sun has been an obsession of man since he first looked up at the sky and witnessed its raw power. According to the scientists and researchers working on Synfuel production, the Earth's Sunbelt would create enough renewable energy to exceed the world's needs. To give a better example, more sun falls on the Earth in one hour than is consumed globally in one year. Even more impressive, every minute the Sun itself produces more energy through its fusion process then mankind has ever used. The largest nuclear fusion plant exists outside this world, and finally scientists and researchers have found an effective way of harnessing that power. (Morrison) While using highly concentrated solar energy to aid in the production of CO2 Synfuel, the scientists and researchers came across an unforeseen benefit. Previously, solar panels were not able to store energy at night; it was only when the sun was directly shining on them that they were effective. However, by using that solar energy to break the bonds of CO2 and water instead of just produce electricity, it would be possible to convert the electrical energy into chemical energy and store it for later use. (Simonite)

The idea of using a poisonous and overly abundant byproduct, which has previously only been a problem, to make a high-density fuel sounds almost like science fiction. The transition to a completely green source of renewable energy is much closer than most people believe; in the United Kingdom, Cella Energy has developed the first synthetic fuel that can realistically be used to replace oil. This project, located at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Oxford, has been a work in progress over the past four years and its details are kept secret. Some research and tests still need to be done, but Cella Energy is confident that this fuel can be used in internal combustion engines without any problems as well as lower the price of gasoline in the United States down to $1.50. (Hanlon)

The world posses an abundance of CO2 as a byproduct of industrialization, but one of the biggest obstacles for CO2 based Synfuel is collecting the gas from the general atmosphere. While collecting CO2 from smoke stacks at power plants is not a problem, an effective method of collecting the excess CO2 everywhere else needs to be created. Carbon Engineering Ltd is a company that was created for the purpose of developing free-standing carbon capture technologies. The company has been working on a handful of different methods, but their most promising are Packed Towers and the Air-Contractor. A Packed tower would draw in air and spray it with a fine mist of an alkali solution. The alkali solution bonds to the CO2 and forms droplets of sodium carbonate that can be collected at the bottom of the tower and then processed again to separate the CO2. The Air-Contractor is given less explanation by the company, but is expected to capture 100,000 tons of CO2 per year. However, referring to these collection numbers does not mean much without a scale for comparison. The United Kingdom alone releases 200 million tons of CO2 each year an overwhelming 2,000% more than the Air-Contractors estimated collection rate. According to Sandia National Laboratory, if the United States' 100 million vehicle fleet were running on CO2 based Synfuel; solar power plants alone would cover around 2,250 square miles (about 200 square miles smaller than Delaware). (Graham-Rowe) When looking at the estimated amount of space needed for the solar power plants, however Delaware is the second smallest state in the United States coming before Rhode Island. (Schulback)

In 2000 a partnership of seven major energy companies was created to find effective CCS technologies. This partnership, known as the CO2 Capture Project (CCP), includes: BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Eni, PetroBras, Shell, and Suncor Energy. Along with these seven major energy companies United States Department of Energy, Norgesforskiningsrad, and the European Union also assist in developing and implanting the use of these technologies. There are three methods of CCS which include pre-combustion capture, post-combustion capture, and oxy-firing. Pre-combustion capture exists in its components, but has not been successfully integrated into a commercial power application. The process involves the partial combustion of CO2 with hydrogen; the main byproduct of which is water vapor. Post-combustion capture is beneficial because it can be added later to a power plant, however the technology is still being scaled up to size for commercial integration. This process works by capturing exhaust from gases and other large point sources. Finally, there is the oxy-firing capture which involves burning the fossil fuel in pure oxygen instead of air. The result is an exhaust gas made mostly of CO2 and water; which then can be captured, compressed and stored. The other part of CCS is its storage; which is modeled after the way Earth naturally stores its oil. The CO2 is compressed and transported by truck, ship, or pipeline. Once it reaches its destination the CO2 is injected into the storage site using high levels of pressure until it reaches a predetermined geological storage formation. These storage sites are normally depleted hydrocarbon reservoirs (typically oil and gas fields), which are optimal due to the "sponge-like" rocks and impermeable capstones. Other potential storage sites include permeable rock formations and un-minable coal beds; which according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) these geological storage sites could provide space for at least 2,000 GT (billion metric tons) of CO2. (CO2 Capture Project)

Looking at CO2 as the main component in an alternative fuel is far from a new idea, however it has previously been thought of as too expensive or difficult to figure out. However, with today's world struggling to pay the prices of oil it has become clear that another option is needed. A whole new field of science has emerged to study and develop alternative fuel sources, but this seems to be the most realistic. While there are hybrid cars that use electric motors, it does not seem possible to make a practical fully electric car for long distance travel. Hydrogen fuel has suffered the most out of alternative energies because public opinion of it is so low, not to mention scientists and researchers struggle with safely containing the fuel once inside the vehicle. Biomass fuels, such as ethanol, put an overwhelming pressure on our farming industry and threaten the prices of food. Not only does ethanol use resources that should be devoted to the food industry, but it increases the amount of land needed for farming. Exchanging one problem for another is only shifting the stress on the environment elsewhere. All of these alternative sources of fuel also lack the same amount of energy as traditional gasoline, cannot be used with current internal combustion engines, and would need a whole new infrastructure set up for commercial delivery. Carbon dioxide based Synfuel has the benefit of being very similar to traditional gasoline in its properties. They both are high-energy-density liquids that produce CO2 as a byproduct; the main difference is in the type of resources that they are.

While there are many obstacles to CO2 Synfuel production, the pros seem to vastly outweigh the cons. Some individuals in the field of green sciences worry that creating a source of fuel that requires CO2 in order to be produced would create a culture of complacency. This, of course, is already a growing concern in many other areas of life. With CO2 as the main component in Synfuel some believe that it would encourage pollution. The world is not faced with many options when it comes to reducing the dependency on oil and removing CO2 from the atmosphere. In the end, compromises will have to be made when it comes to where solar plants are placed and some unforeseen social side effects of a new fuel source. However, the benefit Synfuel offers the environment, population, and economy outweighs the concerns of the unknown. (Graham-Rowe)

Since the transportation sector accounts for sixty-five percent of the United States' petroleum consumption, the largest part of this being gasoline and jet fuel. (West Virginia Coal Association) As mentioned in the beginning of this paper, the world's carbon footprint must be reduced by forty to fifty percent over the next forty years in order to avoid severe climate changes. While an effective CO2 atmospheric collection technology is still being developed, switching to Synfuel now would drastically reduce the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere. Once CO2 production slows down, scientists and researchers will be able to focus more attention on removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Humans are known for the ability to shape the environment around them in ways that are beneficial to their prosperity instead of being shaped by the environment in which they live. However, humans are still an organic species that not only needs the vast protection of the ozone layer but also a healthy Earth in which to live. It is the responsibility of everyone to reduce the poison later litters Earth's atmosphere so that future generations will not have to suffer the consequences of their predecessors' actions. Synfuel, CCP, as well as the other sources of alternative energy will usurer in a world where technological growth and environmental safety can co-exist. When it comes it petroleum replacement, Synfuel already has a bright and promising future.
EF_Kevin 8 / 13,321 129  
Apr 25, 2011   #2
Hi Jeannie, I came to look at your essay right away because of the great help I saw you give some other people. Thanks for your great contributions here!

What citation style are you using? If it is MLA, put the parenthetical reference inside the punctuation, like this:
What if a method could be developed that followed the same basic idea of photosynthesis using CO2 from the atmosphere and changing it into a synthetic fuel (Simonite). Well, researchers at the .... on just that; what's more exiting is they have come close to the solution. Synthetic fuel is expected to be ready for industrial use within ten to fifteen years (Squatriglia).

I think maybe you did not use enough citations. Every time you give some fact you got from a book or article, put the author's name in parentheses. For example, in some places, you can just throw in a reference to one of the people already cited in the paper.

Here is an example: ome individuals in the field of green sciences worry that creating a source of fuel that requires CO2 in order to be produced would create a culture of complacency (XXXXX).

This needs a question mark:
What if a method could be developed that followed the same basic idea of photosynthesis using CO2 from the atmosphere and changing it into a synthetic fuel? (Simonite)

(and when you use a question mark, the parenthetical reference goes OUTSIDE the punctuation. weird rules.


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