Many of the new designs in energy and storage sources are relying on the development and use of new or different materials than typically used in the past. This oxygen "sponge" is a fine example of where this type of innovation is going, particularly in battery chemistry, an area in which researchers are trying a number of different things to come up with stronger and better ways to store energy.
The oxygen sponge seems like a great technology for use in fuel cells, Liz. With all of the new battery technologies you're writing about, let's hope one of them (maybe this), can eventually reach the market.
The consequences are even more far reaching than batteries.
There's a technology being developed that pumps water through a catalyst that reacts violently splitting it into H & 2O at a fast enough rate for that to be fed to a hydrogen fuel cell which produces water as a, "exhaust" for reuse. The catalyst is eventually oxdised and must be sent for reprocessing which of course currently requires a lot of power. This would dramatically reduce the reprocessing cost. Imagine going to a service station and swapping a $20 canister of catalyst (and sponge) for your next 500km trip :-)
Then there's my pet project of reprocessing atmospheric CO2 in to C and O2 which current;y uses a fare bit of power. Imagine burning pure carbon in a power station resulting in CO2 emissions only (no sulphurs etc. etc. and then using solar (and wind) powered processing with a sponge material to create the fuel needed. No worry about lack of sun over night etc. (or wind for turbines) the carbon is essentially stored solar energy and being a solar powered closed cycle there's no climate impact.
The energy needed to separate carbon dioxide into carbon and oxygen is more than you would recover by burning the carbon to generate power. So the process would never be close to self sustaining.
And the disociating of water into hydrogen and oxygen by pumping it through a catalyst likewise would take more power than it could deliver, although if you could capture a stream of water high in a mountain and have a pressure head of several hundred feetit might possibly work. BUT probably it would still cost a lot more to produce the power than the value of the power produced. So I would investigate very closely the credentials of anyone selling such a system. It sounds way to good to be true. A lot like that financial institution a few years back promising a 15% interest on deposits. Way to good to be believable. It turned out to be a Ponzi scheme.
Hi William, I think you missed my point regarding Carbon capture. It's not self sustaining of course, that would ber perpetual motion to which I do not subscribe.
The process would driven by solar power which is of course driven by the sun where we have 1kW per square meter of which we currently get around 14-40%. This is what drives the CO2 to C + O2 conversion which becomes stored energy in the same way that (over much gelogical time) we get coal except that coal is quite dirty. Pure C can by its very nature only give us CO or CO2 when it's burnt of which CO can be largely avoided if enough air is provided. In comparison to coal it is much cleaner and if the amount of C captured from the atmosphere each year were the amount burnt in power plants each year the the net addition of CO2 to the atmosphere would be zero. This is the "self sustaining" part which perhaps I didn't explain very well.
The fact that it's only 5-10% efficient at the moment it a bit of a deterrent but with the right catalysts (DOE's sponge??) that might move up to 30%.
The other process I mentioned is actually being researched somewhere in the US with DOE also doing research (can't recall where, try Google "Bromine water splitting") and works except that the reprocessing of the blocks is again very lossy which begs for a more efficient reprocessing method.
I'm sorry I didn't provide enough detail initially for you to understand what my thinking was. I can certainly trust you to hold me to task if I don't make myself clear :-)
Given that any non-exothermic chemical or physical process requires more energy than it delivers, none of the processes described would be of much benefit, since it is most likely that there would not be enough solar energy captured to drive them. So they would be more like growing corn to ferment into alcohol to burn for fuel, in that much less energy is delivered than is needed to create the fuel. Like the solar cell powering the light bulb to illuminate the solar cell. A McGuiverish sort of thing in that the words work but the numbers don't work.
if we are to consider the Sahara alone at 9.4 million sqkm as being able to produce 9.4e15 Whrs of electricity or over 600 times the current world need and there being so many other deserts that currently are only used to dehydrate camels I think the comparison with bio crops is probably not a good one, as bio crops use land and water that is needed to feed people and animals where as the best place to set up solar power stations is where there is no water and nothing grows except for the odd date palm around an oasis. Solar power has around a 20% recovery rate and splitting CO2 I would imagine might currently deliver 10-20% on what we put in but with improved catalysts this would hopeefully improve. Given that currently there is talk of putting solar shades into orbit to reduce the amount of heat accumulating down here, and that would in fact increase our dependence on fossil fuels I'm not sure these ideas are so far out there. It seems like using the sun to remove the CO2 is not such a bad idea even if it is lossy. Anyhow, I do understand your reservations and only time will tell what the solution might be.
Thank you for the compliment, etmax, and for your comments. You're right that the development of this material has more applications, so let's hope it gets out there in the commercial market and starts making a difference soon.
I appreciate that, etmax. It's nice to know that people are reading my stories and appreciate them. If you have any suggestions for topics you would like to see covered more, please let me know. Thanks!
Thanks for the informative article which shows this new breakthrough. I was especially encouraged by the use of an alternative material to platinum, which will should someday be more economical to produce.
Thanks, Greg. I understand what you mean about platinum. Sometimes in research there's a great discovery or breakthrough, but the materials make it too expensive commercially so altneratives must be found before the technology makes it to prime time. This time the cheaper alternative was one of the things that made the discovery significant.
The creation of a material that has easily changed oxygen binding is a very big deal, since most oxygen binding is a quite strong bond that takes a great deal of energy to undo. A good example of that is rust: to go from rust back to iron takes LOTS of energy.
So if this material winds up being consistently producable at a reasonable price and production yield it could certainly be a game changer. Thanks for the report on what looks to me like a major discovery.
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