Monday, March 09, 2009

Sunlight turns carbon dioxide to methane

Craig A. Grimes and friends at Penn State have produced 20 times the previous amounts of methane from sunlight and water with the aid of a catalyst of titanium dioxide nanotubes. This is important for many reasons:
1. The solar energy is storable as methane. The methane can be compressed into tanks and burned late at night when the sun does not shine.
2. Methane can be processed to produce liquid fuels for our cars so we don't need to import as much foreign oil.
3. To create energy this way just requires panels of the catalyst and water facing the sun. Unlike with many biomass energy crops which need arable land, water, warm temperatures, plowing, fertilizing, pesticides, and post-processing, this method is simple and direct.
4. The resulting fuel is carbon neutral.

The story is illustrative of how early on this science is. To get maximum yields they are trying different combinations of catalysts like copper and platinum. I look forward to the day when researchers don't have to randomly try different materials to achieve maximum efficiency, but that we will have a sufficiently advanced knowledge of materials we can calculate the exact proportions of elements to create methane from sunlight.

Our governments should be dumping money from helicopters on projects like this.

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