Why don’t people do the research …

Bill Chamberlin of Horizon Watching is undertaking his annual trawl for people’s ideas about trends, via the Linkedin group. There’s a link which has been picked up (it’s automated, so this is not a criticism of Bill) to a little item about – hey presto – how to create fuel from all that atmospheric CO2 and solve global warming at a stroke.

The posting is on the Smarter Planet blog, It claims to be reporting research by  and it shows a video from Scientific American, which should know better. It’s a naff animation which explains that if you react water with CO2 you can create methane (aka natural gas), a fuel. But of course you need energy to drive that reaction. Hey, why don’t we drive it with solar electricity so we create a new fuel for nothing (in energy terms, that is).

This video is a total waste of space. Reversing chemical reactions (such as the burning of methane to create CO2 and water) by the application of energy is very, very old. Metal smelting is prehistoric. The idea of storing power generated by solar cells, wind etc has many manifestations: hydrogen storage (electrolysis of water), pumped storage hydroelecticity (Dinorwic in Wales for example) and many others.

I feel sorry for former Princeton PhD student Emily Barton, whose name is attached to this piece of simplistic reporting. It’s made to sound as if she thought she had the original idea to recreate methane from CO2. Nobody would get credit for that as an original idea in high school, never mind at PhD level.

A bit of simple investigation uncovers that the key feature of this research is the development of new catalysts, systems and processes. Emily Barton is a reaction kineticist and the chemistry involved is certainly serious stuff. If the video had focussed on this, it would have been worth watching.

The technology’s been taken up by a company called Liquid Light Inc. Oh, and she’s now known as Emily Cole. So much for simplistic reporting. Why don’t people check things out?

• Is Reverse Combustion the Key Alternative Energy Source?, Smarter Planet, 29 Nov 2010
• Liquid Light Inc
• For one of the relevant academic papers, see Barton-Cole, E. and A.B. Bocarsly (2010). Photochemical, Electrochemical, and Photoelectrochemical Reduction of Carbon Dioxide, in: Carbon Dioxide as Chemical Feedstock, ed. M. Aresta, Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co., Weinheim.


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