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MIT membrane produces fuel from CO2 emissions

November 29, 2017

By Paul Homewood


Will someone please wake me up and tell me I’m dreaming?


From New Atlas:



Researchers at MIT have developed a new membrane-based system that can convert carbon dioxide emissions into useful alternate fuels. The process has been effectively demonstrated on a small-scale and the researchers hope to ultimately adapt the system to conventional fossil fuel-based power plants.

Made of lanthanum, calcium, and iron oxide, the membrane is designed to separate out oxygen from carbon dioxide, leaving behind carbon monoxide that can then be turned into a variety of useful fuels.

The process requires a significant energy input to produce the up to 990° C (1,814° F) temperatures needed to separate the carbon dioxide input into oxygen and carbon monoxide. But the researchers suggest this heat energy could be provided by either, "solar energy or by waste heat, some of which could come from the power plant itself."

A pragmatic hypothetical outcome would be to incorporate the process into a natural gas power plant by adding an entirely new fuel output stream to the plant. The carbon dioxide produced by generating electricity from the burning gas would then be fed through the membrane system, which itself would be powered by a small stream of the original natural gas.

The carbon monoxide output could then be mixed with hydrogen to produce syngas, which can be used to generate electricity, as a fuel in internal combustion engines, or fed into the existing gas distribution network. This process would create a new commercial output for the power plant while also reducing greenhouse emissions.

It is worth noting that this research is co-funded by Shell Oil, which hopefully points to the process finding a real, practical outcome. After all, if the big fossil fuel companies can find a way to turn their carbon dioxide emissions into a positive revenue source then its a real win-win scenario for everyone.

The research was published in the journal ChemSusChem.


So, let me get this right.

1) You have to use an enormous amount of energy to heat the gases up to 990C, in order to trigger the process.

2) This new energy presumably won’t grow on trees, which will therefore mean more fossil fuel burning. (CCGT plants already use waste heat, which rather destroys the argument that waste heat will work).

3) The process produces carbon monoxide, which if released to the atmosphere is simply oxidized to carbon dioxide again. (Which is just as well as we would all be dead otherwise!)

4) Therefore the carbon monoxide has to be either stored or mixed with hydrogen to produce syngas.

5) Unfortunately the only way to produce large amounts of hydrogen is steam reforming, which in turn produces large amounts of carbon dioxide.


One of the arguments of anti fossil fuel campaigners is that the supply of oil, gas and coal is finite, and that we should therefore limit the use.

Yet this dotty proposal, if it ever worked, would simply lead to large amounts of energy being wasted for no good reason at all.

  1. NeilC permalink
    November 29, 2017 12:41 pm

    As soon as I read, “The process requires a significant energy input to produce the up to 990° C (1,814° F) temperatures…” my thoughts were too rude to comment.

  2. Jackington permalink
    November 29, 2017 12:41 pm

    That’s what I like about your blog Paul – not only educational but entertaining too.

  3. Simon from Ashby permalink
    November 29, 2017 1:09 pm

    Click bait for research grants. Scientifically and technologically illiterate politicians will jump at it. Just too easy to spin.

  4. November 29, 2017 1:15 pm

    And IF or WHEN it did work, the greenies would be beside themselves. After all it is NOT about CO2, but ridding the world of capitalism so we can all be in poverty and dying from a variety of reasons. Spreading misery equally–except to those in charge.

  5. Max Sawyer permalink
    November 29, 2017 1:24 pm

    Pity about the Bali volcano – more CO2 in a week than all the world’s planes, trains & automobiles in a year. Perhaps the Greens should serve an injunction on it to cease emitting forthwith.

  6. tom0mason permalink
    November 29, 2017 1:25 pm

    Researchers at MIT have developed a new energy expensive, membrane-based system that can rob life maintaining carbon dioxide flue gases, forming into human and animal deadly carbon monoxide. Not very clever.
    Thankfully this process is so daft only the completely lunatic Green misanthropes would advocate it’s use, so it is probably already in the plan for use in California or Germany. 🙂

    • Dung permalink
      November 29, 2017 4:36 pm

      “human and animal deadly carbon monoxide. Not very clever.
      Thankfully this process is so daft only the completely lunatic Green misanthropes would advocate it’s use,” er um don’t you mean ‘our government’ ?

  7. Sheri permalink
    November 29, 2017 1:58 pm

    No, you are not dreaming. The starry-eyed, scientifically illiterate media and academia (yes, I no longer consider MIT to be science) are, but you are not. The scientifically illiterate population is also dreaming. Now is the time for all those who have waited for the day to unleash their “for suckers only” products on the public. It won’t get any better than now.

  8. Mike A permalink
    November 29, 2017 2:08 pm

    Think some are confusing temperature with energy, but nontheless, I suspect it’s nothing to get too excited about and probably based on some pretty old chemistry. It’s not difficult to synthesize combustible material from stuff like CO2, but it’s just a case of energy in and energy out, less entropy and system losses; all basic thermodynamics. But these are the sorts of measures adopted when fossil fuels are short, e.g. Germany in 2nd WW and South Africa under apartheid, when sanctions were applied. Something to play with when funded by the gullible.

  9. dearieme permalink
    November 29, 2017 2:32 pm

    “The process requires a significant energy input to produce the up to 990° C (1,814° F) temperatures “: phooey! That would be a mere bagatelle compared to the “Heat of Reaction” that would need to be supplied for the endothermic reduction of CO2 to CO.

  10. Broadlands permalink
    November 29, 2017 2:41 pm

    You may also add the idea of turning CO2 into carbonate rocks…that must be put somewhere? All being done with solar and wind energy, of course. “Phooey” indeed.

  11. Terbrugghen permalink
    November 29, 2017 2:44 pm

    Clearly there’s no free lunch, but I’ve still long hoped for a process that would be CO2 intensive, and for the resulting environmentalist shrieking about the damage resulting from lowering atmospheric CO2 levels. . .

  12. Malcolm Bell permalink
    November 29, 2017 2:58 pm

    Inspired by MIT ;-
    Take a sealed steel container with a tap on the top. Half fill it with water. Raise its temperature and the boiling water will pressurise the space with steam. This pressure can be tapped off to drive electricity generators and distributed. This process is totally clean, not a hint of CO2 let alone CO.

    Caution, ecactly like the brilliant MIT system this requires energy to heat the water – but like MIT I ignore that as
    trivial side issue – simply use heat pumps running on electricity recovering heat out of the sewers heated by the humans who dumped it (so to speak).

    What possible snag could there be. Human waste to make unlimited lean energy? Perfect.

    (With apologies to Mr Clausius. Don’t try this at home however green you are).

  13. November 29, 2017 3:49 pm

    All it needs is to be run alongside a perpetual motion machine. Send MIT more money.

    • Graeme No.3 permalink
      November 29, 2017 5:52 pm

      Phillip Bratby:
      Relying on the Laws of Thermodynamics is so passé; the Greens think that being a law it can be changed.
      I would have thought it obvious that if you burn fuel and get CO2 and lots of heat than reversing the process would use lots of heat. But we have had a plethora of these processes (lab scale) which claim to reverse the process, some of them using concentrated SOLAR!!!!
      [ Ooh arhh go the gullibles, must be good ] The next step will be to use intermittent wind power to supply hydrogen gas – it might work on a laboratory scale too [work being defined as gaining a grant].

  14. thedude permalink
    November 29, 2017 3:59 pm

    Now we have white steam clouds on a blue sky.
    Whenever they claim a “miracle” and want to show it in a good light, it’s white steam on a clear day. How clean and peaceful.
    When the story needs to sound evil, it’s black steam in front of a orange sunset. Ooooh, death-sky.
    I should make a compilation of these.

  15. November 29, 2017 4:18 pm

    We can laugh at the waste of money to turn CO2 back to fuel, something trees do for free, but the real tragedy is the misdirection of young minds into useless ‘green’ research. The monumental waste of human talent devoted to solving a non-problem, while seldom considered, is the true green legacy. .

    • Broadlands permalink
      November 29, 2017 4:47 pm

      And all those trees will not be free. They will have to occupy space otherwise available for vegetation we call food. And don’t forget all the space taken up by solar panel and wind farms…or the space reserved for the factories technologically capturing and storing all of the CO2 we are suppose to remove from the atmosphere. And finally… the space to store that CO2. Hundreds of billions of tons of it. Seems simple enough??

  16. Athelstan permalink
    November 29, 2017 5:01 pm

    Made of among other compounds – Lanthanum.

    Mainly derived, mined, processed out of Monazite sands, it’s (La) – hardly an abundant element, is it?


    • Bruce of Newcastle permalink
      November 29, 2017 9:05 pm

      About three times as abundant as lead and only slightly less abundant than copper.
      Toyota uses a fair bit of lanthanum in their Prius batteries because it is cheaper than nickel, which it can partly replace in a NiMH battery.

      REE aren’t really rare, it’s just no one bothered to look for them until the electronic age.

      • Athelstan permalink
        November 29, 2017 11:46 pm

        Noted, and thank you BoN!

      • Athelstan permalink
        November 29, 2017 11:49 pm

        No chance of Frasier Is’ (Monazite sands deposits) ever being re-opened back up then – either?

      • Robert Christopher permalink
        November 30, 2017 7:52 am

        RRE are rarely found in concentrated deposits, which are less expensive to exploit.

      • Bruce of Newcastle permalink
        November 30, 2017 8:47 am

        Robert – GMEL in Greenland can float a concentrate, which is what the copper guys do. Big deposit, enough for hundreds of years of world consumption. The mineral sands people can produce a REE containing monazite and xenotime concentrate easily (which incidentally also gives high thorium content – 5-10% or more). I have a 2005 textbook with a list of 123 REE deposits – that was well before the recent boom in exploration.

  17. November 29, 2017 5:30 pm

    I’ve got some things planted in my garden that separate the O and C in CO2 and they’re solar powered. They are even quite pleasant to be near and the only noise I hear from them is when the wind rustles their leaves.

  18. tom0mason permalink
    November 29, 2017 5:49 pm

    Dear wannabe saviors of the world,

    This planet does not need you, please shut-up!

  19. November 29, 2017 6:42 pm

    I wonder how the Green Blob will control the amount of CO2 emitted by the volcano Agung in Bali,Indonesia. As I understand it,more CO2 is released in one week by Agung than by all the world’s planes,ships and cars in a year!

    • John F. Hultquist permalink
      November 30, 2017 5:54 am

      The thing to pay attention to isn’t the ash or CO2, but the sulfur emissions.
      Even so, cooling will be only a fraction of a degree and won’t last long.
      Locals, mostly poor, are having a hard time, and this will be a serious long term issue for them.

  20. The Old Bloke permalink
    November 29, 2017 7:59 pm

    How many Greenies would it take to cap a volcano?

    • hivemind permalink
      November 30, 2017 6:59 am

      None. Volcanos are real-world things and Greenies don’t deal with the real world.

  21. November 29, 2017 8:54 pm

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections and commented:
    MIT researchers invent a self-licking ice cream cone.

  22. Bruce of Newcastle permalink
    November 29, 2017 8:58 pm

    This is already being done in Iceland in a plant which has capacity to produce about 5 million litres per year. It’s been in operation since 2012.

    Icelandic Methanol Plant Triples Production

    The process is similar: CO2 reacted with electrolytic H2 at pressure and temperature. The only slightly different aspect is the CO2 comes from the geothermal exit gas stream not from a coal plant. So the CO2 is volcanic rather than man made. The Iceland plant seems not to produce CO as a byproduct however.

    I have to correct Paul: electrolytic hydrogen production is large scale. I have worked at two plants: one with steam reforming and one other plant with an electrolytic H2 plant. Both work just fine and both were used for ammonia production. The difference is one had cheap hydro power and the other didn’t.

    I think methanol production from CO2 is unnecessary as CAGW isn’t happening, but if it was the same process would work just fine attached to a nuclear plant, so long as there was a source of CO2. Synthesised methanol could be used in ICE vehicles and stupid EVs could be dispensed with entirely.

  23. RogerJC permalink
    November 29, 2017 11:21 pm

    Most fossil fired boilers try to extract as much heat as possible from the combustion gases so as to be as efficient as possible. The Furnace Exit Gas Temperature is normally pretty high but by the time those gases have passed over various banks of Superheater, Reheater and Economiser it will have fallen considerably. Next the combustion gasses will pass through an air preheater to recycle heat into the combustion air. By this time the gases are miles below the temperature required for this reaction. To get back to the stated temperature would require a considerable additional heat input. How can this ever be economic.

  24. hivemind permalink
    November 30, 2017 6:58 am

    It’s a magic machine. You burn oil to produce CO2. Then run it through this membrane to convert CO2 to oil. Run the oil back through the get more CO2, ad infinitum. And you can power the country with the electricity you produce each time throught the system.

  25. Robert Christopher permalink
    November 30, 2017 7:48 am

    Come on folks, there needs to be another project lined up for Bryony Worthington, after she has solved how Carbon Capture and Storage can be implemented at a profit – to herself, of course! 🙂

  26. Bruce of Newcastle permalink
    November 30, 2017 8:58 am

    A longer comment of mine about it has gone to spam: there’s already a 4,000 tpa methanol plant in Iceland which does exactly this – convert exit gas CO2 to methanol using electrolytic hydrogen, heat and pressure. As far as I can tell it completely converts the CO2 without byproduct CO. You can easily get the details if you search for ‘methanol plant Iceland’.

    So this idea isn’t new or even original.

    Electrolysis can be used for H2 production, typically where cheap power is available eg from hydro dams. I’ve worked at an operation with a large electrolytic hydrogen plant.

  27. November 30, 2017 9:49 am

    Some years ago I played around with recovering CO2 from the atmosphere by cooling it to below minus seventy. From there on it’s quite straightforward to convert it to methane. The only problem was the huge amount of energy drawn by the cryogenic pump. I’d guess that the ER:EI would have been about 0.2. This MIT-mesh sounds like being just another energy sink.

  28. John F. Hultquist permalink
    November 30, 2017 4:12 pm

    A tangled web of politics, green cars, and green cards.
    Fox News today

    Chinese investors sue Terry McAuliffe, Clinton brother, alleging electric automaker’s scam

  29. Gamecock permalink
    December 2, 2017 1:28 pm

    If you have 990° C, it would be more efficient to just boil water and run a steam turbine to make electricity.

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