Scientists Accidentally Discover A Process To Turn Co2 Into Fuel

from kottke


Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have stumbled upon a process that uses “nanospikes” to turn carbon dioxide into ethanol, a common fuel.

This process has several advantages when compared to other methods of converting CO2 into fuel. The reaction uses common materials like copper and carbon, and it converts the CO2 into ethanol, which is already widely used as a fuel.

Perhaps most importantly, it works at room temperature, which means that it can be started and stopped easily and with little energy cost. This means that this conversion process could be used as temporary energy storage during a lull in renewable energy generation, smoothing out fluctuations in a renewable energy grid.

This sounds like a big deal…is it now possible to limit the effects of climate change by sinking carbon while also placing less dependence on fossil fuels? Here’s the Oak Ridge press release. That this news is almost a week old already and we haven’t heard more about it makes me a bit skeptical as to the true importance of it. (Of course, CRISPR is potentially a massive deal and we don’t hear about it nearly enough so…)

Update: A relevant series of tweets from Eric Hittinger on “why creating ethanol from CO2 cannot solve our energy or climate problems”. Wasn’t fully awake when I posted this apparently because, yeah, duh. (via @leejlh)

More here.

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28 Responses to Scientists Accidentally Discover A Process To Turn Co2 Into Fuel

  1. Daniel Cooper October 20, 2016 at 5:41 pm #

    New way to produce energy is important way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air and help reduce the produce of global warming. Renewable energy is also helpful process but can be very undependable. For example, their some days that the wind does not blow as hard as the other day. This makes the energy source produce a different have every day. Since scientist have found out that they can turn carbon dioxide into fuel is a game changer in the fuel industry. Many cars still run on fossil fuels. The carbon dioxide that they are produce can be turned right back into fuel. This a development that the world need in order to help reduce the warming in the world. The processes uses many common materials. This means that the over materials are low cost. The lower cost to produce is the lower it will be sold to consumers. What is better than something that helps the world and is relatively cheap to produce? The process works in room temperature. The process can be easily started also easily stopped. This process turns the carbon dioxide into ethanol. Ethanol is common fuel. The way it does the process it uses nano spikes.
    This new process is very important for the progress of this nation and the world. The world is fighting against the problem of global warming. The warming of the planet should have the attention of people a crossed the country. The greenhouse gases are getting trapped in the atmosphere. It is the way the world is telling us that we the people need to get mind together and get to remove the gases until there is a healthy level for the planet. As my economics teacher always says, “Do you want your kids to know what polar bears are?” I know he does not mean right now but the idea is that we need to fix the problem now. By waiting around and letting this problem get worse and worse each day we live is not helping as well. This new technology is here to show us that we have to solution to this problem. I believe that this solution can end faster then it can get worse. I hope that this technology does not have the ability to turn one molecule of carbon dioxide into one molecule of ethanol. That way the technology will produce too much ethanol, the maximum potential to help this problem is lower. It should take more carbon dioxide to produce ethanol. That will remove the carbon dioxide faster. The world will be a better place with the level of gas house gases lowered. The leaders of the world can focus on improving the standard of life in their countries rather than a human made problem like global warming.

  2. Gregory Medina October 21, 2016 at 1:32 pm #

    Scientific advancements will continue to occur as human history continues to progress. Moreover, as the effects of climate change grow more progressively towards global harm, it is necessary for scientific innovation to move towards energy efficiency. Today, such innovations come from studies on how to increase the efficiency of electrical grids, cars, and home appliances. Moreover, people are becoming more self-conscious about energy waste and how to reduce its effects. For example, LED light bulbs are now being installed in homes due to their energy efficiency and lack of waste. Plus, industries, such as Tesla Motors, are moving towards more fuel efficient cars, or in Tesla’s case, better electric cars. On the other hand, oil barons continue to control the makeup of the world’s energy demands with fossil fuels, thus the new discovery of carbon dioxide being used to create ethanol can be both good and bad.

    First, the discovery of carbon dioxide being used to create ethanol is a good thing. Matter of fact, such a discovery can change the land scape of energy if it were to be industrialized. Moreover, such can take advantage of the fact that most people use ethanol based cars for transportation by making ethanol something renewable. For example, nature follows various cycles for renewable resources such as the carbon and nitrogen cycle. The process of turning ethanol to carbon dioxide via combustion is the first step of the process. Moreover, people have been doing so since the industrial revolution, thus, there is an abundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which is now a factor of global warming. Turning the excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere back into ethanol completes the cycle by reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to previous levels. Thus, a closed loop cycle of the burning of fossil fuels to the reduction of its waste to make fossil fuels creates a renewable system. Moreover, such can be used to transition societies away from fossil fuels by reducing the dependence of nations for fossil fuels as a source of energy. Obviously, if the total amount of carbon dioxide begins to fall along with the need for fossil fuels, then the effects of global warming will begin to fade.

    On the other hand, such a scientific discovery can be difficult to make practical due to expense. First, the production of nano-spikes necessary for the conversion of carbon dioxide to ethanol can be extremely expensive to industrialize. Companies will have to invest in large assets in order to produce the technology necessary to convert carbon dioxide into ethanol, such as nano-spikes and the devices used to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Moreover, governments are incentivized to pass laws aiding oil barons due to vested interests. This prevents any form of energy competition from making a breakthrough unless a unified government begins to invest in it. Just to be able to move away from an oil based energy dependence needs an active vested interest from all parties from consumers to producers and politicians. Overall, the major expense of pulling off an energy transition is getting active vested interest to emerge.

    Nevertheless, as global warming continues to progress negatively to have catastrophic effect on the globe, science is making efforts to limit and even prevent such effects. Such efforts have made great scientific strides to solve these problems with greater energy efficiency and alternatives. On the other hand, it is big money and vested interests that are preventing such efforts of progression. Global warming is a legitimate danger that actively effects everyone on the planet, yet money is in charge so things will not change unless we over throw money.

  3. Steven Chilletti October 21, 2016 at 4:32 pm #

    A week ago, scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory accidentally discovered a way to turn carbon dioxide into ethanol. While this may not seem like a big deal for many people, ethanol can be used as a fuel in certain vehicles as well as other things, which could mean that these scientists have just discovered an easier way to create sustainable energy. According to the article, the process that creates the ethanol uses very small particles called nanospikes, which are used as the catalyst in the process. With these nanospikes, the carbon dioxide can be successfully changed into ethanol. According to the video that was embedded in the article, the scientists were originally trying to find out whether or not this process that they were using would create methanol, but instead they discovered that ethanol was created. It is fascinating to me how these amazing scientific discoveries could be found even by accident, and how this discovery could potentially change the way we use renewable and clean energy. Another thing that the article mentions is the fact that the process to create ethanol from carbon dioxide uses common materials like copper. When this process is more refined, this will be a very positive thing since the process will not require any rare metals to work, and will only need something common like copper. Also, the article talks about how the process can be done at room temperature, which is another positive thing about the process because it will not require extremely high or low temperatures like some other scientific processes.

    One thing that the article mentions that surprised me was that this information has been out for at least a week now, but there has been little reaction from the public about this new discovery. This makes little sense to me, especially now when there is more and more pressure from the people to create sustainable forms of energy. You would think that this discovery would be talked about on the news, or at least shared online on various websites so that more people could see it. While this process can be seen as a good start to creating more ethanol for energy consumption, the article does link tweets from a professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, and in these tweets he talks about how this process cannot be used to create sustainable energy or lessen the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. This could be a reason as to why it has not been picked up by a lot of people, because it shows that the ethanol making process will not bring society any benefits. While the process doesn’t seem to be able to solve society’s energy or pollution problems, I believe that this is a good start in finding new ways to create sustainable energy. Even though this process to create ethanol was discovered by accident, this sets a good foundation for further experiments in creating ethanol. In the near future, scientists will most likely be able to use this process to find better ways to create ethanol.

  4. Tyler Hands October 21, 2016 at 4:33 pm #

    As the elections have progressed the issues with the future of energy has been brought into light more and more. Many have begun bringing future ideas into practical applications today as we strive for a more renewable source of power to our cars, homes, and everyday lives. Where fossil fuels rule as the main source of power, wind, thermonuclear, solar, and other means of energy production have begun chipping away at the share of the global energy fossil fuels hold. Though these variables have not reached a level capable of sustaining our consumption of energy, humanity has never been closer to a clean energy than before.
    In the experimental stages, there are an infinite amount of possibilities scientists look for and study when observing the effects of their work. Certain unpredictable reactions occur and by accident something is discovered. From melting chocolate bars leading to the discovery of microwaves to the recipe for immortality being mistaken for gunpowder. Science has a way of revealing the things we were not even looking for. And so again has this accidental discovery brought about a new world of possibilities.
    Turning CO2, one of the biggest concerns of emissions testing, into ethanol is a groundbreaking discovery. CO2 is the primary greenhouse gas pollutant, nearly accounting for three-fourths of the green house gas emissions. The ability to turn this gas into a reusable fuel source could cut out a huge margin of pollution in the world. Environmental risks and climate change issues would be reduced exponentially as the main contributor is contained and recycled again and again. This would also allow the grid to maximize its efficiency. Producing energy from the by-product of other energy sources will allow the grid to maintain a sustainable amount of energy from the variable sources such as: wind and solar while only producing an insignificant amount of pollution compared to recent years.
    Not only would we bring the pollution effects down marginally but this would also give us the most valuable commodity, time. Elon Musk and others are pushing to solve the energy crisis in more applicable ways but everything still revolves around the business aspects. What if Tesla and other companies like it were not pressured for new solutions every year that they wage their reputations on? If they had the time to further experiment, refine their technology and more efficiently allocate their resources instead of mass producing simple modifications to their already existing tech? Slight improvements bring only slight changes to the real problem, instead of adding a few extra miles each new model they could focus on taking their technology to the next stages, an exponential improvement. Let’s stop taking small steps into the new world of technology and instead take leaps in the long run. Given this extra time we might be able to do just that.
    The next steps with this discovery is to find a way to contain and recycle the emissions on a massive scale. Car companies will need to pitch in to find a way to do this and allow for the recycling of this byproduct. Turning a problem we add to everyday into a solution for tomorrow, that is the biggest implication of this tech.

  5. Jesse Klarfeld October 21, 2016 at 5:40 pm #

    This discovery is outstanding. Turning carbon dioxide into ethanol? Genius finding that will help the ecosystem. It is crazy how far science has come over the years and making discoveries like these are wonderful for the growth of the world. I was astonished when I saw the article because I think things like this are very interesting. Mixing chemicals and just playing a guessing game on the result. Very cool, but also takes a lot of smarts.

    However, what really caught my eye in the article was the update that said Eric Hittinger, a professor at RIT, had a “relevant series of tweets” regarding “why creating ethanol from CO2 cannot solve our energy or climate problems”. This doesn’t necessarily mean he is right, but this could possibly mean that this finding isn’t so beneficial to the world as expected. Now, yes this discovery is great because it could save people money if they make their own fuel, but that would be hard for an average person to do.

    Moreover, the effort that scientists put forth day in and day out is greatly appreciated. Their discoveries and determination to help the world advance is amazing. Learning new things is the name of the game. Honestly, it all started as if we were cavemen. We slowly evolved learning and learning over time, making axes with wood, then getting stone. It’s the progression of the world, and it is going to be so trippy when my kids are driving some crazy exotic cars.

    From another perspective, the discovery could lead to others that might have a bigger impact. There are so many and unlimited combinations of chemicals that there will never be an end on something new. I guess this is what drives the people that are so interested in science. If someone were to make their own carbon dioxide converter into ethanol at their home, they would for sure save a lot of money not buying gas. Everyone knows that spending money on gas is horrible because before you know it the tank is empty again. As a delivery driver, I know the struggle of always seeing the low fuel marker. My job doesn’t give money for gas, but I get paid very well, so I do not mind much. It is funny because, this article and the video made the process seem so easy. Maybe I should look into it, it without a doubt would save my family money.

    This discovery is significant to me because it was done by accident. I’m sure these two guys were very excited when they tested the newly found product. I could imagine the amount of joy because this is truly wonderful. Being the first to find something that no one has ever done. I Love reading stuff like this because it makes me so curious of what the future holds. We need to invest more money into find cures and new stuff like this so that we can make the world a better and stronger place.

  6. Jalal Zahir October 21, 2016 at 8:35 pm #

    Artificial intelligence has become an integral part of modern American society. I remember when people used to call my parent’s house in order to get directions to there. I have probably printed out hundreds of Mapquest papers for my dad when he had to drive anywhere. Those years seem like the Dark Ages compared to society in 2016. We don’t even need to search things up anymore, that’s Siri’s job. My roommate doesn’t even set his own alarm, he tells Google to do it, and Google complies. This is why so many people trust Artificial Intelligence. The article shows a survey where 150 marketing executives from across the globe were asked about their trust for Artificial Intelligence. One hundred and fifty people were asked, and two-thirds of them say they trust artificial intelligence with handling medication reminders, travel directions, entertainment, targeted news, manual labor, and mechanics. More than fifty percent of them say they trust AI to provide elder care, health advice financial guidance and social media content creation, and more than forty percent trust AI to provide legal advice, cook, teach, and drive for them. I agree with everything as well.
    I am not worried about robots taking over as they do in Terminator or i Robot. Artificial intelligence is advancing, but it will take many decades until we can create a machine that can think on its own. Robots understand language and numbers at a remarkable pace, but we have not scratched the surface when it comes to understanding emotion. When I talk to Siri Siri has no idea if I’m being sarcastic or not. She cannot pick up my tone and can only understand what I am saying by the literal words that I speak to her. We are far from creating the robots of science fiction. Even when we do, I do not worry about them taking over. There has been too many movies about robots taking over for us to be making the same mistakes. We will definitely create a kill switch to shut off these robots at any moment’s notice. People will be too paranoid to allow corporations to not have complete control over their machines. I also do not think there will be a use for robots to be as emotionally intelligent as humans. People think that robots will one day take over all human jobs. I strongly differ. People will not allow corporations to replace other people with robots. There is nothing people hate more than interacting with a machine when they could talk to a human. I have called my phone company many times, and not once have I ever said “wow I really hope I get a machine this time.” When it comes to customer service, people will always want another person to be there. We need the human interaction to feel as though we are important. When we call a company and get a machine we get the idea that that corporation does not care about us. We are just another number instead of a real human being with actual problems. We need someone that will understand our frustrations and anger, and a robot will not do that. I also think unions will prevent corporations form being able to replace all human with robots. What robots will do us force people to change what they study. We are producing more and more robots or machines with AI everyday. Because of this more people will study engineering and computer sciences.

    • Jalal Zahir October 21, 2016 at 8:37 pm #

      I cannot believe I commented on the wrong article. My apologies professor. I meant to comment in a different article. I will copy and paste this in to the correct comment section on the correct article.

  7. Jalal Zahir October 21, 2016 at 8:55 pm #

    The third and final presidential debate has concluded. Throughout all three debates there was nothing but garbage spewed by both candidates. There were many questions asked with many subsequent pointless responses. However, not once in any of the debates was there a question about climate change. Neither presidential candidate was asked about their thoughts on climate change or renewable energy. Discovering new and more efficient renewable energy is mandatory for this nation and nations across the globe. Climate change is a catastrophic problem that is effecting the world and proportions never before seen. In order to combat it we must find renewable energy sources to limit the carbon footprint we as a society leave on this Earth.
    With all that being said, I cannot believe this is the first time I am hearing about this news. This needs to be front page on every news website, every paper, every person needs to know about this discovery. It is not big news because of the election. As each day passes I believe that this is all a dream and the election coverage is my punishment for the sins I have committed on this Earth in a previous life. There is no way to overstate how important of a discovery this could be. Turning CO2, one of the biggest concerns of emissions testing, into ethanol is a groundbreaking discovery. CO2 is the primary greenhouse gas that is omitted by machines. It accounts for approximately three-fourths of the green-house gases that human emit in to the environment. The ability to turn CO2 in to a source of renewable energy has the potential to eliminate the biggest carbon footprint humans leave from the environment. The effects of climate change will be seriously limited as CO2 becomes a recycled material that is no longer omitted in to the ozone layer. This is the lifesaving discovery that science has been waiting for. According to the video from the article these scientists were trying to find out whether or not the recycling process they were using would create methanol. However, to their surprise they were able to recycle CO2 and create ethanol.
    Climate change has the potential to kill more people than anything else in human history. When people think about the world ending they imagine a nuclear war or an incurable disease. The UN and nations across the world have set up boundaries so that such event will not occur. However, there are not nearly enough regulations for climate change. In China most of the residents of major cities were masks while they walk around as to not breathe in the fumes from factories. Many developed nations have environmental regulations, but the majority of underdeveloped ones do not. They do not have the infrastructure or resources to enforce such regulations, and because of this corporations go oversees to abuse these lacks in law. There needs to be a universal standard for how much CO2 emissions and corporation in any nation can put out. We need to monitor the efficiency of plants across the globe and make sure they are using as much renewable energy as possible. That is why corporations in America are offered tax breaks for using wind or solar energy. We need to set up a system so that corporations oversees are offered those same incentives so that they will invest more time and money in to renewable energy. Tesla is perhaps the most important company in America as it is trying to mass-produce electrical cars on a scale never before seen before.

  8. Yuhui Zhang October 22, 2016 at 1:15 pm #

    It is interesting to hear such discovery. Global warming is becoming an important environmental issue for years. The research from Oak Ridge National Laboratory shows a big improvement of what we can do to protect our environment. Based on the research result which can convert carbon dioxide into ethanol can be used in several ways. As we all know, ethanol is widely used in common fuel. If we can convert carbon dioxide then there will be fewer pollutions. Carbon dioxide is one of the main reasons that causes global warming. Therefore, the research is significant. On the other side, the scientist described that such technology can be use in storing electricity. Adam Rondinone who works in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory described how such reaction can be occurred at room temperature so that it can restore electricity in the grid.
    There is no further information towards this research, but I think it is an important beginning for discovering such technology. We, the human beings, are using environmental resources to develop our technology. Beginning from the first industrial revolution, machines came to our life and changed our life. Along with the big movements, we are polluting our environment. Today, the green gas from the car has caused huge problems. We need such technology to provide new energy and protect our earth. Considering from other sides, innovation is the key point which we are relying on. With hundreds of thousands of research, we are developing our society and make our life better off. Sustainability becomes important. It can balance the relationship among the natural environment, society, and economic.

  9. Aziz Smith-Hamilton October 22, 2016 at 11:00 pm #

    This is a perfect example of turning a positive into a negative. With this discovery, this shows that there is hope for our environment. For years. Carbon dioxide has depleted our atmosphere for years making global warming a huge threat. We can now contain the problem and turn it into a form of a solution. Climate change has proved to be devastating, Hurricane Matthew that just passed killed and injured hundreds in the southern states of the U.S. and the islands in the Caribbean. It amazes me that people still fill as though global warming is a myth but the evidence is there that this situation is very real. Taking steps necessary is very crucial to our survival. This new CO2 discovery may not be complete, but its good to see us get one up on the situation.

  10. Jacob Pietras October 23, 2016 at 9:50 pm #

    This was a fascinating article and video because it shows and proves how we have not yet discovered all the different types of energy in the world. Being able to convert the very emissions that we are trying to avoid back into reusable fuel is such a fascinating premise. Also the fact that this simple process doesn’t need any modifying when its converted and that it can go straight into the car is also simply amazing. However there are always downsides to every upside with these new technologies.
    Just think how in the future it might be possible to buy a hookup to your cars exhaust that would instantly convert your cars emissions and pump it right back into your fuel tank. With only a average 35 percent loss rate the miles per gallon one would be able to obtain would be incredible. Another upside to the project is that it can be done at room temperature which means that not as much energy as say making other fuels would be needed in order to convert it which would also save on greenhouse gasses. This is a very green alternative to making fuel as although you are still using energy to convert it, you are converting the very waste of fuel already in use making it at least twice as more efficient.
    I think the most interesting thing that would most likely occur and would thus be a downside would be the oil companies lash back. They would be losing a lot of business if this really went big because of the fact that the gas would go twice as far with these little converters. In my opinion this technology will never come to fruition because the big oil companies will probably purchase the rights to it and then never allow it to see the light of day. This is already why oil still has such a massive grip on society and the world today in how we use it as a fuel; because it is such a money maker for the big oil corporations. They rule the system somewhat as “In 2013, fossil fuels received 75 times more subsidies than clean energy did.” Is this fair? Absolutely not, but until someone higher up starts to make a stand for what is right, amazing technologies such as this one will never see the light of day.

    https://www.edf.org/blog/2013/04/26/oil-and-gas-industry%E2%80%99s-assault-renewable-energy

  11. Liana Beharrysingh October 23, 2016 at 11:41 pm #

    The Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently discovered a way to turn carbon dioxide into ethanol. This accidental discovery speaks wonders for our environment and economy. It is a shock that this story was not released earlier due to the fact that this discovery can monumentally impact the way in which we utilize energy. Ethanol can be used as a form of fuel for vehicles which is essential for our world right now considering there is an urge for sustainable energy. Since this experiment portrayed to the scientists how easy it is for them to create the ethanol with such common resources such as copper and CO2, then it would be that much more convenient for them to continuously make it. Along with this, being able to utilize the carbon dioxide to turn it into something useful and safe for the environment is ideal. Too much CO2 in the atmosphere damages the environment and increases the already established rage of global warming. With the millions of other factors causing the demise of our environment, this discovery would eliminate just one more factor from destroying our planet. It was mentioned that the ethanol was shown to also be room temperature which means that it would have the ability to be switched on and off. With the other forms of renewable energy that we have, there must be a reliance on when the sunlight is absorbed for energy. Since this is on a mere hypothetical basis, it is not always guaranteed as to when this will happen and the amount of energy that will be captured and produced. However, with ethanol, it is more controlled as to how and when to capture the energy and now has the ability to store it and release it at the proper time for electricity. Not only would the discovery of ethanol help with the betterment of the environment, but it would also improve our economy considering an extra form of fuel could, in retrospect, lower gas prices which would avoid the aspect of inflation. Even if it is not directly influential, this discovery most definitely sets the foundation for other discoveries that would be more impactful for a permanent positive environmental change.

  12. BD October 24, 2016 at 8:34 pm #

    The scientists at ORNL (Oak Ridge National Laboratory) accidently stumbled upon a recent discovery that may have the potential to indirectly decrease the worlds carbon footprint. The discovery allows for the conversion of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, into ethanol, a common useable fuel, through the assistance of a single catalyst. According to one of the more skeptical academics in the industry, Eric Hittinger, a public policy professor at RIT, the scientific discovery made at ORNL, although still groundbreaking it is not something that will solve the pollution problem occurring in the world today, which I disagree with his skepticism. Despite Hittinger’s response to the problem-solving effects of the discovery, the application nonetheless has tremendous uses which may indirectly reduce the dependency of the current use of fossil fuels for energy production.
    The ORNL discovery demonstrates its benefits through its ability to store the ethanol and by using a catalyst at the Nano level, constructed of carbon, copper and nitrogen, making it economically viable compared to the use of platinum. I would like to see how this technology is implemented into the grid used today, especially in the United States, being that it can store ethanol in a liquid state and convert it to energy when needed. The stored energy can be used in addition to renewable energy sources such as windmills and solar panels to produce reliable energy without relying on environmental compliance. For example, the stored energy can be “saved” for when the solar panels and windmills cannot produce sufficient energy, such as at night or when there are not sufficient wind supplies. In addition to supplementing current renewable energy sources, I feel that with further technological advances the efficiency of this discovery can be pushed way beyond the current yield of 63% to produce even more ethanol from the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. Environmental and technological advances such as this one made by the scientists at ORNL attract my interest and I am looking forward to the application for this technology to reduce our negative impact on the environment.

  13. Edward Vestergaard October 27, 2016 at 5:23 pm #

    As the world depletes its finite source of fossil fuels, scientists are beginning to research alternatives to power the billion+ machines that require it. Besides the obvious that fossil fuels will ultimately run out, there is extensive evidence to prove fossil fuels’ negative impact on the environment. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) serves to trap the sun’s heat (Greenhouse Effect) and warm the earth surface; however, pollution emits greater amounts of CO2 and therefore traps more heat. This is problematic because the polar ice caps have rapidly faded because surface temperatures are not cold enough to support it. More worryingly, if the polar caps continue to melt at their current rate, sea levels will rise and threaten coastal areas with widespread flooding- endangering the lives of thousands of innocents. Additionally, Earth’s ozone layer- which resides in the stratosphere is critical for protecting life against harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. As we know, UV radiation can cause sunburn and even skin cancer is not combated properly. Although sunscreen helps quite a bit, we rely on the ozone layer to keep out the majority of UV radiation. Unfortunately, the Greenhouse Effect is thinning our shield at an alarming rate, thereby creating gaps and allowing direct sunlight to bypass the filtration process. Now, scientists have successfully found a way to convert CO2 into ethanol- a common fuel- through “nanospikes.” Despite its limited testing, nanospikes could be utilized in a large scale operation to ween the world off its dependence of fossil fuels.

    Admittedly I’m not well versed in chemistry- or science in general for that matter- but nevertheless I’m very impressed with what I’ve read. Adam Rondinone directs the Center for Nanophase Materials Sciences at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge Tennessee, and made a helpful video explaining how nanospikes were discovered and used in the conversion process. If I understand correctly, Rondinone and his team tried making a catalyst to produce graphene, but realized they were ill equipped to do so. Interestingly however, in their failed attempt to make graphene, nanospikes were seen instead. Surprised, the researchers examined the properties of their creation and found the spikes’ tapered tips acted like lightning rods- concentrating electricity at a single point to make an electric field. This fact, coupled with a yield range between 63-65% means that most power is actually being made into ethanol, while less than 40% is being wasted. Ethanol is great because it can be used as fuel straight away without needing to undergo modifications. Conversely, gasoline must go through a long process to be converted from crude oil into a useable fuel- costing time and money. Also, ethanol “could be used as temporary energy storage during a lull in renewable energy generation,” which gives the energy grid a chance to stabilize. In conclusion, society needs to divert their attention away from fossil fuels and focus on better alternatives, such as ethanol. Mother Earth is sick and we cannot keep poisoning her with pollution/emissions because eventually, entire ecosystems will collapse because of our negligence. We must do what we can to reduce our carbon footprint to extend Earth’s life, because right now, that’s all we got…there’s no other option.

  14. Brandon Rojan October 28, 2016 at 2:31 pm #

    Usually, accidents in the workplace, almost never have a positive outcome associated with it. This article emphasizes that ethanol was converted from CO2, by accident. Even though this experiment can have useful implications, the process isn’t yet complete. This article claims that the process is efficient, however with a bit of research, the process is actually lacking in efficiency. The process can be run at room temperature, however that doesn’t say much for the energy efficiency. If the process was powered thermally, instead of electrically, then it would be more efficient.

    Secondly, The fact that it uses carbon dioxide in the process doest mean much. The ethanol would be burned as fuel, releasing the CO2 back into the atmosphere. There’s no advantage to this process over hydrolysis of water into hydrogen in terms of atmospheric CO2. While this process is a good starting point, there needs to be much more research done in order to expand efficiency.

  15. Hakeem Marshall October 28, 2016 at 6:07 pm #

    Science is one of the greatest investments we as a society could make. There are no downsides asides from perhaps an inefficient distribution of wealth that the government brings in. Science and the advancement of science and technology is the greatest force in increasing the GDP, our standard of living and general human happiness. I have no issue in increasing taxation in order to fund scientific research because it is a direct investment in our future. Our investments in the sciences has, once again, come to our benefit to make our lives better.

    At Oak Ridge National Laboratory, scientists have discovered a way to turn CO2 (carbon dioxide) to ethanol. This is incredible for many reasons. The first reason is obvious, climate change. Climate Change is by a mile, the most important issue facing this country. It is also the most important issue facing the global community as well as the global economy. Trillions of dollars will be spent in adjusting buildings and others structures to deal with the after effects of climate change. Islands will, and have already started sinking. Indigenous communities and other people that live close to the water will be pushed inward due to natural disaster and a rising sea level, entire species of animals and plants will be wiped off the face of the planet because of this crisis. We should be throwing as much resources as humanly possible into challenging climate change and investing in ways of cleanly creating fuel and other inventive ways of tackling the current climate crisis.

    The second reason is the domino effect. Research is a pool of ever expanding knowledge. With every bit of research added in, we all become more intelligent and wiser than we were before. When research as potentially groundbreaking as this reaches the public the extent to which this could be expanded upon is very promising. Also, research like this encourages further investment. If people see results like this coming from this research they will invest more in it leading to greater discoveries that will leave us all better off in the long run. Science is amazing and we need to push forward into it.

    The third reason is that it makes things more cost efficient and makes our economy stronger more generally speaking. Investment in science is efficient, whether short term or long term. The greatest tool to increase wealth according to economists is the increasing of GDP per capita. Developments in technology has been shown to be the best way of doing this. Even insignificant development in science/technology make us better off so technology as groundbreaking as this will certainly make us all richer and create more jobs.

    Something I am afraid of is potential censorship by oil and coal magnates. These are groups that have been artificially propping themselves up for decades now. They have censored research and anything else that is a potential threat to their business. I could see them working with the bureaucrats of the business and shutting down future research. Cronyism and corruption are an unfortunately coming part of American democracy and energy tycoons engage in some of the most blatant versions of it. They fund misinformation campaigns to confuse the public and get them to vote against their own interest. I hope that future research will not be held back because of the corporatists.

    In short, we have to protect our scientists and invest in our future. There is not a single downside to doing this. We must push to make our country a better place to live in and investing in research like this is how we do it.

  16. Cliff Nash October 28, 2016 at 8:35 pm #

    Energy conservation is a very big deal in this day in age. There are now electrical cars, solar panels are very commonly seen on the tops of houses and other buildings, and now we have a very easy and efficient way to make fuel out of something that is already very plentiful, CO2. This incredible discovery can make everything much easier for the people who have been arguing for less climate destruction and a healthier world for us to live in. If this is put to good use along with applied to the right fields and made in an extremely efficient way then the world could definitely change for the better because of the one discovery.
    Another upside to this discovery is that it reduces the amount of CO2 in the air and thereby helping slow or even stop the warming that has been happening in the world for so long. If all cars began running on the CO2 fuel instead of the fossil fuels they already run on, then they too would be much more efficient. Their emissions would still be CO2 meaning that whatever the gas emits is able to be turned right back into gas.
    I find it odd that this is the first I am hearing of this groundbreaking discovery, it can greatly help the world around just and make things so much easier but it does not seem to be spoken about at all. There have been much less important discoveries that garnered way more media and public attention. Meanwhile, this discovery can actually change the world and make it a much safer place to live.
    There will always be advances in the scientific field that lead to making the world a better and safer place than it currently is. If we are able to find practical uses for these discoveries is what will make all the difference in what happens in the coming years because this could make the world so much better than it already is. Converting CO2 into fuel would solve the issues of drilling for oil in polaces that are currently not allowing others to drill for oil. Instead you are able to skip the middle man and can go straight from CO2 to fuel.

  17. Adam Chojnowski October 31, 2016 at 12:49 am #

    I’m very happy to have run into this article and learn that some very important questions we’ve been looking for years to find have possibly been answered. Converting CO2 into fuel sounds like a very big deal, and if it’s as optimal as I imagine it being, I won’t be able to wrap my head around all the benefits this discovery gives us. We’ll be able to better conserve our resources, better protect the environment, and still get all the energy we need without losing a beat. I don’t remember the last time I heard news like this that is so beneficial to the world. There have been questions lingering around my entire life that I thought might never be solved. Finding the cure to diseases, obtaining world peace, and finding a way to stop taking so much from our planet have always seemed possible to never be answered in my lifetime. Now, the abundance of CO2 we have in this world that we don’t want going into the atmosphere can now be used to create ethanol and power our world to greater things.

    If this discovery makes fuel as assessable as I imagine it being, then it should be extremely beneficial to businesses. Fuel is a huge expense that pushes a lot of decisions businesses make. Especially in a company’s supply chain that has to focus on moving a product through several different destinations to make it to the end customer, fuel expenses add up to millions of dollars a year for most big companies. Now, I see that expense going down and companies seeing a new world in their supply chain. They will have access to all of the fuel they need and be spending much less on fuel then they ever have before, which is considered a dream come true to supply chain managers across the world.

  18. Larry Walker November 1, 2016 at 6:54 pm #

    For years now it seems like one of the biggest global problems that we as a world run into and that is global warming and pollution in the air. This is a problem that just does not occur in one specific country but something that affects every person in the world. So for once everyone is on the same page trying to solve this problem. People have tried everything from shaving down the amount of plastic used for water bottles, electric powered car, solar power and even grease fueled vehicles. Nothing has made that big of an impact on the global warm problem, even though people being more aware and green has helped a slight amount over the years. We are in great need of something that will really help our planet for the better.
    we have be on to something that will do just that tho with this co2 alternate to fossil fuel. If this alternative is safe for all people in the world then why not give it a try. It uses co2 as well as safe things like copper to generate this alternative solution. If cars can be driven without putting the pollution in the air like cars do now days that will be the dramatic impact we are looking for to reduce global warming. Also this would help having cleaner air for future generations to come.
    I think that this is a very interesting topic because it will affect me in my lifetime. The way we are going now people can not keep using fossil fuels like we are. So finding an alternative is very important because if we run out of fossil fuels then life will be alot different. Also i really want a safer planet for my future family as well as man kind in general in the future.

  19. Michael Papotto November 3, 2016 at 9:09 am #

    Creating new forms of energy is a topic that becomes more and more important every year. As we deplete the fossil fuel reserves around the world it is becoming more imperative that we develop new forms of energy to power everything from our homes to our cars. The very interesting thing about this development is that because ethanol is so much like the fuels we already use we wouldn’t have to replace any of the engines and power sources that we already use. This would save us large amounts of money because trying to develop new motors and change all the cars around the world for example will be very costly.

    Another huge problem that this scientific break through could help solve is what to do with all of the CO2 that we pump into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. This could take care of that problem too, and make our use of combustion engines more sustainable. For years scientist have been warning us about the amount green house gases such as CO2 we have been pumping up into the air. Its fascinating that with this reaction we could be able to pull them down and use them for something that would benefit us very much.

  20. Amir Omar November 9, 2016 at 4:30 pm #

    Technology is a freight train that will never stop as long as mankind keeps thinking of better ways to do things. Just like technology science is also a field that will always continue to grow. This is a break thru in the science field and could possibly change the world’s renewable energy system. Since the early 2000s we have been fighting this battle of global warming and this could be a way to aid the fight. By Converting CO2 into a useable fuel that is already widely used, we can stop harming Mother Nature and start helping it. The number one contributor to the emissions being submitted into the earth atmosphere is car emissions. Cars currently run on fossil fuels with a hand full of company’s trying to make the push to electric powered cars, but imagine how well for the environment it would be if we’re could switch car fuel over to this reusable fuel.
    These greenhouse gases that are released daily by cars trucks factories are destroying the earth causing dramatic weather changes. Extreme summer days as we’ve seen in the passing season, this winter should be interesting as well. By making the move these scientist give the earth a better and healthier life, it’s time we stop waiting around hoping we aren’t killing the place we call home. It was definitely a great discovery, and should be interesting house the world decides to use this new data to change the world.

  21. jaymie nieves November 11, 2016 at 12:27 am #

    As our modern world advances pollution, is a high topic of issue nationally. As a result new ways are needed to produce cleaner energy to help reduced global warming. One of the biggest problems with the environment is the amount of Carbon Dioxide has been depleting the atmosphere. So when scientists discovered a new process of creating gasoline from carbon dioxide, this creates a new step in protecting the environment. This coverts an environment threat into a renewable resource that can prevent an environmental disaster. Scientists where able to create this process by using nano-spikes to covert Carbon Dioxide to gasoline at a room temperature.
    Even though this new process is not complete, there are many benefits it. It will lower cost for fuel because it add a renewable source to a limited supply. The process is relatively simple to setup and does not require high cost to run the process. This process is still in development but I believe it’s a positive investment because it has many benefits to it. With the world where global warming is becoming a rising threat this new method of creating fuel is step in a positive direction.

  22. Michelle Pyatnychuk February 2, 2017 at 8:48 pm #

    Considering the various environmental problems that we face now, the significance of these scientists accidently uncovering a way to turn carbon dioxide into ethanol is revolutionary. Whether you are a believer in climate change or in the “natural cycle,” I think that both sides can agree of how huge this is to protecting the environment. At the end of the day, it does not matter whether you believe that carbon dioxide plays a role in the warming of the Earth and its rising sea levels, but we can all agree that too much carbon dioxide is not a particularly good thing. The greatest thing about this revelation is how it can play a crucial part in taking bad chemicals and reusing them for something good. To give purpose to something that is so harmful for the environment and us, shows us how everything we have on earth is not useless or a nuisance but is beneficial.

    Once we realize that everything that the planet provides for us is crucial for our way of life, we can begin to understand just how necessary it is to make the right changes in order to keep Earth running as it should be run. By utilizing the greenhouse gases to create our own energy and fuel resources is monumental in that it is using what the Earth gives to us and it is in turn helping us lead easier lives. By bringing a positive out of something so negative to our environment as carbon dioxide, we are innovating and are at the helms of a new revolution. The invention of things such as the steam engine and assembly line created a new way of life going into the 20th century that was full of scientific knowledge that was finally accepted into society. It is by theorizing, experimenting and discovering that we have the power to change the face of the earth for the better.

    Knowing what we know now about the chemical reactions that occur in our atmosphere on a daily basis, the vastness of space and all that it contains and so much more, we are at a point where every time we uncover a new tidbit of information, we are pushing ourselves ahead. By this group of scientists accidently finding a new use for carbon dioxide, they have inspired inventors, producers and basically anyone interested in changing the world, that without trying there will be no way that you will get to your ultimate goal. The power of what these scientists found when they were testing the various catalysts with the carbon dioxide is that they have taken a giant leap towards possible changes within the world of environmentalists. The people who call for their citizens to carpool to work, recycle their plastic and rent Citi bikes in the city will get another point towards their argument of how we as humans living in the 21st century, can be the determiners in whether this planet will make it into the 22nd century.

  23. Owen Balseiro February 2, 2017 at 9:56 pm #

    I think that if what the United States Department of Energy and they scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory said is true. And it can be widely implemented this will have global effects and it could destabilize several countries. Let’s get the most obvious things out of the way. The United States and by extent most of western culture, is dependent on oil. Most of said oil is found in one place, the middle east. So let’s play with the idea, what happens if the process of turning Co2 into gas works and it is cheaper than standard oil? Well first off, the oil industry/ energy industry as a whole is going to have to adapt or die. With oil that is previously, the center of the industry now gone, the businesses there are going to have to adapt to this new form of energy and quickly if it proves to be cheaper than actual oil. The next big thing is the Middle East, these countries have built entire countries around the west’s need for oil and if their largest source of income is cut from underneath them they are going to feel it. Now they are still going to sell oil and i don’t think the Middle East will immediately collapse if this new form of energy is implemented on a wide scale, but some countries definately will collapse and other countries that are already starting to wean their economies off dependency on oil will probably survive. The other big thing for the Middle East is the United States. WIth the United States now being nowhere near as dependant on oil and therefore the Middle East, the United States will not have nearly the motivation to get involved in that region as if they were still greatly dependent on oil.
    Another great effect this will have is that we as a species create a hell of alot of Co2, like a planter killing amount of Co2. And disregarding the huge amount that is already in our atmosphere, we could in theory keep a near infinite supply of Co2 and turn it into gas. Now we have enough energy to lower prices and not make people so financially bound to it. Every single human being is capable of creating Co2 just by breathing and now that we have the possibility to turn it into energy means that a lot of future energy problems that were on the horizon and going to be quite serious are not much less of a threat than they would of been.
    I am really excited to see where this goes and it just goes to show that when the human race is faced with a problem, given enough time it tends to solve it. And now that we know Co2 can be turned into energy the question still remains of what else can be turned into energy that we have an abundance of? Who knows maybe maybe if this works out we could more easily and more affordably send out ships and satellites into space to look for other natural resources, the possibilities are near endless.

  24. Alex Strom March 15, 2017 at 11:32 pm #

    Gas consumption is one of the main contributors to modern global warming as we know it. We use oil for many different things, one of the most prevalent being fuel for cars. America uses approximately 385 million gallons of gas a day, which leads one to question: Where do we get all of this oil from? We cannot keep up this pace of gas consumption, or else we will suck the earth dry of all its nutrients. We are in desperate need of a change in the way we use energy to power our society, and a process which turns CO2 into fuel may be the key. We are in dire need to find a new power source, because we are in the process of destroying the earth.
    Scientists at Oak Ridge National Library stumbled across a process that can change carbon dioxide into ethanol. Ethanol is a widely used fuel, and this process used common materials like copper and carbon. One of the most important aspects of this process is that it can be done at room temperature, so it uses less energy to be performed. This can be a big deal, because this now makes it possible to limit the effects of climate change by sinking carbon, while also reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Ethanol allows for a renewable energy source, which also serves two purposes, so the use of this process can really help out our planet.
    There are many things that contribute to global warming, so it is necessary that we deal with these issues one at a time. A major problem that we see from global warming is there is an excess of CO2 in the atmosphere. There are many contributors to this problem, which is it’s own issue itself that needs to be fixed. Nonetheless, we are stuck with this problem, so we have to do something about it. These scientists from Oak Ridge National Library made a huge discovery, when they found they could turn CO2 into ethanol. Not only does this process help get rid of the surplus of CO2 in the air, it generates a source of renewable energy. This energy is able to be used for certain functions, which can help in the reduction of fossil fuels. This is a win-win situation in terms of saving the environment, so I believe that we should encourage the use of this kind of energy more often. If we focus more time and energy into researching way to save the environment, we may be able to discover ways to save the environment that we never even know was possible. Science is very power, and it can take you a long way. There are many smart people on this earth that I believe have the capability to find ways to make the world a cleaner place, so we must make that our focus. If we do not take care of the planet we live, we may end up not being able to live here ever again. The sooner we make a change, the bigger an impact it will have on the changes made, so we need to start acting now. We are already making scientific advances that show promise for the future, so we need to keep pushing ourselves to find new limits, and find new ways to make things work. There are so many sources of energy that we should not have to use fossil fuels at all. I think that we will get there one day as a society, it just takes trial and error. We as humans have abused the land we live on, so if that does not change in the near future, there may not be a future.

  25. Sirina Natarajan March 17, 2017 at 8:07 pm #

    While I think it is great that scientists are accidentally creating alternative fuel sources, perhaps they should focus more on alternative methods that will actually benefit our atmosphere. By converting CO2 into ethanol, it may hurt more than it will help. It takes the CO2 out of our air, but when it is converted into ethanol, it will be exhausted back into the atmosphere as more CO2 during the combustion of ethanol. These scientists are just creating a vicious cycle of using the CO2 killing our planet to create ethanol which will yield to more CO2 and it will not help our planet in the slightest. I think it was smart of the scientists to include that the conversion can be done at room temperature because it is very time consuming and tedious to make sure something is done at an exact temperature. If the result is not as hoped, then it is a waste of resources and time, but by using CO2 and a process that can be achieved at room temperature, the lab has access to nearly unlimited resources and significantly less time loss. This is not a solution we should be excited about and scientists should be more focused on finding a new source of clean energy. Tesla is working on a completely electric car and many car companies are able to convert diesel engines into ones that are able to run on vegetable oil. Not only is vegetable oil a more clean alternative, but it is also significantly cheaper. Sunlight is free, but the technology is the tricky part to implement. I think we are at least 15 years out from seeing cars that are completely reliable on solar power for purchase to the public.
    In my high school physics class, we discussed the possibility of an engine that could run on water and we even created a fuel cell that could conduct electricity to generate electrolysis. It may not have worked, mostly because none of us were actual engineers, but our chemistry teacher said the math made sense and that a water-fueled engine was possible. I know this type of engine would not be very powerful because it is like a Prius without a real engine, but I think it makes a great alternative if people are going short distances. I find it very surprising that this is not at the fore front of car companies’ to do lists. If they could find a way to create a clean engine, they would headline a new era of car engines. The research may be difficult, but I think with the large threat of global climate change, it would be exponentially more efficient for them to invest in such an expenditure. These companies are too set in their ways to feel the pressure of change. They are not threatened by climate change, but they need to realize that Tesla alone cannot change the car industry and that there are many other opportunities that have not yet been exhausted.

  26. Thomas Batelli March 18, 2017 at 1:08 pm #

    I thought this article was one of the best yet. After watching the video, I was amazed that scientists are grasping the concepts of nano-technology and how it can be used to control chemical reactions. This is extremely huge to those who understand the actual reaction of a concept like this from a scientific standpoint. To put it in simpler terms, if a scientist were to be able to create a catalyst (which is a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without changing itself permanently) that can undergo an entire reaction entirely on its own, such as converting CO2 (carbon dioxide) to ethanol, a common fuel source. Scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory may have done just that.

    With these specific “nano-spike” catalysts taper down to a tip that are just a few atom thick so the electric field of this catalyst can be concentrated at the tip. This specific catalysts yield is also around sixty-three to seventy percent, which essentially means that all of the products that are involved in this conversion are being used up, so not very much of it will go to waste. With the majority of this product converting to ethanol, there could be hopes of a new system of productivity when it comes to fuel. Again, being that most of this is being used in the conversion process, there would be almost no pollution emitting into the air. The video also explains how with this process, we can also conserve energy by saving it, where we can’t do now with the technologies we have in effect.

    Being able to implement technologies like this into everyday life could not only assist with expense, but will more importantly assist with saving our environment. In the greedy world we live in, people are less concerned about the negative repercussions energy sources have on our ecosystem and more focused on the internal profits it will bring. Also, with natural resources depleting everyday, we could potentially have found the new energy system of the future. Of course, there are still other factors to take into place. By using carbon dioxide to convert to ethanol, are we disturbing any natural levels in the environment? Will there be any negative repercussions? We would have to experiment further to see.

    There is still plenty of reason to stay positive about an innovation such as this one. Perhaps with even more studies, they could create even more catalysts to assist with energy conversions. I am personally surprised that the public has not had much of a response to this amazing scientific discovery, and that is what is sad about the world we are currently working in. People are more concerned with how innovations, such as this one, will effect their profits, not how it will aid to better the environment and perhaps, save this planet. With this information only being a week or so old, you would think that it would have been shared with the public in a more popular way.

    All in all, I believe that this innovation is paving the way for plenty of more serendipity to occur. Climate change and the environmental damage we are causing from pollution is a situation, which is only going to grow and get worse over time. It is within our best interest to start investing in systems, such as this one, which implement every day reactors and catalysts to create a final product that yields as well as this one does.

  27. Jess N October 21, 2019 at 5:53 pm #

    Despite the fact that this discovery and this article is almost three years old, I still have never heard of it to this day. I am usually pretty good at keeping up to date with current events, and have been reading the news daily for years, and this has never even been a footnote on anything I’ve read, nor it doesn’t seem to have gotten any attention after 2017. At first I thought that perhaps this discovery was disingenuous, and the results over-promised. However, this was a study funded and supervised by the DOE at one of their laboratories (I learned this from the press release link included in the article), indicating it was federally sponsored, so one would assume there is some degree of legitimacy to these results and should be taken with a bit more trust than if it was a unsupported claim in a random tweet. My other thought was that since this was funded by the DOE, I wouldn’t be that surprised to learn that this discovery was suppressed and purposefully prevented from being publicized mainstream, which has happened before to other scientific discoveries that were not directly beneficial to the federal government’s agenda, since the current federal policy seems to be moving more and more toward supporting fossil fuels and oil drilling and less focused on renewable energy. It is frustrating to see articles like this, knowing that so many innovative scientific discoveries have been created that we likely just don’t hear about, discouraging further innovation and positive progression towards more renewable energy, which is something our planet is in desperate need of. However, I thought this article and the concept of turning CO2 into usable fuel is a really promising idea, especially considering how cost effective the video seems to describe it as. I hope that eventually we will see a more mainstream implementation of this idea and others like it to work toward combating our planet’s fuel crisis.

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