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Researchers look to combine advantages of all energy types - even oil, gas and coal - to determine a beneficial energy future

Rice University researchers have developed a Green Carbon Center. The center evaluates the Earth's energy future by showing the advantages of all energy sources like oil, coal, gas, biomass, solar, geothermal and wind, and also looks for ways to put carbon dioxide to good use

James Tour, lead author of the study and professor of mechanical engineering, materials science and computer science at Rice University, along with Vicki Colvin, Rice University's Pitzer- Schlumberger Professor of Chemistry, and Carter Kittrell, a research scientist at Rice University, have created a Green Carbon Center as a "think tank" for the future of energy. They plan to focus on the development of clean energy by assessing the benefits of all types of energy and by recycling carbon dioxide into useful products. 

"Eighty-five percent of our country's energy comes from fossil fuels, and Houston is the world capital of the industry that makes and produces and transports those fossil fuels to all of us," said Colvin. "So we are in a unique position as the leading university in Texas to transform that industry, to develop it in a green way, to make it sustainable and to teach people that just because it's carbon doesn't mean it has an environmental consequence, but it can in fact help us transition to a renewable energy economy of the future."

The main goal is to make carbon dioxide a useful material. To do this, researchers would like to partner with energy companies of all sorts - oil, coal, wind, solar, etc. - to find ways to make carbon dioxide a "profitable resource."

"We want to say to the oil and gas and coal companies that even as we go to renewable forms of energy, we need you," said Tour. "We need oil for all of our manufacturable products - plastics and fibers and building materials. We need coal for syngas and for the manufacture of chemical compounds. And we need natural gas to provide energy at least into the next century, as well as for the production of hydrogen."

While cleaner energy through a hydrogen-based energy economy is the ideal future of energy, researchers noted that carbon-based energy will still be needed, especially since American jobs depend on the drilling and distribution of these fossil fuels. 

To keep carbon-based energy around without its harmful effects, Tour, Colvin and Kittrell studied the separation of carbon dioxide from hydrogen through steam methane reformation, where carbon dioxide could be reused as a basic feedstock for chemicals or momentarily sequestered in tapped-out oil wells. 

"It costs a lot to capture carbon dioxide and pump it underground, and that can negate the advantages of sequestration," said Tour. "But solar and wind power could replace coal-fired boilers to compress and transport carbon dioxide."

Other ways in which carbon could become useful is to compress and liquify it to replace water when enhancing oil and gas recovery. Also, carbon could potentially replace harmful chlorocarbons as a refrigerant in the dry cleaning business. 

This study was published Oct. 22 in Nature Materials.

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Green carbon? Carbon = Life
By Schrag4 on 10/25/2010 1:13:22 PM , Rating: 5
The main goal is to make carbon dioxide a useful material.

Without it we would all be dead. I'd say it's pretty darned useful already.

RE: Green carbon? Carbon = Life
By AlexWade on 10/25/2010 1:18:55 PM , Rating: 2
That is what I was thinking! Why do greenhouse pump in extra CO2? Because it makes plants grow faster. And the last time I check, all life is carbon based.

RE: Green carbon? Carbon = Life
By mephit13 on 10/26/2010 10:20:51 AM , Rating: 2
And you need water to survive, heck, you're mostly made of water. Let's put you in a room filled with nothing but water and see what happens.

RE: Green carbon? Carbon = Life
By Schrag4 on 10/27/2010 10:31:26 AM , Rating: 2
Burning all oil/coal would probably only result in a 0.5% CO2 concentration. We would never end up with an atmostphere "filled with nothing but" CO2. You're not being very intellectually honest with your little room-full-of-water comparison.

RE: Green carbon? Carbon = Life
By kattanna on 10/26/2010 12:18:24 PM , Rating: 2
"green carbon" only makes sense when you first understand that

green = $$$

and nothing else.

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