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The Warsaw Voice » Other » October 28, 2009
Environmental Protection
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Fuel from CO2
October 28, 2009   
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Every year, Poland produces around 340 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2). Some of this greenhouse gas could be converted into liquid fuels-gasoline and diesel fuel. Scientists from the Faculty of Chemistry at the Maria Curie-Sk這dowska University in the eastern city of Lublin have developed a new CO2 management method.

With Prof. Dobies豉w Nazimek at the helm, the researchers are working on a technology to produce liquid fuel from CO2 through artificial photosynthesis.

The average temperature on Earth has risen by 0.6-0.7 degrees Celsius since 1880 and the anticipated increase by another 0.57-0.6 degrees is expected to cause intense weather phenomena, raise the sea level and reduce drinking water resources. The global warming is due to growing emissions of greenhouse gases, hence the efforts to develop ways to manage these gases.

Two phases
The technology for producing fuel from CO2 comprises two phases:
- conversion of CO2 (generated by coal combustion, for example) into methanol using water and a catalyst;
- methanol conversion to fuel.
The technology is modeled after the photosythesis effect that occurs in plant cells. Using solar energy, water and CO2, plants produce carbohydrates and use them as raw materials to synthesize other chemical compounds.

"The first process in our technology is based on artificial photosynthesis, that is synthesis of CO2 and water vapor, the two cheapest and most commonly available substrates," says Nazimek. It is a highly endothermic process that necessitates extra energy that cannot be obtained from burning hydrocarbons or coal mass, he adds. The missing "energy complement" is provided by the methanol-to-gasoline (MTG) process. Methanol produced in the process is separated from water and, through MTG, it is concentrated to higher hydrocarbons, that is different kinds of gasoline and diesel fuel.

MTG synthesis is a highly exothermic reaction (the energy does not come from combustion) and employs a catalyst based on ZSM-5 zeolite, a compound classified as synthetic aluminosilicate.

"The MTG process gives us what we were missing, the extra energy," Nazimek says. "The cycle closes almost entirely, which is extremely important from the energy point of view."

The new technology offers high production efficiency and is clean, because the fuels are free from toxic sulfur and nitrogen compounds. Before the process begins, CO2 has to be cleared of sulfur compounds and particulate matter. Chemically clean substrates are the prerequisite for a contamination-free end product.

Method with a difference
Global research on artificial photosynthesis started in the late 1970s. Similar technologies have been studied by research centers around the world, including in countries such as the United States and Japan, but they differ from the Polish method in the type of energy used in the photosynthesis, for example. The Polish researchers patented their method in September last year, ahead of their American colleagues from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Mastering artificial photosynthesis allows the production of any amount of cheap motor fuel, employing the MTG process developed by the Mobil company back in the 1980s," says Nazimek. Even though industrial production has not been launched yet, the project has met with interest. In June, the university in Lublin signed a letter of intent with the Lublin-Wrotk闚 Heat and Power Plant to test the CO2 conversion installation in a real industrial environment rather than a laboratory.

The Lublin-Wrotk闚 Heat and Power Plant produces around 500,000 metric tons of CO2 per year. The technology developed by the Lublin researchers will enable the plant to produce around 180-220 tons of gasoline and diesel fuel. The researchers hope that the conversion of CO2 into liquid fuel will become a strategic national project that will ultimately be available to all businesses country-wide.

Nazimek says the research will take three more years and cost zl.20.5 million to complete. The researchers are yet to study the impact of pollution on methanol production and check the course of the process whereby CO2 mixes with air. For the time being, the CO2 has to be separated from other gases, including oxygen and nitrogen, and the photocatalyst is only efficient in the presence of high-energy photons (5eV).

The economy ministry has supported the idea and is ready to join the project, according to Nazimek.

"Chances are good for a strategic project designed to develop the artificial photosynthesis technology and increase its efficiency," says Nazimek. "The project will also activate the process in what are known 'soft photons' and thus make the technology more commonly available."
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Factfile
Prof. Dobies豉w Nazimek heads the Environmental Chemistry Unit at the Maria Curie-Sk這dowska University in Lublin. Nazimek was born in 1945 in Rzesz闚. He obtained his master's in chemistry from the Maria Curie-Sk這dowska University in 1969 and earned a Ph.D. in 1976. In 1989, he obtained a postdoctoral degree in physical chemistry.

His interests in science include the use of catalysis in environmental protection: catalytic nitric oxide reduction, photo-oxidation of organic water pollutants and flue gas desulfuring.
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