Skip to main content

Let's say, hypothetically, that CO2 could be pulled back out of our atmosphere, literally sucked from the air and converted back to a solid.  Sound good?  What?  Sorry, I can't hear you, let me go turn down the air conditioner.

Transmission electron microscopy image of carbon nitride created by the reaction of carbon dioxide and Li3N.
According to this Phys.org article:
A materials scientist at Michigan Technological University has discovered a chemical reaction that not only eats up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, it also creates something useful. And, by the way, it releases energy.
The key component is apparently lithium, the same lithium that stabilizes moods and powers batteries.  Apparently lithium can be used to react with CO2, with the end result being solid carbon and usable nitrogen.  What about the energy?

The "energy release" in question is heat.  As in, you heat up lithium, it sucks a bunch of CO2 out of the air, and next thing you know it's approximately the same temperature as lava exiting a volcano.

Why isn't this getting more attention?

More specific geekery below the orange atom.

I'm not a scientist, so I did a little research to try and determine the implications of this turn of events.  How doable is it?

The reaction takes place at 626 degrees Fahrenheit (330C), so about like a very hot pizza oven:

For example, orange-to-yellow colors are emitted when rocks (or melt) are hotter than about 900 degrees Celsius (1,650 degrees Fahrenheit). Dark-to-bright cherry red is characteristic as material cools to 630 degrees Celsius (1,165 degrees Fahrenheit). Faint red glow persists down to about 480 degrees Celsius (895 degrees Fahrenheit). For comparison, a pizza oven is operated at temperatures ranging from 260 to 315 degrees Celsius (500 to 600 degrees Fahrenheit).
-- USGS/HVO Volcano Watch, November 14, 1997

So, pizza oven.  Check.

OK, so what about lithium?  Do we have enough of it to fix the mess we're in?  According to the wiki:

Although lithium is widely distributed on Earth, it does not naturally occur in elemental form due to its high reactivity.[2] The total lithium content of seawater is very large and is estimated as 230 billion tonnes, where the element exists at a relatively constant concentration of 0.14 to 0.25 parts per million (ppm),[31][32] or 25 micromolar;[33] higher concentrations approaching 7 ppm are found near hydrothermal vents.[32]
Also from the wiki:
Lithium mine production (2011) and reserves in tonnes
Country     Production     Reserves
 Argentina     3,200     850,000
 Australia     9,260     970,000
 Brazil     160             64,000
 Canada (2010)     480     180,000
 Chile     12,600     7,500,000
 People's Republic
   of China     5,200     3,500,000
 Portugal     820             10,000
 Zimbabwe 470        23,000
World total  34,000     13,000,000
So in other words, yes, there is lots of lithium to be had.  It can be extracted from seawater or mined.  It's not clear exactly how much CO2 is in the atmosphere, or how much lithium would be required to make a real difference.

On the other hand no, it's highly reactive, breaks down easily, and can't necessarily be utilized just because it's present.

I'll hit the wiki one more time:

One of the largest reserve base of lithium is in the Salar de Uyuni area of Bolivia, which has 5.4 million tonnes. US Geological Survey, estimates that in 2010 Chile had the largest reserves by far (7.5 million tonnes) and the highest annual production (8,800 tonnes). Other major suppliers include Australia, Argentina and China. Other estimates put Chile's reserve base (7,520 million tonnes) above that of Argentina (6 million).
So, South America... the new middle east?
EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Mm`k, what do we do with the carbon... (8+ / 0-)

    ...nitride? I assume it's stabile enough it won't spontaneously form cyanogen from reacting with oxygen.

    As for more lithium, I suggest someone look into tapping reverse osmosis reject water from seawater. The brine minerals would be more concentrated, and that might make it easier to extract lithium (as well as other minerals) from it.

    Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

    by JeffW on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 08:22:57 AM PDT

    •  Well (4+ / 0-)
      I assume it's stabile enough it won't spontaneously form cyanogen from reacting with oxygen.
      I'm not knowledgeable enough to address that.  From what I can tell, this has caused a bunch of scientists to lunge for each other's throats with respect to the chemical implications.  Seriously, read the comments under the phys.org article.

      So for now, I'm waiting to see what they come up with.  I just want more average people like myself to be aware of this development!

    •  On a large enough scale... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Xavier Onassis EMTP, phonegery, JeffW

      it could also help generate fresh water that is rapidly becoming a rare and valuable resource.

      I have always thought about a saltwater pipeline from the Pacific Ocean to Death valley.  Numerous falls could be created to generate electrity and the water could be purified along the way.  I know the environmental impact of creating a lake in Death valley could be emense but would the benefit outway the negative impact?  Trillions of gallons of saltwater could be purified for consumption, lots of clean energy produced and now, additional CO2 eating lithium could be retrieved in addition to healthier than the alternative sea salt.  Who knows what else.

      When trying to solve big problems, nothing should be taken off the table.

      "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour..."

      by Buckeye Nut Schell on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 08:43:26 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  What!! Turn the wonders of D.V. into a lake? (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Xavier Onassis EMTP, Unit Zero, JeffW

        Back to the drawing board Dr. Science. D.V. is one of the worlds greatest natural history museums and geological laboratories. You should visit the place or read up on it. Plenty of holes east of the Great Basin you could fill with water including the aquifers L.A. has been draining out of the inland valley for 80 yrs.

        Yer joking right?

        •  I'd say that it would be more practical... (2+ / 0-)

          ...to build all of this along with concentrated solar power plants in the Mojave. The reject brine is piped inland, and waste heat from the power plant is used to further concentrate the brine and dry it out. Any more fresh water from this would be used for the power plant. Lithium would be extracted from the salts.

          Float like a manhole cover, sting like a sash weight! Clean Coal Is A Clinker!

          by JeffW on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 10:38:19 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I've thought that as well (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            JeffW, Grabber by the Heel

            From the research I've done, you could power all of North America on solar (during the day, or on batteries) by hooking up the hottest 4% of Nevada with panels.  That's not including anywhere else, just that part of the desert.  Seems like the environmental impact would be very low as well.

            Similarly, all of North Dakota is industrial-grade for wind, which if I'm not mistaken blows hella cold all night.

            Not to mention that the blast furnace from this reaction could not only process the brine and heat the lithium, but thow more fuel into the grid as well.

            Too bad the 1% isnt interested in it.

            •  It makes more economic sense to put (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Xavier Onassis EMTP, JeffW

              the solar panels or wind turbines closer to the point of use, to limit transmission losses and reduce the expense of new power lines.  

              You are right, there's enough energy in the US to power the nation many, many times over.  

              Renewable energy brings national global security.     

              by Calamity Jean on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 11:22:43 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

        •  Just thinking about the low elavation. (2+ / 0-)

          If the world as we know it is in danger and lithium could reduce that danger, what exactly should be off the table?

          Of course I am not heading out there with a shovel or anything and I am not sending money to any lobbiest groups trying to get the idea implemented and I didn't say we should fill up the entire death valley.  but I think the idea is plausible and could be economically feasible.  

          I am trying to start a conversation.  The diary brought up a good point about lithium and I was offering an idea.  The snarky, "Back to the drawing board Dr. Science" wasn't needed but oh well.  I do not believe in taboo subjects and if people have to worry about how an idea, however silly, strange or unworkable it may seem, will be received poorly then it restricts creativity.  I think conversations move forward more productively when someone who disagrees says so and why.  

          "Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour..."

          by Buckeye Nut Schell on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 04:14:42 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I appreciate (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Grabber by the Heel

            people throwing ideas out for discussion!

          •  Sorry you feel snarkbit. But if you are going to (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Xavier Onassis EMTP

            have ideas that cause other people brain cramps you should be prepared for some startled responses. There is lots of desert east, west and south of Death Valley and extensive sections of these deserts have already been exposed to industrial mining or other activity. And there are basins aplenty in these areas. To put any of D.V. Park underwater is just not a good choice. The park is bordered by lots of military bases that go on for miles and these have some pretty roughed up environments that could be improved by flooding.

            And the reason I would oppose the flooding of D.V. is because it is one of the most unique places on the planet. Fish that live in near boiling water, dunes, salt formations, 4,000,000,000 yrs of geology on display, and sun so hot it causes chemical changes to minerals that can only be caused by  tons of pressure in the earth otherwise.

            You are Dr. Science compared to me. I just want you to make your catchment pool for lithium somewhere else. And I hope you Brainiacs are right about this lithium solution. I will learn up on it.

            I am also a Buckeye. Peace.

            Your Humble Obedient etc, etc

  •  Problem is One of the Products Goes Into Fertil- (6+ / 0-)

    izer which is no good. If it's used for that it stays in circulation, just sitting out of the atmosphere for a season or few.

    What we need to do is sequester it, however we capture it, into the crust where it can't resurface faster than over geological time. It has to be buried deep somewhere on land or dropped onto the sea floor beyond the continental shelves where it will lie for millennia till it reaches a subduction zone.

    So we really have two problems to solve.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 08:29:08 AM PDT

  •  So, by heating up the Lithium nitride (7+ / 0-)

    and pumping in CO2 you take an endothermic process and create an exothermic reaction that produces alot of heat, sequesters CO2 by creating two different usable compounds

    amorphous carbon nitride (C3N4), a semiconductor; and lithium cyanamide (Li2CN2), a precursor to fertilizers.
    This is a potential game changer in the greenhouse gas problem. As MTU is a State funded university and this study was funded by the National Science Foundation, I guess this means that we can soon see Republicans saying that Government is responsible for creating things.

    Bwahahahahahahah! Oh, crap - sorry, I couldn't type that last line without bursting into laughter.

    If you play Microsoft CD's backwards, you hear satanic things, but that's nothing, because if you play them forwards, they install Windows.

    by Unit Zero on Fri Jul 27, 2012 at 08:35:29 AM PDT

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site