"The whole idea," Tour added, "is to lower the carbon dioxide footprint and to show you don't have to get rid of anybody's energy source.
"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. We need oil for all of our manufacturable products -- plastics and fibers and building materials," he said. "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."
The Rice researchers wrote in Nature Materials that the rapid expansion of solar and wind energy and the promise of a hydrogen-based energy economy do not negate the continuing, long-term need for carbon-based energy, particularly since so many American jobs depend on the digging, drilling and distribution of fossil fuels.
They suggested carbon dioxide separated from hydrogen through steam methane reformation could either be repurposed immediately as a basic feedstock for chemicals or sequestered temporarily in tapped-out oil wells, which would hold vast amounts. Compressed and liquefied carbon could even replace another precious resource -- water -- to enhance oil and gas recovery.
"It costs a lot to capture carbon dioxide and pump it underground, and that can negate the advantages of sequestration," Tour said. "But solar and wind power could replace coal-fired boilers to compress and transport carbon dioxide."
If an efficient catalytic process can be developed, water-based conversion of carbon dioxide back to methanol, formaldehyde or other small m
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