Don Brunell

Don Brunell

Assuming that reducing greenhouse gases is an ongoing challenge, we need government policies and the political will to turn our nation’s entrepreneurs and researchers loose to take risks and innovate. 

We must establish reasonable laws and regulations that also protect our environment and our citizens’ health and safety while providing jobs and affordable products. 

That’s no easy task.

Science Daily has published some promising research relating to carbon dioxide. Here are three examples:

First, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) developed a membrane that separates carbon dioxide emitted from large power plants into cleaner fuels for cars, trucks and planes as well as into chemical feedstocks for a wide variety of products.

Xiao-Yu Wu and Ahmed Ghoniem’s membrane allows oxygen contained in the contaminated air to migrate through to the other side, leaving carbon monoxide behind. Carbon monoxide can be used as a fuel by itself or combined with hydrogen and water to make methanol. 

Second, Harvard researcher Haotian Wang is working on a catalytic reactor that captures large quantities of greenhouse gases and converts them into industrial fuels and chemicals. Only oxygen is emitted. It functions similar to the catalytic converters on our cars, only it would be attached to the factory or power plant exhaust stacks.

Third, Finnish scientists built a test facility that produces 53 gallons of fuel each day. The product can be used as motor fuels and other hydrocarbons. It was developed by the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT). 

The demo plant consists of four separate units: a solar power plant; equipment for separating carbon dioxide and water from the air; a section that uses electrolysis to produce hydrogen; and synthesis equipment for producing a crude-oil substitute from carbon dioxide and hydrogen.

The facility is located adjacent to the LUT solar power farm near Lappeenranta, a city the size of Yakima located in southeastern Finland near the Russian border.

All three projects show promise on a small scale. The key is to build them to commercial size and make them dependable and economical.

Here is an example of innovation that worked in our state.

In 1999, Georgia Pacific Gypsum took byproducts from the desulphurization of emissions of the TransAlta coal plant, hauled them to Tacoma and made commercial grade synthetic gypsum. It was an alternative to mined gypsum and was highly desirable raw material for wallboard manufacturers because it is cheaper and easier to process.

The GP plant employed over 100 workers and took 35 truckloads of material that otherwise would have been taken to landfills. 

While CO2 is demonized today, we need to remember it is essential to many industrial and commercial products. Carbon dioxide-based fire extinguishers effectively manage electrical fires and those caused by solvents, fuels and oils.

It is used for water treatment plants and to keep food cold (dry ice). CO2 cools, pressurizes and purges household and commercial equipment. It also accelerates plant growth in nurseries and is used in the electronics industry for circuit board assembly, to clean surfaces and in the manufacturing of semiconductor devices. 

ClimateTechWiki reports about 3,000 out of 200,000 algae species were found to be useful for sequestration of CO2 and can produce biodiesel. 

So, what if CO2-dependent businesses were encouraged to site their operations near major greenhouse gas emitters? Wouldn’t they substantially cut CO2 releases, result in new products and created additional jobs?

We need to look for innovative ways to develop new products and solve problems rather than simply forcing government to ban products, processes and stifle creativity. Americans are great innovators and we ought to let them do what they do best.

•••

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

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