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  • Nick Raffan

The Raff Report - March 2017

The Raff Report is not sorry for Victoria’s and South Australia’s power predicament.

The government in South Australia is so incompetent that they should be cast adrift when it comes to dividing GST – their share only (i.e. GST dollars sourced within South Australia) to come back to South Australia. No more should successful sates support the rest – believe in Social Darwinism, survival of the fittest.

Victoria is set to learn a lesson or two along the pathway to 50% renewables energy when a large chunk of their energy supply from low cost coal fired power generators soon closes. It will have to be NSW to the rescue via the interconnectors (something the South Australian Government does not want to pay for, neither can they probably afford to) to ensure or at least try to ensure some sort of stable power supply for industry.

Let’s go back in time and briefly think what the kerfuffle is all about. And it’s all about atmospheric CO2 – the huge bogey gas that supports plant life without which the planet is dead. Let’s not for instance worry about methane or CH4.

Methane is being released from the vast areas of Russia’s permafrost as temperature rises. Dig a hole through the ice and snow and throw in a match – whoomph. Higher levels of CO2 will not kill the world’s population, but without living with gas masks there is a level of CH4 which will kill us all.

It is probably shocking for the environmentalists and lefties; actually they seem to be one and the same, to learn that there was a time when there was no free oxygen. When the world formed about 4.6 billion years ago the predominance of volcanic activity ensured an atmosphere of toxic gases that could not have possibly have supported life on earth as we know it today.

The CO2 molecule is incredibly stable and early in the formation of the earth the level of atmospheric CO2 was much higher than today (see Figure 1). But then a marvellous event happened around 3.7 billion years ago – cyanobacteria developed and fed on CO2 releasing free oxygen as a by-product. These tiny beasties precipitated calcium carbonate and other minerals as a protective coating and grew upward and in the fossil record are known as stromatolites.

Stromatolites are alive and well today as living fossils in Hamelin Pool, within the Shark Bay World Heritage Area of Western Australia. Colonies of stromatolites peaked around 1.25 billion years and waned because of oxygen breathing life forms that exploded in number in the oceans, some of which devoured stromatolites.

For the oxygen we breathe tody we have only the stromatolites releasing the oxygen to thank. There should be a lesson here in as much that nothing lasts forever and change is continuous. The human race will surely expire long before climate change is controlled.

One way to put humans into context with geological history is to assume a 10 metre wooden plank, where the thickness of a coat of paint on the end is equivalent to the timespan of humans – and crikey look how the world has been messed up in a trifle of time.

Study of the Vostok Ice Core looked back 420,000 years (Figure 2) shows three complete cycles temperature (blue line) and CO2 (green line), plus the end of a cycle and the start of the cycle that we are in today. Note that the level of CO2 was rising sharply long before the first A Model Ford rolled off the assembly line.

The outrageously dishonest climate scientists, those clipping the ticket from government hand-outs usually only show the last fifty or so years of data.

Figure 1 – Or don’t let science get in the way of a good story or perhaps better expressed today as fake news.

Figure 2 – From the Vostok Ice Core for the past 420,000 years.

It should not be a surprise that a good amount of research is going into what to do with CO2, namely breaking the double bonds between the carbon atom and each oxygen atom or alternatively adding to the CO2 molecule. No matter whether this research is really needed it is going on anyhow.

The Raff is able to report that great strides are being made to solve the so called CO2 problem and at the same time create the building blocks for many other compounds/products. A reason for the first Raff Report for 2017 being delayed was waiting/hoping for a response from a Chinese scientist leading a project to deal with CO2. But unfortunately no response so far - but more on the Chinese project later.

NCF or New CO2 Fuels is headquartered in Israel. NCF has developed a process to turn CO2 into syngas comprising a mixture of CO and H2. Syngas is then suitable to create a large variety of products including furls and chemicals. The syngas mole ratio of CO to H2 is controlled during the process permitting conversion to methanol. Other hydrocarbons can be produced and high purity oxygen is produced as a separate stream.

The reactor in which CO2 is added to H2O to break the double bonded oxygen atoms to produce syngas and oxygen requires high temperatures. Most of the heat is consumed at temperatures of 700°C however a temperature of 900°C is required but only for a small part of the heat required. There are a number of product configurations and perhaps the salient fact to process 250,000tpa of CO2 requires 955 reactor units. Readers can review NCF’s Product Economic Analysis here:

The hurdles for NCF’s process is availability of a suitable heat source, the capital costs to treat vast quantities of CO2 – nearly a thousand reactors to treat 250,000tpa CO2 is huge engineering project, and prices of products to provide an acceptable return on investment. NCF has granted a patent in the USA, China, Russia, Israel and Australia, and has plans to develop pilot plants in several locations. Commercialisation is probably some years away. At least it’s a start and a step in the right direction.

In early January The Raff wrote a letter to Mr Shan Gao, whom heads up a team working on a project to convert CO2 to liquid fuel. Mr Shan’s team is based at Hefei National Laboratory for Physical Sciences at Microscale, Collaborative Innovation Centre of Chemistry for Energy Minerals, University of Science and Technology of China. Congratulations are in order for Mr Gao and his team for developing a process to deal with CO2 at a relatively low temperature compared with more intensive energy solutions that breakdown the double bonded oxygen atoms such as NCF’s process described above.

Electro reduction of CO2 is not new but the bottleneck has been in activating CO2 into the CO2¯ anion or other product that can be converted further. A key barrier to past research has been ‘overpotential’ which is essentially how much excess energy is required to drive the process. Put simply, Gao and his team found they could pass a small electric current through a cobalt catalyst only a four atoms thick, the material interacting with CO2 molecules so that a hydrogen atoms is added/attached to CO2 to produce CHOO , or formate – formate is a clean burning fuel.

The Raff wanted to know the potential to scale up from bench to commercial scale and the size of a facility and the amount of cobalt initially required to treat a large volume of CO2 annually. Is this the fundamental breakthrough that industry needs? On the face of it, electro reduction of CO2 using a cobalt catalyst seems more promising. This is another potential use for cobalt beyond the manufacture of batteries. Cobalt is metal of the minute but in Australia cobalt is only produced as a by-product metal.

The Raff believes that within a decade the so called CO2 problem, if it is still seen as one, will be solved and CO2 being produced today will be able to be converted into clean fuels and chemicals. It could happen today except the cost of doing so is too great – technically the process already exists.

What a wonderful day it will be when the first large scale commercial plant operates and the vast sums of money being directed to alternative green energy can be directed to somewhere more useful like health and education. The trick will be not to get rid of too much CO2 because that would be fatal for production of crops and the human race would go the way of the dinosaurs.

The Raff thinks that the majority of voters, certainly those living in Australia, have never seen the atmospheric level of CO2 put into historical context. Perhaps one day schools will begin teaching real science again.

Intellectual deserts masquerading as politicians, fake scientists and other riff-raff need to get over it: climate has been changing for over 4 billion years – it will continue to change. Adaptation and not taxation is the name of the game - the human race is not exempt.

Nick Raffan - The Raff

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