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Earth Power Technology

Natural Gas "Cleaning" Extracts Valuable Waste Carbon 73

Al writes "There's been a lot of focus on "clean coal" lately, but a Canadian start-up called Atlantic Hydrogen is developing a way to make natural gas more environmentally friendly. The process involves using a plasma reactor to separate hydrogen and methane in the gas. The procedure also turns carbon emissions into high-purity carbon black, a substance that is used to make inks, plastics and reinforced rubber products. Utility companies could potentially sell the carbon black, making the process more financially attractive."
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Natural Gas "Cleaning" Extracts Valuable Waste Carbon

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  • Cleaner Gas (Score:3, Funny)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:37AM (#27829701) Journal

    Let the Taco Bell jokes commence.

  • by GreenTech11 ( 1471589 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:38AM (#27829717)
    You are still going to run out of gas eventually, this just means that we don't hurt the environment as much in the process.
    • by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:01AM (#27830113) Homepage Journal

      You are still going to run out of gas eventually, this just means that we don't hurt the environment as much in the process.

      Well, it's methane, which is produced naturally by decomposing organic matter (as a waste product of the microorganism doing the biodegradation), so the technology could be applied to renewable sources of methane even though that's probably not economically sound when competing with currently mined deposits of gas.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

        But to do this with bio gas would be dumb.
        Biogas is carbon neutral and removing the carbon decreases the energy content of the gas by a good amount.

        • by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:46AM (#27830787)
          On the other hand, there is a large market for carbon black. If you remove the carbon and sell it, while getting the energy from the hydrogen, your biogas is now carbon-negative, which is even better. Whether it could be economical or not likely depends on things like cap and trade -- with no incentives for being carbon-negative, it probably doesn't make sense economically, with them it might, depending on the size.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Firethorn ( 177587 )

            there is a large market for carbon black

            Yes, but is it sufficient to cover if ALL the power plants started doing this?

            A similar thing happened with Glycerin due to biodiesel production. As a byproduct of biodiesel, it was sold at market rates, eventually shutting down the old methods of artificially making it due to the price drop.

            Now they're getting to the point they don't know quite what to do with it all.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by evanbd ( 210358 )

              All you're saying is that this method doesn't solve all the world's problems, but we already knew that. Think of it as a more environmentally friendly way of producing carbon black, that happens to clean up some uses of natural gas as a side effect, rather than the other way around. Sure, it's not a world-changing effect, but it's helpful nonetheless.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Firethorn ( 177587 )

                Good point. By the same token, they're busily working on finding more uses for glycerin now that the price has dropped. New ways of making products that use it instead of other things. Moisturizing soaps are a lot cheaper now. ;)

            • Any market surplus which decreases the cost of HP printer toner is a win for everyone.
              • Toner isn't so much the issue as inkjet ink.

                As you specify HP toner, not just generic toner, I find it unlikely to get much cheaper.

          • by Chyeld ( 713439 )

            On the other hand, there is a large market for carbon black. If you remove the carbon and sell it, while getting the energy from the hydrogen, your biogas is now carbon-negative, which is even better.

            I long for the day when we'll get tax credits for being carbon-positive...

        • I disagree. With this technology, you would be sequestering the carbon rather than recycling it. A net negative emission instead of a net (nearly) zero.

          • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )

            Fill an old coal mine with sawdust then. Probably a cheaper way to sequester Carbon than making Biogas and making carbon black from it.

        • But to do this with bio gas would be dumb.
          Biogas is carbon neutral

          The biogas burns cleaner their way: Less nitrous oxides and whatnot, less smog, cleaner air: Good.

    • This 'solution' is akin to "A new way to beat your wife, but leave less bruises!".

      It is 2009. We already have better ways to 'settle the fight (for energy)' without resorting to cleaning up archaic energy production methods.

      Biodiesel, Clean Coal, Clean Natty Gas...... Etc etc... THESE ARE ALL STUPID DISTRACTIONS. We have had answers in front of us for at least one, if not two decades. These distractions are simply only a 'better proposal' to keep the current energy big-wigs holding the reigns and leaving

      • by ericrost ( 1049312 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:22AM (#27830429) Homepage Journal

        What's wrong with Biodiesel if you don't mind me asking? Honest question.

        • What's wrong with Biodiesel if you don't mind me asking? Honest question.

          It clogs fuel injectors and gels up in cold weather.

          You can run petro-diesel through the engine before start-up and shut-down + install a fuel heater.
          Alternatively you can mix your biodiesel with petro-diesel, kerosene, or pretty much any paint thinner.

          And biodiesel loves dirt, so if you've converted from petro to bio,
          you'll need to change your fuel filter at least once and maybe twice afterwards.
          /Which isn't really that big of a deal.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by redbeard ( 30578 )

            This doesn't answer what I see as the biggest problem with BioD. Current feedstocks are almost exclusively diverting oils from food sources. So, instead of making canola for cooking, it's being turned into motor fuel.

            Some promising research is being done on oil producing algae, but it's not ready for production yet.

            • by HTH NE1 ( 675604 )

              Some promising research is being done on oil producing algae

              Why would we want oil to produce algae?

            • So, instead of making canola for cooking, it's being turned into motor fuel.

              So? I use as much Olive Oil as I can when cooking - and yes, I don't eat out much, nor do I eat a lot of pre-made stuff. I prefer to stay away from Corn and Soy based stuff, and staying away from Canola won't hurt either.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            It does clog the injectors if the bio portion of the ratio is too high. The state of Minnesota requires all diesel in the state to be a biodiesel blend. During winter months the blend is lowered to 2 percent biodiesel.

            It is really good stuff. It acts as an upper cylinder lubricant and, as Tubesteak has stated, cleans the fuel system.

          • by 0100010001010011 ( 652467 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:25PM (#27832523)

            Woa there Misinformation. You seem to have your facts a bit twisted around. First off, I own a TDI and I'm a fairly active member on, second I work for a company that makes diesel engines.

            1) Yes, Gen 1 Biodiesel does gel at a lower temperature, but there are additives that people use to make it good down to -40.
            2) It doesn't clog injectors nor do you have to startup and shutdown on D2. You're thinking of Waste Vegetable Oil [] (WVO). Biodiesel is 100% not even the same chemical composition as WVO. People turn WVO into Biodiesel by reacting it with acids, but WVO is not Biodiesel and vice versa. This is the #1 thing the media gets wrong.

            Some people swear by WVO, IMHO it destroys injectors, injection pumps and is just a whole mess to deal with. It's best suited to <80s IDI engines.

            Biodiesel is one of the best things you can run through your engine IF IT IS SPECIFIED TO TAKE IT. (Newer 2009 engines with DPFs are not). It has a higher lubricity, burns cleaner, cleans the system as it goes. It's like the odd marriage of colon blow and Metamucil at the same time.

            3) Biodiesel does not love dirt. D2 loves dirt. The reason you have to change your filter at least once or twice after making the switch is Biodiesel is such a good solvent that it'll actually clean out your tank. Meaning if you ran on D2 for 200k miles and switch to B100. You have 200k worth of crap in your tank that the D2 left there. The Biodiesel will break it up and suck it through the system. Some people swear by using Biodiesel for cleaning car parts.

            4) Finally, you don't HAVE to use corn or soybeans to make BioDiesel. Gen2 biodiesel is more or less a synthetic diesel. Using Gas to Liquid [] you can take *any* hydrocarbon gas and turn it into diesel. Not just that, you can control the process to more or less make it absolutely perfect (cetane levels, hydrocarbon length, etc). Instead of using natural gas or gassified coal (like the Germans did in WWII), you can use heated human waste, heated trash, if you can convert it to a gas hydrocarbon, you can turn it into Gen2 BioDiesel. (Once we get some Nukes on line and have some energy to do this, this is in my opinion the future since you honestly can't beat the power density of D2).

            There's already a company which will sell you SynDiesel []. Back when D2 was creeping way up in cost it was almost getting cost effective.

          • It clogs fuel injectors and gels up in cold weather.

            Are you sure you're thinking about Biodiesel, or SVO(Straight Vegetable Oil)?

            Proper BD shouldn't clog injectors, and even regular Diesel gels up if it gets cold enough. The gel point for BD depends on the source, but if we have to cut it in winter, well, we'll cut it in winter. Might even cut it with ethanol.

            As for the dirt, well, that's because BD, like ethanol, is a better solvent than the stuff it replaces. Tends to free stuff up.

          • by sjames ( 1099 )

            Actually, that's only true in part. Biodiesel does gel easier in cold weather.

            Any injector problems are from gunk in the fuel lines being broken loose by the cleaner biodiesel. That's also why you need the filter changes after switching.

            On the purely positive side, it has superior lubricity and no sulphur.

            Even without the environmental and renewable benefits, it would make sense as a fuel additive.

        • Biodesiel has a wonderful byproduct of Nitrous Oxide, which is a much, much much worse greenhouse gas than CO2 could ever hope to be. But hey, it's made from plants so it must be good for the earth, right?

        • What's wrong with Biodiesel if you don't mind me asking? Honest question.

          The problem with biodiesel is that it uses arable land that could be used for food crops. There is not enough land to produce the food we need along with the fuel we need. These biofuels are a solution to a problem that, in my estimation, does not exist. The claim is that the petrofuels we are digging up is damaging the environment. Now that we have stopped putting lead in our fuels, removed the sulfur, developed engines that burn these fuels nearly completely, among other things, our air is now cleaner

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by icebrain ( 944107 )

        We have had answers in front of us for at least one, if not two decades.

        Feel free to enlighten us any time, then...

        I do agree that the expenditure of combustible fuels to run electric power generation is stupid. Hydrodynamic dams, tidal generators, and nuclear reactors are the way to go.

        But you still need some form of combustible fuel for transportation, particularly in aviation, because the power output and energy density of hydrocarbons are unmatched for that application. They are also consumable during flight (lowering weight and extending range). I expect that aircraft w

        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          by joocemann ( 1273720 )

          Air/Hydro Electric Generation. Hell, with the 2TR we've spent on Iraq, we could be ridiculously energy independent with electricity by now... But... I mean... If you still just want to combust shit because it sounds cool... Well.. I mean, we can always say the seagulls won't like getting hit by windmill blades and pretend its just as bad.

          That's what people do to keep these stupid archaic systems (and the money behind them) in place -- make efforts to change small things that have relatively no *real* im

      • and the answer is?
    • by mangu ( 126918 )

      You are still going to run out of gas eventually

      Then what you need is some way to convert coal to methane [].

  • A lot of technologies are being developed to reduce the CO2 emissions at source, which is useful. However, are there any industrial process that will reduce the already-emitted CO2 in the atmosphere?

    Before somebody says "a tree", we might need an alternative [].

    • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      In principle, yes. We could "scrub" the existing CO2 from the air and sequester it underground. It's expensive, and there's no real guarantee that the CO2 will stay there for any appreciable length of time. Most of the processes being examined require a lot of energy input, either in the form of heat or electricity. So, if you're going to need a pantload of energy, you might as well couple it to a powerplant (coal or gas). Plus, since the exhaust is very carbon rich compared to the atmosphere at large, capt

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Trees won't do the trick. A mature forest is actually carbon neutral. Dying trees give up their sequestered carbon as fast as young trees absorb it. You need to harvest mature trees at the end of their fastest growth and 'sequester' the product in some fashion to keep it out of the environment. The energy expended to peel tree huggers off old growth forests is exorbitant.

      However, this doesn't rule out using some form of industrially controlled photosynthetic process (anything from farming to engineered pon

  • This process would produce tons of useful nanoparticles (like nanotubes, buckballs etc) but it would be mixed in with a lot of 'junk' molecules. Once / if an efficient process for separating and sorting the good stuff is developed, this would be a real gold mine.
  • Another benefit (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bob the Super Hamste ( 1152367 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:57AM (#27830041) Homepage

    After reading the article it is mentioned in the last paragraph that:

    "Chibante and his research team are working with carbon-black maker Columbian Chemicals to identify a market for Atlantic Hydrogen's carbon, which has "very interesting carbon nanostructures that we just don't see from industrial production," he says. An early study shows that the material has a high surface area and thin chicken-wire structures called graphene stacks, making it potentially ideal in the production of high-performance batteries and ultracapacitors and for structurally reinforced products."

    So this sound like it has additional benefits other than just reducing the total CO2 released by burning natural gas.

    • The overall effect it has for reducing emissions is relatively small, and seems to pale in comparison to this. If this could replace the current carbon-black process entirely, that would be a pleasant outcome.

      However, the article doesn't talk about how much it makes, how much we need, etc.

  • Energy arithmetic (Score:4, Interesting)

    by russotto ( 537200 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:58AM (#27830051) Journal

    Current processes

    Carbon black production
    Hydrocarbon + O2 -> C (carbon black) + H2O + CO2 + other carbon-containing waste

    Hydrogen production by steam reforming (requires energy input)
    CH4 + H2O -> CO + 3H2

    "New" process (also requires energy input)
    CH4 -> C + H2

    So looked at as a method of carbon black and hydrogen production, it certainly seems better, but it depends on the relative amounts of energy used for steam reforming versus the "new" process. But if you basically throw away the hydrogen by mixing it back in with the natural gas (as the article suggests), you're wasting a lot of the gain that would be achieved by displacing the steam reforming process.

    I'm not really buying the idea that hydrogen-enriched natural gas will burn more cleanly. It will produce less CO2, true, but at the price of less energy per unit volume. And natural gas can already be burned less completely.

    I put the scare quotes around "new" because this isn't a new process. According to Wikipedia, not only was it developed (by Kvaerner) in the 1980s, it's actually already in use in Norway for producing hydrogen and carbon black.

    • by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:15PM (#27832327)

      I'm not really buying the idea that hydrogen-enriched natural gas will burn more cleanly. It will produce less CO2, true, but at the price of less energy per unit volume. And natural gas can already be burned less completely.

      Combustion chemistry is best described as really weird. Different fuels have a large impact on how much nitrogen burns to nitrogen oxides, as well as how completely the fuel burns. Details of the combustion environment (mixing, combustion time, combustion temp, pressure, etc) also have a huge impact. There is plenty of evidence that adding H2 to normal hydrocarbon fuels makes them burn both more completely and with less NOx production. Oxygen-bearing fuels (eg ethanol added to gasoline) can also have similar effects. Normally adding H2 has a large enough energy cost that it isn't viable, but if this process can do it easily and efficiently, that's interesting.

  • by Ralph Spoilsport ( 673134 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:00AM (#27830091) Journal
    to run this little plasma doohickie come from?

    Oh, that's right - fossil fuels, and a lot of coal.


    And, remember, this counts against your energy return on energy invested. How much energy does it take to do this, and then mark it against the energy produced by the natgas. And the transportation of the natgas to this machine and then to the customer. And you get hydrogen out of the deal? Great - a gas so small nothing can really hold it, and due to its physical structure always requires more energy to break its bonds and contain it than what you get from burning it.

    At least you get lamp black out of the deal.

    Sigh. NEXT!


    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by all204 ( 898409 )

      We also have a nuclear power plant in the province, undergoing a retrofit at the moment. It is one of the larger base load plants in the province. (Second largest I think.)

      Point Lepreau []

    • It's a startup company in Canada, not in the USA. There's a lot of "greener" energy available. Hydro-Québec export some energy to New-Brunswick, they have a nuclear plant too.
    • by evanbd ( 210358 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @12:22PM (#27832479)

      You're looking at it backwards. It should really be viewed as a more efficient way of producing carbon black (which there is a huge market for, btw -- it's a major component of tire rubber, rubber hoses, and similar plastics) that happens to have some nice side effects (like producing an enriched natural gas with cleaner combustion properties).

      The current carbon black production techniques involve sooty combustion of hydrocarbon fuels; the energy from that process is normally wasted, since it's in a form that is difficult to recapture. This process manages to waste less energy, since the electricity input is modest and some of the electrical energy and fossil fuel energy spend making the carbon black is stored in the H2, which can be used productively by enriching the unused portion of the natural gas stream.

      (Also, there's no reason the electricity to run this *has* to come from fossil fuels. It could come from nuclear or renewable sources. It's the same as electric cars -- saying "but the electricity comes from fossil fuels!" is true but misses the point -- it's easier to swap out your electric source later on than to swap your car / chemical plant. Going to a process that can easily choose a cleaner energy source is a good thing, even if that source won't be available immediately.)

      • it's not been framed as a "superior manufacturing system" for lamp black. It's being touted as an energy system that makes lamp black.

        Any energy system that uses more energy to produce energy is not an energy source - it's an energy sink.

        Your points about electrical sourcing are not far from true, but not really serious given present conditions.

        Here are the simple facts:

        Thermo law 1: Energy is not created or destroyed.
        Thermo law 2: energy degrades to heat (entropy)
        Fact of the world: there is stor

        • by evanbd ( 210358 )

          Solar energy is rather offtopic, but...

          Your units have some nontrivial problems with them, and your results are off by orders of magnitude. Global fossil fuel consumption [] is approximately 5E20 J (= 1.4E17 Watt hours), for an average rate of 1.6E13 W. Solar energy at the Earth's surface is closer to 1000W/m^2 than 1300. At 20% efficiency and 20% output factor (it isn't always noon, and it's cloudy sometimes, so you don't get 1kW average output from 1kW worth of panels; both of these numbers are optimistic

  • Cognitive dissonence anyone?
    Soy-Based Toner Cartridges? []
  • a lot of schemes like this look great on paper, until you consider the energy expenditure involved in running the thing

    who knows, maybe carbon black is worth more than the extra methane it costs to run the thing. that would make it financially friendly. but its certainly not environmentally friendly, when you consider the extra methane consumption

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by evanbd ( 210358 )
      It uses less energy and less methane than normal carbon black production. True, a lot of methane passes through the reactor, but most of it leaves in enriched form that can easily be used somewhere else. The methane *consumed* is less than a conventional carbon black production process. (The carbon black market is huge -- it's a major component of tire rubber and other industrial plastics.)
  • by Anonymous Coward

    1. I don't doubt that this would lead to cleaner gas. It's hard to get soot, CO2, PAH's from hydrogen. It even puts out less NOx.

    2. Energy for running the plasma doohickie could easily come from renewables. The production process could be a pretty a flexible load.

    3. I don't see us running out of methane calthrates for natural gas. There might even be some deposits we would like to mine since they are approaching istability.

    4. Maybe we could make some diamond with that plasma.

    5. Yes there would be a 5% to 1

  • You can haz any colour you like as long as it's black
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