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December 03, 2005



Damn, I wished I'd profiled this technology when I stumbled across it a few months ago. Looks like news of it has gotten out.

I stumbled across this while researching Zinc-Air fuel cells. It seems John Cooper, the lead scientist behind Lawrence Livermore National Labs' work on zinc-air is also behind LLNL's work on DCFCs. Did LLNL sell their research to SRI I wonder? Is John Cooper still involved or is he cooking up his next big invention?

Jim from The Energy Blog

Jessie, I also saw the Lawernce Livermore work some time ago, but passed it up and misplaced my reference, thanks for finding it for me. I still haven't got around to doing a post on the zinc-air fuel cell. There are just too many topics to do everything.

Michael Cain

"This sounds almost too good to be true. Electricity from coal without gasification at 70% efficiency. Development has a long way to go, but its worth the wait. Sounds like a great technology to fast track. Why are we we even considering a hydrogen economy?"

The answer to this question, at least, is relatively easy. Look at the operating characteristics of DCFC: coal dust 1000 nanometers and down as the fuel, and operating temps >750C. Okay for a large-scale fixed-site generating facility, but it's not a transportation fuel. We're still looking for a good way to use electricity as a transportation fuel. Hydrogen is one possible answer to that problem, although I'd be happier if we had a good way to combine water, carbon dioxide and electricity to produce liquid hydrocarbons.


MC: I'd be happier if we had a good way to combine water, carbon dioxide and electricity to produce liquid hydrocarbons.

How about combining water, CO2, and sunlight to produce liquid hydrocarbons? Nature does pretty well with that. With a small bit of genetic engineering, you could get a lot closer to what you want, without having to modify the natural product very much. Biofuels are a pretty good bet.


My question is this: to what extent can carbon fuel cells ameliorate, on a large scale, and in a timely fashion, the enormous power needs posited for the near future? What combination of them and other sources could sustain a viable world economy without the inevitable continuation of the deforestation, co 2 emission issues, loss of arable land to growing populations, unstable political issues (including nuclear etc.) and so on? I'm not an eco-nut, but am deeply concerned that the increasing complexity of the interaction of huge human systems with a degrading biosphere and depleted resources will lead to unpredictable and devastating results. Any good news or ideas?

Jim from The Energy Blog

Wittgenstein, you have asked the $64 question. I believe it would be possible to develop a energy system that could be sustainable and not contribute to global warming. It will take a long time, on the order of a hundred years in my opinion.

There is enough potential to generate all our electical energy needs from solar, wind and ocean power. The two major problems with this are that these resources are not located geographically so that the power could be generated close to its usage points and that it is too intermittent. Large superconducting grids and massive energy storage could alleviate these problems, both of these technologies are just emerging and will take a long, long time to develop and implement. Some relocation of population will occur as this becomes the most economical way of life.

Much better batteries and more efficient production of biofuels are the answer to our transportation energy needs. They are closer to significant usage and could start to be mainstream in 15-25 years, with complete market penetration in 50 years.

In the meantime conservation could save up to 30% of our energy use. We probably will have to go through another generation or two of nuclear energy and clean coal power, hopefullly with sequestration, until sustainable technologies are deployed. High efficiency technologies like the one in this post will extend the time that our fossil fuels can be used. In a hundred years fusion power may play an important role. None of this is going to happen on its own. Governments are going to have to take a lead to prevent global warming and economic disaster. Some have suggested that we need a "Manhatten project" to solve these problems. The question is: Can we convince our governments to take sufficient action in a timely manner?


Alternatives will be available...but over what period of time and at what cost...we need to do massive investing by private enterprise to explore promising alternatives and then building the infrastructure to turn science into a reality...there is a program out there under a proposed legislative initative that actually makes some sense...(www.usoilindependence.com)...it allows for solutions like direct carbon conversion to possibly get the right funding to reach implementation...check out the sight and let me know what you think.

Suraj Bhatt

This is a very interesting and profitable industry, will like to know more on this
especially how to go about starting this project in India


How do they manage trace elements poisoning/pollution in/from the coal?

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High efficiency technologies like the one in this post will extend the time that our fossil fuels can be used. I hope everything will be fine.


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