Energy COOL: Purifying waste streams?

One serious problem in the energy system is waste — whether CO2 from fossil fuels, methane coming up from dammed waters, waste from solar PV manufactoriting, or radioactive wastes from nuclear power.  As we strive for a Prosperous, Climate Friendly Economy around the globe, dealing with waste streams is one critical path toward success.  Courtesy of EcoGeek, here are two excellent examples to start a conversation about cleaning up waste streams.

Trying to do algae-systems for re-using CO2 streams from coal-fired electricity is complicated due to all the other waste (So2, mercury, particulates, etc) that are coming out of even a ‘scrubbed’ smokestack.  Can nanotubes provide a path for separating out the CO2, providing pure CO2 for feeding into algae ponds?  Could that ‘clean’ algae be used to make clean biofuels?  Could it be feedstock for livestock, pets, or even our own tables?  While this does not ‘eliminate’ the CO2 pollution, the re-use creates a path for major reduction in CO2 emissions rapidly, but making valuable use of something that is simply “waste” right now. (And, of course, that is the point:  pollution is waste and, by definition, waste is wasteful.  We are throwing away things that can prove valuable in a better managed / structured system.)

According to the discussion in PhysOrg.COM,

Dr John Zhu, Senior Lecturer in the School of Engineering, aims to develop a carbon nanotube (CNT) membrane for gas separation that will work like a sieve to separate high volumes of methane or carbon dioxide from other gases.

Dr Zhu said that the CNT technology was exciting because it would trap moving gases up to 100 times faster than other gas separation techniques and could therefore be used by large-scale plants such as power stations.


“If the technology is successful, it may be able to significantly reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced through power generation. This is especially important in Queensland where we are dependent on power generated from coal.”

This doesn’t look like it will be on power plants tomorrow, but the day after???

Well, another development is in the arena of radioactive waste. This is not a case of “reuse” potential, but of rapid clean-up and reduction of problem. Can lasers be used, on a large-scale, for making radioactive waste safe? (Or, at least, safer?)

British scientists have “transmuted” iodine-129 into iodine-128 with a high-powered laser. Now, dropping one neutron might not seem like a big deal, but the half-life of iodine-129 is 15 million years while the half-life of iodine 128 is 25 minutes.

According to the report in Optics.ORG,

One of the biggest challenges facing the nuclear industry today is the storage and disposal of waste that will remain radioactive for millions of years. One approach to this problem involves bombarding the waste with neutrons to speed up the decay of long-lived isotopes into nuclei with much shorter half-lives. However, physicists in the UK and Germany have now demonstrated a new laser-driven approach to “transmutation”

So, the question becomes, as with the CO2 separation with nanotubes, can this lab-shown technology be scaled-up to ‘commercial’/societal-level usage requirements at anything like an affordable price.

“We have shown for the first time that we can transmute isotopes with lasers,” said Ledingham. “Now we need to scale up our methods so that we can deal with the sort of volumes likely to be produced by the nuclear industry in the future. Using lasers is a relatively cheap and very efficient way of disposing of nuclear waste.”

What is “relatively” when it comes to cheap? 

And, well, when might it occur.

There are some Energy COOL items that are ready for individuals to add into their lives today (yesterday even) that can change our individual lives and help change the societal processes. There are those that are ready for cities, organizations, nations to adopt.  And, well, there are items in the labs that look to have real potential, not something for the individual household but something that has the potential for changing human society’s footprint on the earth.

And, well, whether it is our own “poop”, food wastes, or waste from industrial/energy processes, dealing with waste (and making it productive rather than trash/pollution) is an important part of moving toward a Prosperous Climate Friendly Society.  Here are two interesting, even Energy COOL processes for helping make this change.


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