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They invent a method so that conventional ships do not pollute

They invent a method so that conventional ships do not pollute

American scientists claim to have devised a method that can convert the entire world freighter fleet into ships that do not emit CO2. And all without having to install hydrogen cells and electric batteries or having to create a new fuel distribution infrastructure.

The method is surprisingly clever and straightforward —In appearance— they ensure in their analysis. Even more: Northwestern University researchers affirm thatDepending on the origin of the fuel, its technology would allow a freighter to go from being a major polluter to a CO2 negative emission machine.

How does it work

This “practical way” – as its inventors describe it – would use a solid oxide fuel cell which would process the fuel in a closed circuit. The fuel would be transformed into energy and the CO2 produced in the process would ‘liquefy’ 100% in a tank for later use as fuel or for permanent storage.

The method – patent pending – includes a deposit with two internal chambers of variable volume separated by a mobile partition. At the beginning of the trip, the tank would be full of fuel: diesel or biofuel (they also affirm that the use of biofuel would result in a ship with a negative CO2 emission because it is produced by capturing that gas from the atmosphere).

A schematic of the fuel and CO2 cycle of the Northwestern engine.

The fuel goes to the pile of rust, which converts it to energy in an electrochemical process. Unlike a conventional engine, the resulting CO2 would not be released to the atmosphere through the ship’s chimney, but would remain in a closed circuit.

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Within this circuit, CO2 is compressed into a liquid and introduced into the second tank chamber made out of fuel. As fuel is consumed and the volume of CO2 grows, the partition moves, leaving more space for CO2.

Scientists claim that it could be used on any type of ship, not just large freighters. All from small passenger ferries until big tankers, they could incorporate their system into their engine rooms.

An immediate solution is urgently needed

If they are correct, the big companies that dominate global shipping would have the opportunity to eliminate – in a short time and without large investments – everything the CO2 they emit into the atmosphere. Right now, that represents 940 million tons of CO2 per year, approximately the 2.5% of all global emissions.

If something is not done urgently before, the estimate is that in the year 2050 they will represent the 17% of all CO2 emissions. Some new ships are adopting electric technology with hydrogen cells, they are still a barely testimonial minority due to various challenges in the production and distribution of that fuel.

Unfortunately, not all hydrogen is green and, in fact, the one that the oil companies want to sell us is more polluting than using hydrocarbons directly.

In fact, as lead author of the study and professor of materials science and engineering Scott Barnett says, this method would be more environmentally friendly than batteries right now. Right now, batteries are not only impractical because they do not have sufficient energy density, but they are also often charged with electricity from coal plants or gas.

“It may be more difficult for people to think that capturing CO2 on board is environmentally friendly because it uses hydrocarbons as fuel,” says Barnett, “but the reality is that [las baterías y células de hidrógeno] tend to be less green because they come from burning coal and hydrogen is often converted from natural gas, which generates a lot of CO2 ”.

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The Yara Birkeland, the world’s first 100% electric and autonomous freighter, now in testing. (Yara)

That will change over time, of course, but it requires massive investments much larger than that required by this method, which would use existing fuel distribution networks. That is one change barrier considerable amount that can be removed with this closed loop CO2 technology.

And even if tomorrow all electricity and hydrogen were 100% CO2-free and all new ships became 100% electric – we would still not solve the great problem of the 56,000 merchant ships They are sailing from one point to another on the globe right now. It will be many decades before all those ships are replaced by new ones. That’s why we need nifty patches like these.