Posted on February 25, 2016

Carbon dioxide, which is emitted from power plants, cement and aluminum plants and chemical and petroleum industries and damaging the environment can be tapped and transformed into green energy using innovative approaches, said Prof. Syed Javaid Zaidi (pictured), Chair Professor and QAFAC Chair at QU’s Center for Advanced Materials. He was speaking at the GPCA Methanol Conference: “Impacting Global Energy Markets” held in Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Dubai on February 15-16, 2016 organized by Gulf Petrochemical and Chemicals Association (GPCA) in cooperation with Methanol Institute, USA.

With the growing energy demand and consumption results in increasing the CO2 emissions. The main energy consumers in Qatar are Oil and Gas sector, flaring, energy and water. With each kilogram of gasoline, natural gas and  fuel oil burned approximately two kilogram of CO2 is emitted so higher consumption of fossil fuels leads to higher CO2 emissions. In Qatar manufacturing and construction industries alone contributes to 32 percent CO2 emissions while electricity production and transport contribute 35 percent CO2 emissions.

According to a research study carbon emissions in the Middle East and North Africa have doubled in the last 30 years, with oil-rich countries taking the lead. Although these countries represent a small percentage of global emissions but they lead in the emissions per capita with their people creating two to ten times the amount of emissions of the average people. Qatar, has the highest per capita emissions globally with 55.4 tons of carbon dioxide per person, about 10 times the global average. In the region, Qatar is followed by Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain, which are ranked third, fourth and fifth in the world.

Carbon dioxide is emitted from many industrial plants and processes but fossil fuels for power generation and the transportation industry are contributing the major share. It is has been estimated that CO2 alone contributes more than 70% to the total global warming caused by all the greenhouse gases. Qatar is endeavoring to address its current and future emissions, and will need to embark on different programs that reduce emissions to appropriate levels for the whole country and develop solutions for the transformation of CO2 to clean energy, remarked Dr. Zaidi.

Prof. Zaidi also outlined the concept of carbon-neutral-cycle, or carbon-free environment, where CO2 captured from point sources is combined with hydrogen obtained from renewable sources to produce renewable methanol. This methanol is then used as the feedstock for petrochemical industries and as transportation fuel and the CO2 emitted from the combustion process is recycled back to produce methanol. In this way no CO2 is emitted to the environment and the process is carbon-neutral and results in carbon-free environment.

The plentiful CO2 available is an opportunity to transform it into green energy and contribute to the economic growth, resulting in cleaner environment. He explained how this CO2 can be a source for producing green energy with zero toxic emissions. CO2 in the presence of hydrogen obtained  from renewable sources can be converted to renewable methanol, which is fed to direct methanol fuel cells to generate power, which has wide range of applications. Fuel cells are at the verge of commercialization and poised to become future source of clean energy.

Fuel Cells play a significant role in the strategy to effect positive global change. They have highest efficiency of any prime mover and are modular in nature. They have application ranging from stationary to automobile and portable devices applications, such as laptops and mobile phones and predicted to have multibillion dollar market. They can be used as the back-up power and power source in remote deserts where there are no transmission lines as well as can be used in cars and trucks. Also, fork lift and order pickers are another huge market for fuel cells.

He highlighted several technologies and processes that can be used to transform CO2 emissions to clean energy via fuel cells. They include CO2 hydrogenation, dry reforming of CO2 with natural gas, electrochemical and  photochemical reduction processes.  The chemical recycling of CO2 to produce carbon neutral renewable fuels and clean energy is considered as a feasible and powerful new approach that is at the stage of gradual development and implementation.

He also outlined the issues and challenges facing the fuel cell industry. Prof. Zaidi developed innovative materials, which have been patented by USPTO, to address these challenges. He stressed the need for investment in research and innovation and said that a dollar invested now will give huge dividends in future. Moreover, developing technology and adopting to needs of the country and local environment will be beneficial to the society for the overall growth of the nation and technological advancement.

Prof. Zaidi said that the outlook for CO2 reduction is bright as Qatar and GCC region is blessed with abundant solar energy. There is a need to develop and adopt technologies suited for the requirements in the region and Invest in Research and Innovation to develop novel technologies. Using advanced materials clean energy technologies can be developed to reduce the impact on the environment. Methanol fuel cell has high potential in the region as the clean energy source especially in remote areas, as backup power and for portable applications.