Today is the second post in this Monday series of subjects covered during my summer 2014 interview of Bill Reinert, recently retired energy engineer for Toyota who played a key role in the development of the Prius and then assumed the role of future transportation planning of alternative-fueled vehicles at Toyota. See his full bio here.
In my opinion, today’s portion of the interview was one of the most interesting of all, because I learned about a subject that is not at the forefront of today’s news – news which is so burdened all of the time with hyped stories about some latest promising new technology with government or other funding behind it. The possibility of producing hydrogen fuel through photosynthesis is certainly exciting. It is most helpful to have an expert energy engineer and technology futurist point us towards this subject which he views as significant in the research arena. Reinert’s description of the application for using the hydrogen which might be created through artificial photosynthesis is unique.
But, before reading today’s interview segment, we need to look at the description by Nate Lewis of “artificial photosynthesis”: …a research frontier involved with the development of an integrated system based on semiconductor nanowires that act as artificial photosynthetic pigments, which bridge a membrane and are coupled to catalysts that both reduce water to hydrogen and oxidize water to oxygen. As you can tell, this is no second grade science experiment and it relies upon the recent advances in nanotechnology.
K.M.: What can you tell us about artificial photosynthesis?
Reinert: There’s a big consortium centered at CalTech under the principle investigator, Nate Lewis, to do artificial photosynthesis. This is one of the few alternative fuel areas that’s not getting a lot of federal money, but it’s getting a lot of private money, and this private money is (largely) coming from the oil companies. There’s a ton of money being thrown at it, and it looks like they’re making some progress.
It has nothing to do with producing hydrogen for fuel cell cars. It has everything to do with producing low carbon hydrogen to be used at the refinery level to reduce the carbon emissions of gasoline or diesel during the production process. Because when the hydrocrackers start up, they use tons of hydrogen. The hydrogen right now is produced by the steam methane reformation reaction which is pretty effective, but still releases a lot of carbon.
If they can actually start producing hydrogen from photosynthesis, then, they can start getting low carbon gasoline, and that’s what the whole play is all about.
So, of all the things, it seems the furthest away. Make machines act like plants, really? The fuel companies aren’t saying anything about it. Neither are they trying to be green. They’re just trying to comply with regulations and they think that this just might work.
May not be reprinted without permission.
To see last week’s interview subject of PEAK OIL click here.
Coming next week will be Reinert’s thoughts about “energy environmental sacrifice areas.”
For further information about artificial photosynthesis, I recommend:
3. This video: