Global warming is on hold, at least temporarily, and being five years behind means we have time for a legitimate basic research solution to become viable technology.

A classic trash-to-treasure story would be producing electricity from carbon dioxide. A new method uses CO2 from electric power plant and other smokestacks as the raw material for making electricity.

Bert Hamelers, Ph.D., and colleagues explain that electric power-generating stations worldwide release about 12 billion tons of CO2 annually from combustion of coal, oil and natural gas. Home and commercial heating produces another 11 billion tons. Smokestack gas from a typical coal-fired plant contains about 10 percent CO2, which not only goes to waste, but is a key contributor to global warming. Hamelers' team sought a way to change that trash into a treasure.

Credit: Environmental Science  &  Technology Letters

They describe technology that would react the CO2 with water or other liquids and, with further processing, produce a flow of electrons that make up electric current. It could produce about 1,570 billion kilowatts of additional electricity annually if used to harvest CO2 from power plants, industry and residences.

That's about 400 times the annual electrical output of the Hoover Dam. Like that dam and other hydroelectric power facilities, that massive additional amount of electricity would be produced without adding more CO2 to the atmosphere, Hamelers pointed out.

Citation: H. V. M. Hamelers, O. Schaetzle, J. M. Paz-García, P. M. Biesheuvel, and C. J. N. Buisman, 'Harvesting Energy from CO2 Emissions', July 23, 2013 DOI: 10.1021/ez4000059