For this hackathon, our team wanted to focus on an area of technology that was emergent, instead of just improving on an existing piece of technology. Following an hour or so of research, Brennan stumbled upon an article about the growing field of carbon recycling, as well how developments within the past year had greatly increased the commercial viability of such an idea. The group quickly came to a consensus that such a topic fit both the mission of this hackathon, as well as our own goal to explore outside our comfort zone this season.
What it does
The device takes carbon dioxide and, with the first reaction, produces carbon monoxide, and with the second reaction, called Fischer-Tropsch Reaction, converts carbon monoxide to alkane chains of various lengths. Using a rhenium catalyst in the first reaction and a cobalt catalyst in the second reaction, the amount of energy needed to run these reactions is greatly decreased, and can be produced by the exothermic reaction itself, in the case of the FT reactions, or by a solar panel, in the case of the first reaction. A fractional distillation unit is installed at the end to separate the alkane chains based on their size. They can either be packaged up and sent elsewhere or placed right back into the boiler, decreasing the amount of coal needed.
How I built it
We built a model on SolidWorks, and built a website to be used by the power plants to control and interact with the device. The web app is created using Angular with GCP backend. The GCP backend will theoretically collect coal price data through a reliable API and enable the web app to create accurate predictive modeling. Try it out at: https://gitlab.com/ya.atajan/earth-hack-2019 since the bottom link is not working properly.
Challenges I ran into
Research is hard to come by with this topic. Since these topics are new within the last 3 years, not much scalable and commercialized research has been done, and we had to make a lot of assumptions based off other factors that contribute to modern power production. The numbers are are most likely wrong to a high degree due to the large amount of assumptions, and in some cases, educated guesses as to the factors that contribute to a certain aspect of the project.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
We were able to make a product founded on research. We took research papers that used new and novel data to create a product that has not been made yet. The numbers are promising, and the amount of carbon that can be recycled is substantial in both renewability and reduction of coal usage. We were able to create a real time model that can show the savings a plant is making in real time if they use this device. Of course, the numbers are for ideal conditions, but they present a starting placed based off real averages from coal plants in the US. This is a product we can be proud of because it could be something that can be used in the future.
What I learned
We learned about the chemistry involved in carbon fixation, and essentially made artificial photosynthesis. We are taking sunlight in the form of solar panels, carbon dioxide, and transforming it into energy we can use. We learned more about how energy is produced in the US and how much we really need environmental conservation technology.
What's next for Project ReCo
Next is research in the form of ironing out assumptions. We made A LOT of assumptions, from burning efficiency, capturability of pure CO2 from waste, scrubbing technology for NOx and SOx, more accurate list of supplies and, more importantly, cost of those supplies, the man power needed to install and maintain this equipment, and many more assumptions. After those assumptions are ironed out and funding from sponsors has been obtained, we can build our first scalable prototype. This will determine the ability of the technology to be used in an industrial setting, and determine the saturation point and loading capacity of all the components, as well as maintenance costs and manpower needed for maintenance. Next will be to test the technology in an actual power plant and see how it actually reduces coal input. The research will take approximately 5-10 years to finalize, the prototyping process will take 5 years, and the testing about 2 years. All in all, before this product becomes commercial, it will take anywhere between 12-17 years of development and fine tuning. However, the implications of this project are worth it, with immediate results in carbon reduction.