Automotive exhaust diamonds and fuel cells of the future: groundbreaking projects to help us in nature conservation

    11 Jul 2021

    Eco-activists, entrepreneurs, and scientists shared with Knife media their observations, research, and concerns about the state of the environment, as well as suggested methods by which the ecological situation can be changed for the better. Journalists talked with the experts about how fertile soil can absorb carbon dioxide, and what fuel will replace oil.

    Alexey Alekseenko

    PhD, candidate of technical sciences, author of the telegram channel on environmental research “Eco Lyokha”

    From 2023, any company that emitted a lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during technological processes and did not compensate for the damage to nature in any way will pay a carbon tax. But only if you take your goods to the countries of the European Union.

    In some countries, carbon dioxide is captured at the moment of emission and then converted into a solid compound – CaCO3, a kind of natural mineral similar to calcite, which can then be used, for example, in the construction industry.

    Or carbon dioxide is transported to special factories, where it is decomposed into simple components. Such a company is currently operating in Switzerland, and it obtains from CO2 synthetic diamonds are.

    But we do not have the infrastructure for all this, so we approached the issue differently – we decided to use the technology of nature itself. Everyone knows that there is photosynthesis by which plants reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air. So the soil can do this in a similar way if it contains humus – a fertile layer. And there will be humus in it if there is biodiversity.

    Interestingly, soil without humus works in the opposite way. If the soil is devoid of vegetation, it begins to emit carbon dioxide very actively.

    Several years ago, our colleagues from Germany carried out a large scientific study and found out that the average annual carbon dioxide emissions from soils are an order of magnitude higher than the carbon dioxide emissions from burning all fossil fuels on Earth.

    If in those places where the soil cover is severely disturbed, an artificial soil is created, then it will be able to actively absorb carbon dioxide: an increase of 1% of humus per hectare removes several tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Therefore, if there is humus, we will be able to compensate for the damage caused to the nature of the enterprise.

    In practice, it works like this: we find depleted land, on which there was once production, and in their place, we create forest, marsh or meadowlands – we figure out in advance what kind of ecosystem needs to be recreated here, and then we monitor the state of soil and vegetation cover. Such places are called carbon farms.

    The enterprise can create its own carbon farms. There are already companies in the world that specialize in this, and they sell certificates to various enterprises. The certificate proves that the company has offset its carbon footprint.

    Now at our university, we are developing methods with which we can measure carbon dioxide flows and understand which plants and soil types in a particular situation are most efficient in capturing CO2.

    Olga Dyakova

    founder of the eco-friendly cosmetics brand “Solioli”

    For several years I lived in Karelia (Russian Federation), in military units that were in the forests. Healing plants grew at arm’s length, and this contributed to the fact that I became interested in herbalism and thought about creating my own natural cosmetics. To do this professionally, I went to study at phyto-health-improving courses taught by professors of the Phytotherapy Department of the RUDN University, studied cosmetic chemistry and technologies for making cosmetics from leading specialists in Russia. Thus, I got an educational base.

    I started my experiments eight years ago with soap. When you make soap not from a soap base, but from scratch, you need to take vegetable fats and oils, alkali, use a special calculator to calculate how much alkali is needed to saponify these oils, etc. And worked with this until I was not satisfied with the result. Gradually, over the course of these eight years, I also learned how to make shampoos, balms, creams – all types of skin care cosmetics.

    And here my knowledge of herbs was very useful to me. For example, lavender oil is soothing, so I use it in a body oil that works well before bed. Sea buckthorn oil nourishes the scalp so it is suitable for dry hair. Wormwood essential oil helps in regulating the secretion of sebum, which is good for hair that gets dirty quickly.

    I do all this in a laboratory that I rent. I put on a robe, hat, gloves, respirator, sterilize all surfaces and start working. That is, my requirements for my own production are the same as in any industrial production.

    My brand’s mission is to help people and nature take care of each other. It is clear how nature takes care of us, but how can we take care of it? I am trying to do this through the production of cosmetics without packaging.

    People use shampoos sold in plastic bottles. If the bottles are not recycled, they end up in a landfill. If you recycle them, then you still can’t do it endlessly, because plastic has a limited recycling cycle.

    I make solid shampoos, solid conditioners, solid deodorants and sell them in an aluminum can or bulk. Solid shampoos are as effective as conventional liquid shampoos and are much more convenient to use, store and transport.

    If people choose solid cosmetics in such packaging, then they significantly reduce their trash footprint. Aluminum cans are recyclable containers. They can be given to a manufacturer who reuses them, or they can be recycled – the metal can withstand an endless recycling cycle. Or you may not buy a jar at all, keep the shampoo in a soap dish.

    Many of us now want to make our lives greener. Some methods, such as disposal of waste for recycling, are not available to everyone. But we can choose simpler solutions – at least not create new garbage.

    Yulia Volkova

    PhD in Technical Sciences, Scientific Supervisor of limited liability company  “UPK”

    You and I know that there are thermal stations, CHP plants, which generate energy. In most cases, it is obtained from natural gas: it is burned, compressed, expanded, and thus mechanical energy is transformed into electrical energy. Naturally, the process is very laborious, and energy losses occur at each conversion stage, which reduces the efficiency of the process, and hazardous components such as SOx, NOx, soot are formed, plus carbon dioxide is formed.

    Today, there is an alternative to simple combustion of fuel with the further generation of electricity: its direct electrochemical conversion. And this process can be implemented in fuel cells. Various types of fuel cells have already been developed, one of which is solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), in which natural gas can be used as fuel.

    As a result of the process, safe reaction products are formed; they also do not create noise, since there are no moving parts in them, and a direct current is obtained in the SOFC. It can be converted to AC or used to charge the same batteries without additional conversion.

    If you put such fuel cells, for example, in an electric car, then the car can be charged immediately, and you may not wait an hour or two.

    Solid oxide fuel cells have another advantageous feature – they operate in the range 650-800° C, and the leaving reaction products can be used to heat water or heat rooms. If fuel cells are intelligently integrated into the power system, then you will get such an integral system that can simultaneously heat water, generate electricity, and provide heat.

    What do these fuel cells work on? In principle, they can operate on various types of fuel: from natural gas to landfill gas from municipal solid waste landfills. The electrochemical reaction will proceed in the same way. But since the fourth energy transition is in the yard [the first was from biomass (firewood) to coal, the second – from coal to oil, the third is the introduction of natural gas into the industry in the form of gas turbines], according to which it is more efficient to use fuel with low hazardous impurities or the fuel, which is obtained from renewable sources, is now heading towards the use of hydrogen.

    In Germany, for example, there is a whole hydrogen village: buses run on hydrogen, electricity is generated, and hydrogen is also used as an energy store.

    And it works in the usual way: here we have a bus, fuel cells are installed in it, the bus drives up to a gas station, fills up with hydrogen, and goes on. On average, pure hydrogen fuel cells can last 15 years.

    There is a transition to safer energy sources around the world; somewhere it is happening faster, for example in Japan and Germany, somewhere slower, for example in Spain and Italy. The speed of such a transition is influenced by many factors, one of the most important is how the energy system in the country was arranged earlier. Today, fuel cells are efficient, but still have a high cost, although over the past 10 years their cost has been decreasing and capacity is growing, which means that soon we will be able to use them on a par with turbines.

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