Solutions Inspired by the Sea

Why Chemisynthesis?

torontosmogWho doesn’t love sunshine? But is sunlight, via photosynthesis, going to be the energy source that gets us onto a path of dramatically reducing our collective greenhouse gas emissions and getting Planet Earth back into balance?

The fossil fuels that we are burning have taken MILLIONS of years of harvesting sunlight to accumulate.

Are a few decades of sunlight (in the form of biofuels, etc.) going to replace that amount of energy?

What are the Alternatives?

deepseaEven nature does not rely only on photosynthesis for supporting life. Deep in the dark mysteries of deep sea hydrothermal vents, dense biological communities thrive by deriving their energy from chemical sources emanating in abundance from the vents. Maybe to save our planet, we need to look deep within, rather than up!

Chemosynthesis is a broad term, which refers to the use of chemical energy to convert carbon compounds into organic matter. By ‘chemisynthesis™’ we mean a special type of chemosynthesis, which focuses on the conversion of carbon dioxide and methane into other carbon compounds. Chemosynthesis is performed by bacteria in deep sea vents, but in our case, we use a non-living catalyst, which allows chemisynthesis™ to proceed rapidly at high temperatures.

The main source of chemical energy that we use is methane, which is the primary component of natural gas. But, methane is also produced in landfills, from the decomposition of organic waste. And, methane can also be produced synthetically, from carbon dioxide and water, if a renewable or clean source of energy is available. This is currently being done in Germany, as the forward-thinking car company Audi develops vehicles that can run on CO2-neutral synthetic natural gas, called e-gas made from renewable energy at their e-gas plant.

Natural gas is a great carrier of chemical energy, which can act like a watershed to store energy coming from multiple sources including wind, geothermal, solar, nuclear, and fossil fuels. Yes, fossil fuels can and must play a role in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, because some fossil fuels like natural gas burn cleaner than others! One of the most attractive features of using methane or natural gas as the source of chemical energy is that we already have a lot of transportation infrastructure for natural gas. So, how do we use the chemical energy in methane to perform chemisynthesis? Our technology section has the answers…