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Brian Westenhaus

Brian Westenhaus

Brian is the editor of the popular energy technology site New Energy and Fuel. The site’s mission is to inform, stimulate, amuse and abuse the…

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Dry Water to Join the Fight Against Global Warming

Dry water was discovered in 1968 and got attention for its potential use in cosmetics. Scientists at the University of Hull, U.K. rediscovered it in 2006 in order to study its structure.  Ben Carter, Ph.D., researcher for study leader Professor Andrew Cooper and his group at the University of Liverpool has since expanded its range of potential applications.

Powdered material called "dry water" could provide a new way to store carbon dioxide in an effort to fight global warming. Click image for the largest view.
Carter explains that the substance became known as “dry water” because it consists of 95 percent water and yet is a dry powder. Each powder particle contains a water droplet surrounded by modified silica, the stuff that makes up ordinary beach sand. The silica coating prevents the water droplets from combining and turning back into a liquid. The result is a fine powder that can slurp up gases, which chemically combine with the water molecules to form what chemists term a hydrate.

Dry water is an unusual substance, which resembles powdered sugar, could provide a new way to absorb and store carbon dioxide, the major greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, scientists reported at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

The powder shows bright promise for a number of other uses, they said. It may, for instance, be a greener, more energy-efficient way of jumpstarting the chemical reactions used to make hundreds of consumer products. Dry water also could provide a safer way to store and transport potentially harmful industrial materials.

One of the most recent involves using dry water as a storage material for gases, including carbon dioxide. In laboratory-scale research, Cooper and his co-workers found that dry water absorbed over three times as much carbon dioxide as ordinary, uncombined water and silica in the same space of time. This ability to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide gas as a hydrate could make it useful in helping to reduce global warming, the scientists suggested.  Or as a means to transport and reuse the gas.

Cooper and colleagues demonstrated in previous studies that dry water is also useful for storing methane, a major component of natural gas, and may help expand its use as a future energy source. In particular, they hope that engineers can use the powder to collect and transport stranded deposits of natural gas. Methane also exists on the ocean floor in the form of gas hydrates, a form of frozen methane also known as the “ice that burns.” The powder could also provide a safer, more convenient way to store methane fuel for use in vehicles powered by natural gas. “A great deal of work remains to be done before we could reach that stage,” Carter adds.

In another potential new application, the scientists also showed that dry water is a promising means to speed up catalyzed reactions between hydrogen gas and maleic acid to produce succinic acid, a feedstock or raw material widely used to make drugs, food ingredients, and other consumer products. Manufacturers usually have to stir these substances together to get them to react. By developing dry water particles that contain maleic acid, Cooper and colleagues showed that they could speed up the acid’s reaction with hydrogen without any stirring, resulting in a greener, more energy-efficient process.

Carter points out, “If you can remove the need to stir your reactions, then potentially you’re making considerable energy savings.”

In the ACS report Prof. Cooper’s team describes an additional new application in which dry water technology shows promise for storing liquids, particularly emulsions. Emulsions are mixtures of two or more unblendable liquids, such as the oil and water mixture in mayonnaise. The scientists showed that they could transform a simple emulsion into a dry powder that is similar to dry water. The resulting powder could make it safer and easier for manufacturers to store and transport potentially harmful liquids.

If you’re in the silica business you might want to look into dry water much more intensely.

The report while wide ranging still overlooks the potential that hydrate storage could offer.  Many chemical compounds could hookup with dry water and the storage and reaction possibilities are immense.  Moreover, the silica part of the dry water particle is going to be quite stable offering perhaps some toxic cleanup and storage opportunities as well.

The obstacle might be the price.  The ACS report isn’t discussing the cost of dry water or the mass involved in a unit volume.  Moving the chemical with the dry water mass might be problematic as silica isn’t a lightweight material nor is the water.  But multiples of 3 in the example above for storage might make high value product’s transport quite worthwhile.

It’s early yet in the developing dry water story.  As an idea with solid material ready for testing, research and innovation dry water could get a foothold.  As more chemical interactions become known, or an addition of a catalyst to the silica surface and other add on innovations, dry water may just be getting underway as a business opportunity.

Keep a look out for a mass to volume report, if dry water is light enough, then methane for natural gas internal combustion or fuel cells might get much safer and very attractive.

By. Brian Westenhaus

Source: Dry Water is Reborn




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