November 27, 2007 4:00 AM PST

Can baking soda curb global warming?

Some scientists have proposed compressing carbon dioxide and sticking it in underground caves as a way to cut down on greenhouse gases. Joe David Jones wants to make baking soda out of it.

Jones, the founder and CEO of Skyonic, has come up with an industrial process called SkyMine that captures 90 percent of the carbon dioxide coming out of smoke stacks and mixes it with sodium hydroxide to make sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda. The energy required for the reaction to turn the chemicals into baking soda comes from the waste heat from the factory.

"It is cleaner than food-grade (baking soda)," he said.

The system also removes 97 percent of the heavy metals, as well as most of the sulfur and nitrogen compounds, Jones said.

Luminant, a utility formerly known as TXU, installed a pilot version of the system at its Big Brown Steam Electric Station in Fairfield, Texas, last year. Skyonic, meanwhile, hopes to install a system that will consume the greenhouse gas output of a large--500 megawatts or so--power plant around 2009. Skyonic is currently designing one of these large systems.

"It has been working pretty well. It does present a potential solution to emissions," said a representative for Luminant. "But right now there is still a lot of work to be done."

If the concept works on a grand scale, it could help change some of the pernicious economics and daunting engineering challenges surrounding carbon capture and sequestration.

Photos: Fumes turned baking soda

Carbon capture likely will be required to curb global warming, according to many scientists and companies that are currently experimenting with ways to effectively bury or fix greenhouse gases as they come out of smokestacks. Coal accounted for 26 percent of energy consumed in 2004 worldwide, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, and will grow to 28 percent by 2030. Coal also accounted for 39 percent of carbon dioxide in 2004 (behind oil) but is expected to pass oil for the No. 1 spot in 2010.

What about replacing every incandescent bulb in America with compact fluorescents? The benefits are eradicated by the carbon dioxide emitted by two coal-fired plants over a year, according to Ed Mazria, founder of Architecture 2030, a nonprofit that encourages builders, suppliers, and architects to move toward making carbon-neutral buildings by 2030.

Unfortunately, a lot of the proposed solutions for sequestration involve large amounts of capital and risk. If you bury carbon dioxide underground, it could always leak out. Other ideas include pumping it into underground saline aquifers or porous rock formations.

Because it's a solid, storing baking soda is simply easier, and it allows greenhouse gas emitters to store a lot of carbon in one place. The stuff piles up: A 500-megawatt power plant will produce approximately 338,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year. Multiply that weight by 1.9 and you get the number of tons of baking soda that the plant will produce. Still, it can be sold, stored in containers, used for landfill or buried in abandoned mines.

"If you can use the waste heat, it strikes me as a potentially feasible approach," said Alex Farrell, an assistant professor in the energy and resources group at the University of California at Berkeley. "I'm not willing to throw any of the ideas out yet."

On top of that, the byproducts of the different reactions--chlorine, baking soda, hydrogen (a byproduct from making the sodium hydroxide that gets mixed with the carbon dioxide), and chlorine--can be sold to industrial users. In all likelihood, the chlorine and hydrogen will have a higher market value than the baking soda, but baking soda does have its buyers. It is often used as an industrial abrasive. Besides, baking soda today gets mined--an expensive process. Skyonic's byproduct would obviate the need to dig holes in the ground.

Other start-ups are trying to develop salable products out of carbon dioxide. Greenfuel Technologies wants to capture carbon dioxide and feed it to algae farms. Greenfuel then sells the algae to biodiesel manufacturers.

Making biodiesel from algae, though, remains in the experimental stage. Similarly, Novomer wants to turn carbon dioxide into plastics, while a few other start-ups are coming up with liquid fuels derived from the gas.

These approaches, however, result in byproducts that are more experimental than cranking out baking soda. Greenfuel, for instance, has been forced to delay a prototype in Arizona.

There's another benefit to Skyonic's system, Jones said. Because the system captures metals and acid gases, it can replace the $400 million scrubbers that power plants currently have to install. Skyonic's system will probably cost about the same amount as a scrubber. Although the capital budget will be equal, power plant owners will get a salable byproduct and avoid carbon taxes, which may be imposed in the future.

Jones, a chemical engineer, came up with the idea for the company while watching TV with his sons. The Discovery Channel had a show about traveling to Mars, and experts offered up their ideas for getting rid of carbon dioxide. Jones told his sons that the experts had it wrong. Creating sodium bicarbonate would probably be the best solution.

He then went to his PC and began to research the subject on Google. He didn't find a lot of answers, but one posting referred to a 1973 textbook Jones remembered. He'd bought it for a class at the University of Texas. In fact, it was on the shelf right behind him.

He opened it up to the relevant page and there was the passage he wanted, underlined years earlier by Jones himself.

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My initial understanding of this subject was less than that; I am even more perplexed after having read this article!
Sad to say, I truly thought that this was a revolutionizing environmentally-safe breakthrough. Boy, was I out of my league. I didn't even know that baking soda today must be mined out of a mountain!
I wanted to believe in this so bad, I guess, that I only heard what I wanted to hear: took CO2, made household brand baking soda.
I think that the bigger picture is blindsighting a great many more than just myself, though.
Chlorine as a byproduct; not good, definetly not good. Sure everybody loves to bleach the hel out of everything but what good has it done for the health of our oceans? As if this was not bad enough, though, now the hip trend that is revolutionizing pollution's possibilities and taking it to another level of deadly with carbon sequestration? Are you serious? This is really the best that you guys can come up with? I have absolutely no credentials when it comes to such topics but even I can see the downside to this one. Always prepare for the worst. In this case, there is no precautionary measures to take. Hence, what the hel are you guys thinking trying to inject CO2 underneath any part of the planet!! Come on! Quit kickin' a dead horse; it's already dead! You guys can do much better, I am sure. And when you do, I will be there to put my money where my mouth is.
Posted by justguess (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
i am a told that you are a chemical,here is a request.can you please suggest a chemical reaction involving a reactant that is easily available leading to the products that are eco-friendly under normal conditions.i hope my query is clear.i am looking forward for your answer that would help my project.please reply as soon as you can.thank you.

Posted by radhesh-student (1 comment )
Link Flag
It wont work
I am chemical engineer and I did some calculations based on their reactions. Here are the results

To treat carbon emission from a 500 MW plant, you need roughly 3.2 million tons of sodium hydroxide. For producing each ton of sodium hydroxide you need 2.4 MWh of electricity (Diaphragm process).Total electricity needed to produce sodium hydroxide is much more than the power plant produce. (Trust me...i checked my calculations million times) Then you have to transport and handle 6.7 million tons of baking soda. (150,000 truck loads)

it took me 10 min to do these calculations. I cant believe this guy started a company without considering any of these. The worst thing is he even found a sponsor who gave him millions of dollars to try this out.
Posted by hariaparajith (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Is the Solvay Porcess any better?

NH3(g) + H2O(l) + CO2(g) + NaCl(aq) ---> NaHCO3(aq) + NH4Cl(aq)
Posted by srvevh1 (1 comment )
Link Flag
<p>I'm just repeating the prior comment, but testing HTML tags (since cnet doesn't seem to publish which ones work).</p>
<p>I am chemical engineer and I did some calculations based on their reactions. Here are the results:</p>
<li>To treat carbon emission from a 500 MW plant, you need roughly 3.2 million tons of sodium hydroxide.</li>
<li>For producing each ton of sodium hydroxide you need 2.4 MWh of electricity (Diaphragm process).Total electricity needed to produce sodium hydroxide is much more than the power plant produce. (Trust me...i checked my calculations million times).</li>
<li>Then you have to transport and handle 6.7 million tons of baking soda. (150,000 truck loads).</li>
Posted by Brad Hansen (48 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is a little late, but my 2c on this issue is given below:
I agree. sing your 2.4 MWh/T NaOH number, I estimate 2.4 T CO2/T NaOH.
1 T NaOH fixes 1.1 T CO2.
Overall, this process will emit 2.2 T CO2 for every T of CO2 fixed.
Posted by draka_eng (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag

Is it a "coincidence" that these 1980's "theories" are all being "recycled?" Maybe it's just to get their grubby little hands on uneducated "investor money?"

Turning a "1800" technology ( invented by Thomas Edison), which all these coal fired power plants use, into a complex chemical plant is absurd. Now, in addition to "waste ash," all the amateur "experts" want to create "multiple waste streams."

There is a very simple, efficient, quick way to do this, and, we have it NOW. Stay tuned.


Having spent 22 years looking at all these "scams," it's hard to believe that anyone would put $1 dollar into carbon sequestration! Just imagine what that would do to siesmic activity? Dr. Hansen is correct when he says, "We not only have to STOP polluting here, but we have to "reverse" what we've already done! China, India, etc.
Posted by Sgt-Dan (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Dear "Genius Scammers,"

Well, now we have two waste streams. That's intelligent. No?

How much does it cost to mine the baking soda? In dollars and cents? And, how much energy and Co2 emissions, and dust, does the mining and pulverizing of the "Baking Soda" cost and create? And, how much is the transportation cost of both the "Baking Soda" to the site and what happens to the "Baking Soda" after it absorbs the flue gas pollution? It's something you CANNOT eat. You'll have to "landfill" it. No?

This is NOT very well thought out. Besides, it was tried in 1985. Get off it.

"It's not the 'fuel,' stupid!" It's "The Emissions!"

Figure that out, and everything will be OK! We already have the solution to this....
Posted by Sgt-Dan (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I meant Sodium Hydroxide.

Where does that come from? Like, how far away from every power plant in the U.S.?

And, how much will it cost to get it to the Plant? And, how much will it cost to retrofit the Plant? And, who's going to buy this tremendous amount of "Baking Soda" after the EPA "certifies" it as fit for human consumption?

Once again, it was tried in 1985. What makes this new?

Posted by Sgt-Dan (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
?Why the DOE $24 million method ?Salt-water-baking soda? method for carbon sequestration will not work (but what may work)
?The ?salt-water-baking soda? method?
It is contended that a DOE funded ($24 million) process producing sodium hydroxide from electrolysis of brine and then its conversion to a bicarbonate (NaOH + CO2 = NaHCO3), will permit us to get rid of CO2 from fossil-fuel burning plants. The problem is both the high energy cost and the violation of the ?chlor-alkali balance? will not allow this to happen in a significant way; the chlor-alkali balance is explained as follows. The reaction to produce sodium hydroxide (NaOH) is:
NaCl (salt)+ H2O (water) = NaOH + 0.5 Cl2 (chlorine gas) + 0.5 H2 + lots of energy
Thus for each mole (40 grams) of NaOH, there is 0.5 mole (39 grams) of chlorine produced. Depending on the market, either sodium hydroxide or chlorine can be the byproduct.
It is obvious that sodium hydroxide cannot be produced in such quantities, that chlorine becomes surplus because it is more than what industry can use. When that happens, we will have the problem of chlorine storage which will be worse than the problem of CO2 storage. Chlorine is a poisonous gas.
Coal combustion in thermal power stations result in carbon dioxide emissions per unit of electricity generated (2249 lbs/MWh) (US EPA Clean Energy?Gas). A typical (500 megawatt) coal plant burns 1.4 million tons of coal each year, producing 5.1 million tons of CO2. There are about 600 U.S. coal plants. The TVA Kingston burns about 14,000 tons of coal a day, an amount that fills 140 railroad cars. Kingston captures CO2 for suitable storage.
?No carbon sequestration?
We have to account for two types of CO2, the first produced by burning coal to provide energy for the chlor-alkali reaction (NaCl + H2O ?0.5 Cl2 +0.5 H2 + NaOH ?H (300 K) 271 kJ ) and the second as referred above in burning coal to produce electricity. The thermodynamic energy is the minimum that will be required of any process. In practice because of the kinetic barriers and other material processing requirements etc, we can nearly add another 50% to the 271 kJ. Thus for production of 1 tonne of sodium hydroxide, we need to burn 0.21 tonne of coal and for 5 million tonne, 1.03 million tonnes (minimum) and produce 3.8 million tonnes of CO2 if the process is 100% effective. In practice this will exceed the 5.1 million tonnes that has been sequestered by carbonation.
?The chlorine surplus?
To turn 5.1 million tonnes of CO2 into a bicarbonate, we need about 5 m tons of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and as a consequence of the chlor-alkali mass balance produce ~5 million tons of chlorine from one average size plant. We will also produce 10.5 million tonnes of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda).
There is another consequence of the chlor-alkali mass balance. According to The Chlorine Institute statistics, in 2008, the U.S. chlor-alkali industry produced 11.5 million short tons of chlorine and 12.1 million short tons of caustic soda (sodium hydroxide). Thus all we can do with this method is to ?sequester? (see above, we may not sequester any) CO2 from two or three plants and we will have a surplus of a poisonous gas at our hands.
?The baking soda surplus?
It is produced on the scale of about 100,000 ton/year (as of 2001). In our case, 10.5 million tons will be produced form one average size plant!
If we used this method for the Kingston plant, the consequences will be profound. We will produce 32.5 million tonnes of baking soda (total US production 0.1 million tonne) and 15 million tons of chlorine (total US production 10 million tonnes).
Economic unsustainability
If the sodium hydroxide production costs are as low as $100 per tonne (the actual selling price may be $200), the cost of CO2 sequestration per tonne would be $300.00 if the process sequesters only 30% of the emission. If we have to bury the baking soda, it will add to the costs. The real problem is that the method may fail totally in sequestering any carbon emission.
A possible compromise
We could consider applying the carbonation method as suggested in another proposal (Hydrogen from coal with carbon capture - reacting with NaOH Production, Feb 18 2010 (The Hydrogen Journal, The method is to be aimed at the currently existing chlor-alkali plants which are essential for producing construction material (PVC) all over the world. The goal would be to reduce the carbon emission in such plants by 10 to 20% by converting some of their sodium hydroxide (NaOH) to soda (Na2CO3) and hydrogen. By selling the soda and hydrogen, the profit from a single plant could be in several million dollars per year. The proposal was not funded by DOE because it was considered as of ?limited value?.
Posted by surpnakha (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
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Posted by amidhara (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
New market for sodium carbonate. There is still about 325 BILLION bls of oil remaining in old oil wells in USA. At this is twice as nmucg as they ever produced and,with chemical assisst , call it Hi-Tech Drano, another 100-150 Billion bbkls can be recovered from these old wells. Many opf thes eold wells would be profitable evenwithout "Drano"
, but cost of water disposal is too high. The old wells produce much more water than oil but much of thatwater can be used for growing salt tolerant algae, This will concentrate the salts for separationof sodium chloride to us ein making sodiumhydroxide ( I know because Nov 22 I received a patent for that, Power plants should use salty water entirely because thay are best placed to desalinate it and use the sodium chloride to make sodium hydroxide in the power plant for their own use. Next to irrigation,power plants ar elargest user of water and are paying huge disposal bills for the leftover salt. Use it. Use the calcium an dmagnesiun chlorides for stabuilizing subbase for every new road and for dust control on the 2 million miles of dirt roads in USA. The sodium carbonate wil lbe used to get moreof that oldoil, Univ iof Texas , Austin, says about $5-10$ worth of cvhemicals gets another bbl of oil. Savings in forign exchange vs imported oil, plus savings from the $29 Billion spent each year for disposal of Propduced (salty) Water fromoil and gas wells can go towards financing SUSTAINABILITY through RENEWABLES. ECYCLING is my first name.
Inplant power used in production of taht power
Posted by Ecycling (3 comments )
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