Dry water might sound like an oxymoron but the concept is pretty straightforward: encapsulate microdrops of water in silica (otherwise known as common sand) to form a substance that looks like powdered sugar, then sit back and watch the fun. Though it was first discovered in 1968, the unique properties of dry water are only recently being recognized as an important tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Scientists in at the University of Hull in the U.K. rediscovered dry water in 2006, and a team at the University of Liverpool is developing dry water to absorb and store gases including carbon dioxide and methane. While the team appears to be focusing on transporting natural gas from remote drilling areas, the technology might also be applied to the growing use of renewable biogas installations at farms and landfills.
What Exactly is Dry Water?
First, a brief primer on silica, or silicon dioxide. Silica is the most abundant mineral on the earth’s crust – think sand and quartz. It also occurs in the cell walls of many forms of algae. Aside from making sand castles silica has a million and one uses including glass, ceramics, and optical fibers (not to be confused with silicon, which is used in solar cells – silica is an oxide of silicon). Dry water is formed by mixing water with a special form of silica, which prevents the water droplets from combining. The University of Liverpool team found that dry water can quickly absorb large amounts of methane at a temperature close to the freezing point of water. Because it is made from cheap, abundant raw materials, dry water could provide an economical means for storing and transporting methane, which all too often is still flared off at industrial sites and sewage treatment plants.
Clean Coal – That Other Oxymoron
Dry water has some real potential to reduce or more efficiently manage greenhouse gases related to fossil fuels, and if applied to biogas facilities it also has the potential to expand the market for renewable, sustainable energy. That’s a big contrast to”clean coal,” which is one oxymoron that is never going to make sense. Emissions from coal fired power plants can be reduced with new technologies, but that does nothing to stop the tendency of so called “clean coal” to destroy local environments and hobble local economies for generations.
Image: Water droplets by D Jabi on flickr.com.
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