Rice University and Louisiana Tech lined up at Rice Stadium on September 28, 2019.  The weather was humid but still pleasant.  I really enjoyed the balmy weather, lights, sounds, music; but it all came crashing down as Rice lost to LA Tech in overtime.  Who could have predicted such an upset?

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The game started out pretty good.  By halftime, Rice was up 14 – 7.  Aston Walter, for Rice, was the work horse back and scored 2 fine touchdowns.  He had 112 yards on 20 carries.  That works out to a 5.6 yard average, not bad.

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By the end of the 4th quarter, LA Tech rallied and the score was tied at 17, as Rice and LA Tech exchanged field goals in the final minutes to tie it.  In overtime, Rice kicked a field goal; but LA Tech quarterback J’mar Smith surprised everyone with a nice 12 yard scramble to win the game.

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Despite the score, Rice University is a great place to do some energy networking.  I always bump into someone at the game that has a vested interest in the energy business.  This week I just so happened to speak to a group of individuals consisting of Rice University engineering faculty and local investors.

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One of the individuals in this informal discussion was Reginald DesRoches, Dean of the George R. Brown School of Engineering at Rice University.  I found out from our talk that Rice is doing quite a bit of research in the area of finding alternative and sustainable sources of fuel.  For instance, one interest is to use Hydrogen; and the other, is to derive energy from CO2 !!!

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In the first case, electrochemistry is used to split water into Hydrogen and Oxygen.  Although this is an old idea, what is new is that Rice has discovered a way to do it more efficiently using graphene sheets coated with Nickel or Cobalt catalysts.  The sheet is only one  molecule thick; and when the Oxygen and Hydrogen split, they do so on opposite sides of the sheet – thus removing the need for a secondary separation stage.

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The process still uses electrical energy; but with the graphene, at lower amounts.  Furthermore, when the electricity is derived from solar or wind, the entire process is highly efficient.  The Hydrogen and Oxygen are then used in a fuel cell to form water again.  In a sense, the Hydrogen and Oxygen are seen as energy storage devices; and when the water is reformed, the release of that stored electrical energy is used to power things like a fuel cell car.  Carbon never enters the picture.

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In the second case, electrochemistry is used again; but this time to convert CO2 to Formic Acid.  The word Formic comes from the Latin word for ant, “formica” – it is ant venom.  The molecular structure of Formic Acid is similar to CO2:  H2CO2.  What I did not know is that the heat of combustion of Formic Acid (on a molar basis) is nearly the same as that of Hydrogen (which is very high).  The catch is that Formic acid can be stored as a liquid at atmospheric conditions, and Hydrogen cannot be.

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And so again, wind or solar power is used to drive the electrochemistry for making the Formic Acid; but this time the process is made highly efficient by using a bismuth catalyst, a nanomaterial, and a solid state electrolyte.  The Formic Acid is put into a fuel cell and the CO2 is essentially returned to the environment, from which is was taken in the first place.

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Energy football can be really energizing on a warm Saturday night.  The next Rice football home game is on October 26, 2019.  Come join us.  But until then, please enjoy more photos of the game given below.

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