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Jul 24, 2013 01:51 PM EDT

Global Warming Can Be Curbed by Turning CO2 into Electricity?

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As scientists continue the search for an alternative for sustainable energy, one possibility is harvesting greenhouse gases for electricity, ScienceCodex.com reported.

According to an article published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters, the scientists' method used CO2 from electric power plants and other smokestacks as the raw materials for producing electricity.

"The energy is there," Dr. Bert Hamelers, a program director at Wetsus, the Center of Excellence for Sustainable Water Technology in the Netherlands, who led the research, told NBC News. "Only you need a turbine to get it."

Hamelers and his team of researchers reported that electric power-generating stations release 12 billion tons of CO2 per year from burning coal, fossil fuels and natural gas. That total is nearly matched by home and commercial heating procedures at 11 billion tons.

Coal-fired plants' smokestacks typically produce about ten percent CO2 and that gas almost always goes to waste and is a leading factor in global warming. Hamelers and his colleagues sought a way to reuse that gas for energy.

They described a way to use water and other liquids to react to the CO2 and create flow of electrons capable of amassing an electric current. This method could yield up to 1,570 billion kilowatts (1,570 terawatts) of electricity per year. That amount is approximately 400 times the electrical output of the Hoover Dam.

You use the energy that is now wasted," Hamelers said. "You bring it in and get the extra energy out, but you cannot sequester it."

He also pointed out that his team's method would redirect the harmful CO2 away from the atmosphere because it cannot be eliminated.

"The objective for us was to show that, yes, there is this source of energy and, yes, you can harvest it," Hamelers said. "Of course you need a lot more technological development before this is a system that can be practiced."

(This article was edited by its author to fix an incorrect figure reported by the article's source. "1,570 kilowatts" was changed to "1,570 billion kilowatts (1,570 terawatts).")

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