Scientists may have found a key technique for reducing the amount of that dangerous greenhouse gas – CO2 – in our atmosphere. This new carbon-capture technology converts atmospheric carbon dioxide (gas) into solid particles of carbon that can then be safely and easily stored. Not only does it work efficiently, but it is also cheap!
The method was figured out by researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, then reported on and published in Nature Communications. In a nutshell, they used liquid metals to turn carbon dioxide back into solid coal. It is a convenient alternative pathway for safely and permanently removing CO2 from our atmosphere.
A majority of the current approaches to remove CO2 focus on compressing the gas into a liquid and then injecting it underground. Not only are these approaches challenging, but there is even the possibility that the CO2 might eventually leak out from storage sites.
However, their new approach is different and it could be more sustainable and prevent unwanted leaks. It can also be applied on a large-scale. Dr Torben Daeneke, co-author of the study, explains in a university press statement:
“While we can’t literally turn back time, turning carbon dioxide back into coal and burying it back in the ground is a bit like rewinding the emissions clock. To date, CO2 has only been converted into a solid at extremely high temperatures, making it industrially unviable. By using liquid metals as a catalyst, we’ve shown it’s possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that’s efficient and scalable.”
How It Works:
- The team designed a special liquid metal catalyst – It has specific surface properties that make it extremely efficient at conducting electricity while chemically activating the surface.
- This liquid alloy is made of Gallium, Indium, Tin, and Cerium.
- The carbon dioxide is dissolved in a beaker filled with an electrolyte liquid and a small amount of the liquid metal.
- There is a wire running through the beaker, which is then charged with an electrical current.
- The CO2 slowly converts into solid flakes of carbon on the surface of the alloy.
- These flakes could then be removed from the liquid metal surface.
- Once they are removed, more take their place. This allows for the continuous production of carbonaceous solid – and therefore the continuous capture of carbon.
- The only by-product of the process is pure oxygen.
Fuel Of The Future
The carbon could just be buried back in the ground or it could be used to produce other things, for instance, carbon fiber materials. There is also the potential for this coal to be turned into fuel for vehicles. Dr Dorna Esrafilzadeh, lead author, says:
“A side benefit of the process is that the carbon can hold electrical charge, becoming a supercapacitor, so it could potentially be used as a component in future vehicles. The process also produces synthetic fuel as a by-product, which could also have industrial applications.”
Finally, we have this research – the first real step towards solid storage of atmospheric carbon. Since the Industrial Revolution, we have injected over 1,300 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Roughly a third of that has been released since the year 2000. Hopefully, this new technology will help get rid of the buildup of CO2 we are increasingly producing and releasing into the atmosphere.