A number of research teams around the world are currently working towards scrubbing all the excess carbon dioxide from the air. It’s one of the prime reasons we are seeing record breaking rise in temperature across India this summer.
Not only could this do wonders to push back global warming, but we can also put all of that CO2 to good use in other applications.
Take this research team from the University of Toronto Engineering for instance. They’ve developed a new electrochemical path to transform carbon dioxide that’s been pulled from the atmosphere into valuable products like jet fuel or plastics.
“Today, it is technically possible to capture CO2 from the air and, through a number of steps, convert it to commercial products,” says Professor Ted Sargent who led the research team. “The challenge is that it takes a lot of energy to do so, which raises the cost and lowers the incentive. Our strategy increases the overall energy efficiency by avoiding some of the more energy-intensive losses.”
The previous direct-air carbon capture method does so by forcing air through an alkaline liquid solution. The CO2 dissolves in the liquid, forming a carbonate. To use that captured CO2 however, it has to be turned back into a gas, which is the convoluted part. It requires adding chemicals to the carbonate to turn it into a solid salt, and then heat that powder to a whopping 900-degrees Celsius to regain CO2 gas. That heating method is what’s responsible for the energy wastage that makes this sub-optimal.
This team’s new method instead uses an electrolyzer, a device that uses electricity to power a chemical reaction. Electrolyzers are sometimes used to produce hydrogen fuel from water, and this team realised they can also use it to release the CO2 from dissolved carbonate, skipping the heating entirely.
The electrolyzer also has a silver-based catalyst that immediately converts the CO2 into a gas mixture known as syngas. Syngas can be easily turned into a wide variety of products, including jet fuel and plastic precursors.
“This is the first known process that can go all the way from carbonate to syngas in a single step,” says Sargent.
According to the team’s reports, their method has an overall energy efficiency of 35 percent, much higher than current methods. They do believe there’s scope to improve that, and it can of course be scaled up to an industrial level given enough time.
When that happens, we might actually be able to set up giant plants, the sole purpose of which is to scrub carbon dioxide from our air, and turn it into products we can use, helping reverse climate change in the process.
Via India Times