A research team at the University of Waterloo in Canada led by Zhongwei Chen, a professor of chemical engineering, has created a powder that can capture CO2 from factories and power plants. Their findings were published recently in the journal Carbon according to a report by the Waterloo News. The powder can filter and remove carbon dioxide released by industrial facilities and generating stations twice as efficiently as any existing process and at substantially lower cost, the researchers claim.
“This will be more and more important in the future,” Professor Chen says. “We have to find ways to deal with all the CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels.” By varying the size and concentration of the pores in the powder, it can be used for other purposes as well, such as water filtration and energy storage.
In a process known as adsorption, when carbon dioxide molecules come in contact with the powder, they stick to it. Since carbon is abundant, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly, it makes a excellent material for carbon dioxide capture. The researchers collaborated with colleagues at several universities in China to determine the correct porosity for various applications.
The technique they developed uses heat and salt to extract a black carbon powder from plant matter. Carbon spheres that make up the powder have many, many pores and the vast majority of them are less than one-millionth of a meter in diameter.
“The porosity of this material is extremely high,” said Chen, who holds a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in advanced materials for clean energy. “And because of their size, these pores can capture CO2 very efficiently. The performance is almost doubled.”
Once saturated with carbon dioxide from large emitters like factories and generating stations, the powder would be transported to storage sites and buried underground to keep the captured carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.
The plan may sound less than ideal to those who advocate for 100% renewable energy, but the truth is, it will be many decades before the world stops producing carbon dioxide emissions. And storing a solid underground sounds far more realistic than pumping compressed carbon dioxide into old petroleum well and mine shafts and hoping it never leaks out.
A system like this could be an vital key to keeping the Earth from little more than a burned out cinder floating lifelessly through the cosmos. We shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good, in other words.
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