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Carbon Capture Technology. Image credit: European Union


New Membrane Technology From Osmoses Could Make Carbon Capture Feasible

MIT spin-off Osmoses may have the answer to low cost carbon capture technology.

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Carbon capture is an idea that doesn’t get much love here at CleanTechnica headquarters. Whenever the topic comes up, the minions who bring you the clean tech news of the day wrinkle their noses as if a noxious odor just invaded our work space.

We see it as a scam cooked up by the fossil fuel companies to divert our attention away from the fact that the Earth is overheating because of the pollution created when coal, oil, and methane are burned. The flim flam goes like this — “Let us burn every molecule of fossil fuel we can find now and we promise, cross our hearts and hope to die, we will find some magic way to suck all that crud back out of the atmosphere later, God willing and the creek don’t rise. Trust us!”

Basically, we think carbon capture is a lie told by fossil fuel companies to slow down the push for meaningful climate action, so it’s somewhat of a surprise when we hear about something that suggests carbon capture might actually work. The technology relies primarily on membranes that allow oxygen to pass through, but not pollutants like carbon dioxide and methane. The problem is, those membranes cannot tolerate harsh industrial environments and tend to break down quickly.

Hello, Osmoses

Meet Osmoses, an MIT spinoff started this year by Francesco Benedetti and Holden Lai. On its website, the company says, “Efficient and sustainable separations are critically needed to cut costs and emissions in the chemical industry and enable sustainable energy solutions. With exceptional stability, productivity, and selectivity, Osmoses molecular filters can separate molecules 100,000 times smaller than the thickness of human hair.”

Recently, the company raised $3 million in funding to pursue its research and scale up its technology for commercial applications, thanks in large measure to The Engine, an MIT investment vehicle that supports new technology ventures like Osmoses. The money will accelerate its mission to eliminate energy waste with efficient separation technology, reducing production costs and CO2 emissions.

“Today, molecular separations represent 15% of global energy use and generate 16% of CO2 emissions annually. While gas separation processes are critical for the more than 13,000 chemical and power plants operating in the U.S., the traditional approaches to purify methane, hydrogen, and oxygen are not only a source of significant energy waste, but also very costly for production companies,” Osmoses says.

The company claims its membrane platform technology integrates easily with existing energy infrastructures and solves the inherent trade-off between permeability and selectivity. It is stable in industrial conditions and delivers up to 5 times the selectivity and 100 times the permeability of conventional membranes.

“There’s an increasing need for gas separation membranes and the global category will continue to surge in the coming years, representing a $10 billion and growing market opportunity overall,” says Benedetti.

“We’ve developed and proven the viability of Osmoses’ materials platform to overcome traditional membrane challenges, to deliver membranes offering the most sustainable alternative to thermal processes. Our molecular filters can be manufactured at scale using established techniques, consume 40% to 60% less energy than commercial alternatives, and most importantly, deliver excellent separation.

“Osmoses’ solution is not just critical for reduced emissions, but for maintaining domestic industry and job growth. Without such a cost-effective solution, these tasks could be exported to countries with less stringent emissions targets, which is not good for the U.S. and not good for our planet.”

The Osmoses platform addresses the rising demand for biogas and hydrogen, as well as the increasing need for CO2 removal. It provides a cost effective, high performance technology that supports the global renewable energy transition. It can increase the sustainability of existing energy infrastructures such as natural gas, decarbonize new and existing industries in power generation and materials manufacturing, and enable carbon-free energy solutions like hydrogen.

“Osmoses has the potential to fully decarbonize the hardest sectors of the economy — industrial material production — which together account for upwards of 30% of U.S. CO2 emissions,” says Michael Kearney of The Engine in a press release.

Holden Lai, co-founder and CTO of Osmoses, says, “The technology is proven in the lab and we are excited to take it to the next stage of testing at scale through collaboration with manufacturers and industrial partners. Delivered through modular units, the platform is an easy transition with existing infrastructure and will accelerate, streamline, and improve margins for commercial pursuit of natural and biogas upgrading, carbon capture powered by oxy-fuel combustion, and hydrogen recovery opportunities.”

Technology For Today

On its website, Osmoses says,

“Membrane separation technology that matches the performance of incumbent methods could drastically reduce energy consumption in the chemical, energy, and petrochemical sectors. Using membrane technology to purify hydrogen and renewable natural gas would also accelerate the replacement of coal for electricity generation. Across industries, replacing absorption and distillation with membrane technology for separations can reduce annual U.S. energy costs by $4 billion and eliminate 100 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.”

It claims this new technology presents an opportunity to re-imagine and rebuild America’s energy infrastructure in the post-pandemic era while creating new jobs. “Green and readily available alternative energy sources, such as hydrogen and renewable natural gas, will only see widespread adoption if cost-competitive with conventional sources. Osmoses wants to be part of this revolution.”

The company says its technology has the ability to:

  • Promote carbon dioxide removal from natural gas and biogas while reducing energy consumption by more than 40% and cutting methane loss by more than 70% compared to current commercially available membrane systems.

  • Reduce the cost of oxygen-nitrogen separation in nitrogen and oxygen production by 10% relative to leading membrane systems.

  • Dramatically reduce the cost of hydrogen purification by using Osmoses’ highly selective membranes.

  • Greatly reduce the cost of carbon dioxide capture.

The Takeaway

Is this new membrane technology from Osmoses a magic bullet that will let fossil fuel companies continue to pour waste products into the atmosphere? Not quite. But it brings another tool to the fight to decarbonize human activities, and for that we should be grateful. It is unknown at this time whether the company’s technology could make large-scale carbon capture cost effective. Expect to hear more about this company in the near future.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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