Potential carbon dioxide removal technology


Scientists have proposed a novel way of capturing and storing carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere that could be up to three times more efficient than existing methods. The new method, which involves transforming CO2 into bicarbonate of soda and storing it in seawater, could significantly speed up the deployment of carbon removal technology, according to the authors of the research paper. While the world has struggled to limit and reduce CO2 emissions in recent decades, several companies have instead focused on developing technology to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Climeworks in Switzerland is perhaps the best known, having developed machines that suck air from the atmosphere and filter and trap CO2 molecules. The captured CO2 is then injected deep underground where it is permanently turned into stone. However, the cost of direct air capture has been a significant obstacle to the widespread adoption of such technology.

CO2, although a powerful warming agent, is relatively diluted in the atmosphere, at around 400 parts per million (ppm) in air. Therefore, big machines that require large amounts of energy are needed to absorb and discharge CO2. However, the new approach, which uses off-the-shelf resins and other chemicals, promises far greater efficiency and lower costs than existing methods, say the scientists involved. The research team borrowed an approach used for applications in water and modified existing materials to remove CO2 from the air. In tests, the new hybrid absorbing material was able to take in three times as much CO2 as existing substances.

The development is in its early stages, but it has been welcomed by others in the field. Professor Catherine Peters from Princeton University, an expert in geological engineering, who was not involved in the research project, said: “I am happy to see this paper in the published literature, it is very exciting, and it stands a good chance of transforming the CO2 capture efforts. What is clever about this is that the starting point was a technology previously designed for applications in water. This advance applies this technology to the gas phase – a new idea. The demonstrated performance for CO2 capture is promising.”

One of the big challenges in capturing CO2 is what to do with the trapped gas. Storing it under the ground or sea in former oil wells is one widely used approach. But the new paper suggests that with the addition of some chemicals, the captured CO2 can be transformed into bicarbonate of soda and stored simply and safely in seawater. Dr SenGupta, lead author of the paper, says he now wants to establish a spin-off company to develop the technology further. He believes that removing CO2 in this way will not only be critical to limiting the rise in global temperatures but could also be directly empowering for developing countries.

“We have to take it to places like Bangladesh, Barbados or the Maldives; they also have a role to play; they cannot be just bystanders who keep suffering,” he said. Some scientists are reluctant to put too much emphasis on new and emerging technologies like direct air capture because they fear that it could dilute the carbon cutting efforts of governments and individuals. However, with the temperature thresholds of the Paris climate agreement under threat from rising emissions, many others feel that the rapid deployment of direct air capture in addition to massive cuts in carbon is the best hope of avoiding dangerous climate change.

“It has become even more important now that we are definitely in an overshoot regime, where we have to take carbon back from the environment,” said Professor Klaus Lackner, a pioneer in the field of removing CO2. “DAC will have to get cheaper to make a useful contribution. I am optimistic that it can do this.” Professor SenGupta shares that optimism, believing that this new approach can remove CO2 for less than $100 a tonne.



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