Quantcast

This Powder Could Cheaply Capture Carbon Pollution From Power Plants

Energy

A power plant.

Pixabay

By Marlene Cimons

A recent UN report found that to prevent catastrophic climate change, humans will not only need to drastically cut emissions in just a few short years. People will also need to generate power from wind and solar, and they will need to upgrade remaining gas- and coal-fired power plants with carbon capture technology—a means of trapping carbon pollution from power plants and storing it underground. But carbon capture has its drawbacks. The equipment is costly and the process requires a lot of energy.


Scientist Zhongwei Chen has developed an alternative, one that could make it more affordable for coal- and gas-fired power plants to clean up their mess.

Chen, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of Waterloo, created a powder that can soak up carbon dioxide before it is expelled into the air, which he said is vastly more efficient than conventional carbon capture methods. He said it can be used at power plants, factories and other facilities that burn coal. "This technology is designed to be a real solution to a real problem the world is facing right now," Chen said. "If this technology can help us do better while we find and adopt new, reliable energy sources, that's positive." His study describing the technique appears in the journal Carbon.

Carbon dioxide molecules stick to the surface of carbon when they come in contact with it, a process known as "adsorption," making carbon an excellent material for CO2 capture. The researchers, who collaborated with colleagues at several universities in China, enhanced adsorption by manipulating the size and concentration of pores in the carbon powder. The 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.

Like other carbon capture methods, the CO2-saturated powder still would need to be buried underground to ensure the carbon dioxide is not released into the atmosphere. But the powder represents a significant breakthrough. While there have been earlier experiments to try to develop "pore-forming" carbon dioxide agents, Chen calls the powder made by his team "the first viable attempt." With previous efforts, the mixtures were corrosive and not absorbent enough, he said.

Carbon dioxide molecules are gathered by the carbon spheres that make up Chen's powder. Carbon

"Our powder is efficient because it has pores that are two to three times larger than a carbon dioxide molecule," Chen said. "By ensuring we have the right number of pores in the right concentration, the powder is able to effectively scoop up the carbon from emissions as it passes through." The powder can be used without needing to install additional equipment. And the raw materials—sugar, molasses, rice husk, straws or agar—are renewable, abundant and cheap, especially when compared to existing technologies.

"One of the most important aspects of this discovery is that it's not expensive," said Chen, who holds a Tier 1 Canada research chair in advanced materials for clean energy, an appointment that recognizes academics who are outstanding in their field. "It can be employed by developed and developing nations alike. Since cost is not a barrier to taking action, we have the ability to see significant change in a very short time. There are not a lot of other solutions out there we can say that about."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Graphical representation of vertical pectoral herding by whale in Southeast Alaska. Prey are denoted in yellow. Whale deploys an upward-spiral bubble-net to corral prey and establish the first barrier; pectorals then protract to form a 'V' shape around the open mouth (depicted by blue arrows), creating a second physical barrier. Kyle Kosma / Royal Society Open Science / CC BY 4.0

When you have a whale-sized appetite, you need to figure out some pretty sophisticated feeding strategies. They mysteries of how a humpback whale traps so much prey have eluded scientists, until now.

Read More Show Less
California Yosemite River Scene. Mobilus In Mobili / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

An advisory panel appointed by Trump's first Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has recommended privatizing National Parks campgrounds, allowing food trucks in and setting up WiFi at campgrounds while also reducing benefits to seniors, according to the panel's memo.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Strips of native prairie grasses planted on Larry and Margaret Stone's Iowa farm protect soil, water and wildlife. Iowa State University / Omar de Kok-Mercado, CC BY-ND

By Lisa Schulte Moore

Iowa's first-in-the-nation caucuses bring the state a lot of political attention during presidential election cycles. But in my view, even though some candidates have outlined positions on food and farming, agriculture rarely gets the attention it deserves.

Read More Show Less
In Haiti, Action Against Hunger screens children for malnutrition. Christophe Da Silva / Action Against Hunger, Haiti

By Dr. Charles Owubah

As a child growing up on a farm in Ghana, I have personally known hunger. The most challenging time was between planting and harvesting – "the hunger season." There were many occasions when we did not know where the next meal would come from.

Today, on World Food Day, I think of the 820 million people around the world who are undernourished.

Read More Show Less
A Lyme disease warning on Montauk, Long Island, New York. Neil R / Flickr

Biomedical engineers have developed a new, rapid test capable of detecting Lyme disease in just 15 minutes.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Brown bear fishing for salmon in creek at Pavlof Harbor in Tongass National Forest, Alaska. Wolfgang Kaehler / LightRocket / Getty Images

The Trump administration has moved one step closer to opening Earth's largest intact temperate rainforest to logging.

Read More Show Less
The Democratic primary candidates take the stage during Tuesday's debate. SAUL LOEB / AFP via Getty Images

On Tuesday night, the Democratic presidential candidates gathered for what The Guardian said was the largest primary debate in U.S. history, and they weren't asked a single question about the climate crisis.

Read More Show Less
A. Battenburg / Technical University of Munich

By Sarah Kennedy

Algae in a pond may look flimsy. But scientists are using algae to develop industrial-strength material that's as hard as steel but only a fraction of the weight.



Read More Show Less