Advances in CO2 scrubbers

May 31, 2008 at 4:35 pm 1 comment

How can we prevent greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide from building up in the atmosphere? We might try producing less, but levels are already high (currently 387 ppm) and projected to rise. Another option is to lower carbon dioxide levels by scrubbing it out of the atmosphere.

Scrubbing technology assumes a three-step process:

  • first, pass enormous volumes of ‘carbon dioxide-enriched’ air through a huge number of ‘scrubber’ devises sited strategically all over the globe. The scrubbers adsorb CO2 and emit ‘carbon dioxide-depleted’ air
  • next, when a ‘scrubber’ becomes saturated, clean it by reversing the chemical reaction. This produces carbon dioxide and prepares the scrubber for re-use
  • last, the carbon dioxide produced in the previous step must be stored or converted into a chemically innocuous form

Engineers and scientists are working on all three steps, but today’s news story focuses on a new advance in scrubber technology. Chemists have known how to trap carbon dioxide reversibly for many decades. Passing CO2 over solid NaOH efficiently produces NaHCO3, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). But there is a catch. The CO2-trapping reaction is so exothermic that when it comes time to ‘clean’ a NaOH scrubber, we must use energy to reverse the reaction. If the energy that drives the cleaning step comes from fossil fuels, we might produce more carbon dioxide (during the cleaning step) than we ever trap.

Now for today’s news story. The Guardian (UK) reported today that a team led by Prof. Klaus Lackner, based at the Earth Engineering Center at Columbia University, has developed an efficient low-energy scrubbing material based on an ion-exchange resin. Read the article for more details.

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Entry filed under: In the News.

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