Scientists Turn CO2 Back into a Solid in Carbon Capture Breakthrough

Researchers have discovered a means of converting carbon dioxide gas into particles of what is essentially soot, potentially giving us a way to trap CO2 from our atmosphere in a solid and easily manageable form.

Publishing in the journal “Nature Communications“, researchers from  RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia demonstrate a new technique that uses liquid metals and the process of electrolysis to effectively turn atmospheric CO2 back into solid carbon particles.

Currently, our leading method of artificial carbon capture at scale is turning CO2 into a liquid, which we then store underground. This does work, but it comes with a number of drawbacks, including the fact that it is possible for these storage sites to leak and allow the material to hemorrhage into the environment. There are also other logistical problems, like finding safe sites and how to manage them appropriately That all comes with costs that have so far made liquid carbon capture largely unworkable.

In this latest study the research team used a liquid metal catalyst that has a number of interesting properties, including being really good at conducting electricity. The scientists took carbon dioxide and dissolved it in a beaker containing an electricity-conducting solution and the special liquid metal. They then charged the mix with an electrical current. With that current running through the solution, the CO2 gradually turned into flakes of carbon. Due to the properties of the liquid metal those flakes are not attached to the surface, which allows the process of creating carbon solids to continue.

This might all sound interesting but largely academic, however the potential here is intriguing. It’s not the first time that researchers have looked at turning CO2 back into a solid, but it is the first time it has been done for relatively low cost and with low upkeep.

This approach offers several benefits over current liquid carbon capture methods.

“While we can’t literally turn back time, turning carbon dioxide back into coal and burying it back in the ground is a bit like rewinding the emissions clock,” RMIT researcher Dr Torben Daeneke said in a press release. “To date, CO2 has only been converted into a solid at extremely high temperatures, making it industrially unviable. By using liquid metals as a catalyst, we’ve shown it’s possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that’s efficient and scalable. While more research needs to be done, it’s a crucial first step to delivering solid storage of carbon.”

Fossil fuel supporters have seized on carbon capture technologies and argue this makes the entire process of using fossil fuels much greener. However, this research does not speak to that at all. There is no current method to green the use of fossil fuels at the scale we use them. Fossil fuels are, and will likely always be, bad news for our environment in the massive amounts we use them today.

However, it is undeniable that it looks increasingly likely that we will reach or go beyond 2C above pre-industrialization temperatures. The need for “negative emission technologies” like this carbon capture system become more and more apparent. What strategies like this could be particularly useful for is reducing the impact of the fossil fuels we do still have to use, even as we simultaneously put in the infrastructure for renewable energy, like solar and wind power.

The researchers note that the process of turning CO2 back into a soot-like material with this process has another benefit: useful byproducts. For example, once it’s solid, the carbon can hold an electrical charge. This could make it useful for parts in vehicle engineering. The process also produces a synthetic fuel which could actually help further reduce the initial environmental cost of releasing carbon and extend its usefulness.

Undeniably, this is just the first step in creating a viable industry-scale solid carbon capture method, but for our environmental protection goals this breakthrough offers hope that we may yet find a carbon capture method that can help us take back the carbon we have been recklessly pumping into our atmosphere.

Photo credit: Getty Images.

78 comments

Sophie A
Past Member 2 months ago

thank you for sharing

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Michael F
Michael Friedmann2 months ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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Maria P
Martha P2 months ago

thanks for this

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Frances G
Carla G2 months ago

tyfs

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Vincent T
William T2 months ago

Very interesting. Thank you.

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Greta L
Past Member 2 months ago

thansk for the update

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Mark T
Mark Turner2 months ago

Ty.

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Teresa W
Teresa W2 months ago

good news

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Teresa W
Teresa W2 months ago

amazing

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JinnySITEISSUES L
JinnySITEISSUES L2 months ago

It's amazing when we "all" use our minds what we can accomplish. Limitless. Thanks for sharing.

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