Engineers at MIT have developed a new device that can allegedly capture carbon dioxide from the air at a lower cost than existing devices. Being able to affordably capture carbon from the atmosphere is going to be an important part of stopping climate change, according to IPCC reports, so this breakthrough is a big deal.
The device passes a stream of air through a stack of charged electrochemical plates. The researchers describe it as “essentially a large, specialized battery.” The stream of air passes over electrodes that are coated with a compound called polyanthraquinone, which attracts carbon dioxide while the device is charging. Once the CO2 has been collected, it can be released so it can be stored while it is discharging.
Unlike some carbon capture devices, this new device can capture carbon at very low concentrations, like the 400 parts per million we currently see in the atmosphere. MIT postdoc Sahag Voskian, who worked on this project as part of his Ph.D., said in a statement that this technique is “revolutionary.”
“All of this is at ambient conditions — there’s no need for thermal, pressure, or chemical input,” Voskian said. “It’s just these very thin sheets, with both surfaces active, that can be stacked in a box and connected to a source of electricity.”
T. Alan Hatton, the professor of chemical engineering who oversaw this project, says that this could be a superior approach to how we’ve attempted to capture carbon in the past.
“In my laboratories, we have been striving to develop new technologies to tackle a range of environmental issues that avoid the need for thermal energy sources, changes in system pressure, or addition of chemicals to complete the separation and release cycles,” Hatton said. “This carbon dioxide capture technology is a clear demonstration of the power of electrochemical approaches that require only small swings in voltage to drive the separations.”
Voskian claimed the panels of electrodes could be produced for “tens of dollars” per square meter, and the whole system would use one gigajoule of energy per ton of carbon dioxide captured. Some existing systems use up to 10 times as much energy to capture carbon.
One of the main problems with capturing carbon in low concentrations is that it’s very energy-intensive, which means it’s expensive. If this device can capture CO2 from the atmosphere with a much smaller price tag, it’s much more likely we’ll be able to utilize carbon capture to fight climate change on a large scale.
A company called Verdox is working with the researchers to manufacture a pilot of the system within the next few years. Their research was just published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science.