R&D Magazine: Search for improved carbon sponges picks up speed
Berkeley Lab chemist Jeffrey Long is leading a team of scientists whose goal is to quickly discover materials that can efficiently strip carbon dioxide from a power plant’s exhaust, before it leaves the smokestack and contributes to climate change.
They’re focusing on metal-organic frameworks, a new class of materials, that boast a record-shattering internal surface area.
A sugar cube-sized piece, if unfolded and flattened, would more than blanket a football field. The crystalline material can also be tweaked to absorb specific molecules.
The idea is to engineer this incredibly porous compound into a voracious sponge that gobbles up carbon dioxide.
The scientists hope to finalize the solution in three years, maybe sooner.
“Our discovery process will be up to 100 times faster than current techniques,” says Long. “We need to quickly find next-generation materials that capture and release carbon without requiring a lot of energy.”
Carbon capture is the first step in carbon capture and storage, a climate change mitigation strategy that involves pumping compressed carbon dioxide captured from large stationary sources into underground rock formations that can store it for geological time scales.
Carbon capture and storage is being tested on a large scale in only a few places worldwide. One of the biggest obstacles to industrial-scale implementation is its cost.
To overcome this, scientists are seeking alternatives that can be used again and again with minimal energy costs. Finding just the right material may take years.
But in early May, Long’s team began negotiating a three-year, $3.6 million grant from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy to supercharge the search.
“We don’t want to discover a great material and find it’s so expensive that no one will use it,” says Long.
As a final test, the Electric Power Research Institute will predict the utility of the best new materials in an industrial-scale carbon capture process.
“We need to find the optimum range of metal-organic frameworks for each power plant,” says Long. “Ultimately, this research is intended to lead to materials worthy of large-scale testing and commercialization.”
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Links of interest
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy
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