Scientists discover new CO2 capture technology ahead of Paris climate change summit

Scientists discover new CO2 capture technology ahead of Paris climate change summit

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Scientists test how Sunlight converts CO2 to carbon nanofibers.

In less than a hundred days from now, more than 2,000 delegates from UN member countries will be converging in Paris, France for serious talks aimed at producing a strong climate deal which may see global greenhouse gas emissions drastically reduced and thus avoiding the threat of adverse effects of climate change.

The delegates including top environmentalists and officials from 190 governments will be expected to produce an agreement during the Paris on what happens for the decade after the extended Kyoto Protocol, the new internationally binding carbon emissions commitment whose term ends in 2020.

The GHG emissions is believed to be accelerating global warming and causing adverse effects of climate change which has remained a major global threat in the 21st century.

UNFCCC boss Christiana Figueres on Road to Paris’s efforts to achieve a new climate change agreement

It has adversely affected climate change resulting to numerous forms of floods, droughts and sea level rise , with Africa bearing the bigger brunt despite the fact that Western and Asian countries remain major emitters of common greenhouse gases such carbon-dioxide and methanol.

According to science journal, Scientists believe that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise and passes the threshold the global warming may become catastrophic and irreversible. The threshold is estimated as a temperature rise of 2C above pre-industrial levels.

New discovery.

However, scientists and governments officials through supports from the  United Nations Framework on Conventions of Climate Change ( UNFCCC ) initiatives have long been struggling to find a technology that can shift carbon dioxide (CO2), the most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas, from a climate change problem to a valuable commodity.

Carbon emmitters and global warming
Industrial plant in China , one of the world’s largest carbon emitter.

A team of scientists says they have achieved that dream by developing a new technology which can economically convert atmospheric COdirectly into highly valued carbon nanofibers for industrial and consumer products.

In a report published in Science Journal of August, the team presented brand-new research on this new CO2capture and utilization technology at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) held between 16th and 20th August 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts .

ACS is the world’s largest scientific society. The conference featured more than 9,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.

“We have found a way to use atmospheric CO2 to produce high-yield carbon nanofibers,” says Stuart Licht, Ph.D., who leads a research team at George Washington University.

“Such nanofibers are used to make strong carbon composites, such as those used in the Boeing Dreamliner, as well as in high-end sports equipment, wind turbine blades and a host of other products.”

Previously, the researchers had made fertilizer and cement without emitting CO2, which they reported.

Researchers are generating carbon nanofibers (above) from CO2 , removing a greenhouse gas from the air to make products. PHOTO/ courtesy of Newswise
Researchers are generating carbon nanofibers (above) from CO2 , removing a greenhouse gas from the air to make products. PHOTO/ courtesy of Newswise

Now, the team, which includes postdoctoral fellow Jiawen Ren, Ph.D.and graduate student Jessica Stuart, says their research could shift CO2 from a global-warming problem to a feed stock for the manufacture of in-demand carbon nanofibers.

Global warming has been a major issue due to continuous growth of greenhouse gas emissions from different sources. Scientists have estimated that the global average temperature will rise between 1.4 –5.8 C by the year 2100, according to a UNFCCC report.

Licht calls his approach “diamonds from the sky.” That refers to carbon being the material that diamonds are made of, and also hints at the high value of the products, such as the carbon nanofibers that can be made from atmospheric carbon and oxygen.

Because of its efficiency, the scientists say this low-energy process can be run using only a few volts of electricity, sunlight and a whole lot of carbon dioxide.

At its root, the system uses electrolytic syntheses to make the nanofibers. CO2 is broken down in a high-temperature electrolytic bath of molten carbonates at 1,380 degrees F (750 degrees C).

Breaking down CO2 

According to Litcht, atmospheric air is added to an electrolytic cell. Once there, the CO2 dissolves when subjected to the heat and direct current through electrodes of nickel and steel. The carbon nano-fibers build up on the steel electrode, where they can be removed.

To power the syntheses, heat and electricity are produced through a hybrid and extremely efficient concentrating solar-energy system. The system focuses the sun’s rays on a photovoltaic solar cell to generate electricity and on a second system to generate heat and thermal energy, which raises the temperature of the electrolytic cell.

Licht estimates electrical energy costs of this “solar thermal electrochemical process” to be around $1,000 per ton of carbon nanofiber product, which means the cost of running the system is hundreds of times less than the value of product output.

“We calculate that with a physical area less than 10 percent the size of the Sahara Desert, our process could remove enough CO2 to decrease atmospheric levels to those of the pre-industrial revolution within 10 years,” he says.

At this time, the system is experimental, and Licht’s biggest challenge will be to ramp up the process and gain experience to make consistently sized nanofibers. “We are scaling up quickly,” he adds, “and soon should be in range of making tens of grams of nanofibers an hour.”

Licht explains in their report that one advance the group has recently achieved is the ability to synthesize carbon fibers using even less energy than when the process was initially developed.

“Carbon nanofiber growth can occur at less than 1 volt at 750 degrees C, which for example is much less than the 3-5 volts used in the 1,000 degree C industrial formation of aluminum,” he added.

Reducing CO2 emissions.

Even though only three primary methods for reducing carbon dioxide emissions have been approved by scientists, the new technology of producing high-yield carbon nanofibers if approved may be another breakthrough in carbon emissions reductions especially in the face of growing concerns over global warming .

Using carbon-free sources of energy technologies such as solar power, wind power and geothermal energy have proved successful in generating energy without producing and emitting carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, though they also have their own associated impacts, according to scientists.

Carbon sequestration is another option being used for reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere where it involves the capture and storage of CO2 that would otherwise be present in the atmosphere, contributing to the  greenhouse effect.

The international agreement linked to UNFCCC under the famous Kyoto Protocol whose amendment is set to be adopted in Paris later this year, commits countries which are parties to an internationally binding CO2 emission reductions.

Current commitments on greenhouse gas emissions under the Kyoto Protocol run out in 2020, so at Paris summit, governments will be expected to produce an agreement on what happens for the decade after that at least, and potentially beyond.