Carbon sponge could soak up CO2

Another promising discovery on the CO2 capture front has just come to my attention. This new research is being done at Monash University in Australia.

Emissions from coal power stations could be drastically reduced by a new, energy-efficient material that adsorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide, then releases it when exposed to sunlight.

In a study published Feb. 11 in Angewandte Chemie, Monash University and CSIRO scientists for the first time discovered a photosensitive metal organic framework (MOF) — a class of materials known for their exceptional capacity to store gases. This has created a powerful and cost-effective new tool to capture and store, or potentially recycle, carbon dioxide.

By utilising sunlight to release the stored carbon, the new material overcomes the problems of expense and inefficiency associated with current, energy-intensive methods of carbon capture. Current technologies use liquid capture materials that are then heated in a prolonged process to release the carbon dioxide for storage.

Once again, these folks are proving my long time contention that the industry and academics will come up with a solution, they just need more than the two to three year limit that the EPA and green industry has clamped down over us.

One of the principle researchers on this project, Dr. Bradley Ladewig, discusses why the development of new technologies for CO2 capture is so important in a recent article. The short version of his article is that we need clean, affordable, abundant, and reliable energy to power our everyday lives, but no generation options – apart from coal – exist today that are sufficiently affordable, or reliable to meet our society’s rapidly growing energy demands.

Ladewig admits renewables simply are not up to the task of supplying the baseload energy that people rely on for the necessities of life. He also quite reasonably recognizes the massive coal reserves that exist across the world, specifically in China, Australia, and the US. He also recognizes the reasonable desire of governments and industry around the world to make use of our low-cost and abundant energy options as a means of improving the lives of citizens and customers.

Only coal, nuclear, and large hydro can reliably and affordably meet our electricity generation needs. (Natural gas is increasingly being relied on for baseload energy, but the gas industry must still address issues associated with volatile price swings and inevitable supply conflicts between electricity producers, industrial users, home users, and transportation demands. Additionally, the gas industry is just beginning to deal with the anti-fracking movement that is quickly gaining traction.) Renewables are hamstrung by their costs, their dependence on overly generous government subsidies to remain remotely competitive, their ephemeral nature, and the fact that no cost-effective energy storage options exist (or are likely to exist well into our future).

Looking back to Ladewig’s article, he closes out arguing that given real world technology and cost restrictions, as well as our growing energy demands, we must find a way to continue to use our coal resource in an increasingly clean manner. That need will entail continuous discoveries of new emissions reduction technologies. The work that Monash University researchers are doing today is one promising option. I wish them success in their work.

(As an aside, I question his bold closing statement that industry will not be involved in funding new research or discoveries in this field, as the coal industry has a long history and tradition of fostering innovative work and technology development. Closing out his article with an unwarranted editorial comment like this only serves to detract from the promise of the research work being completed at Monash University.)

12. February 2013 by Jason Hayes
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