Engineers develop a new way to remove carbon dioxide from air

The process could work on the gas at any concentrations, from power plant emissions to open air. A new way of removing carbon dioxide from a stream of air could provide a significant tool in the battle against climate change. The new system can work on the gas at virtually any concentration level, even down to the roughly 400 parts per million currently found in the atmosphere.

Most methods of removing carbon dioxide from a stream of gas require higher concentrations, such as those found in the flue emissions from fossil fuel-based power plants

A few variations have been developed that can work with the low concentrations found in air, but the new method is significantly less energy-intensive and expensive, the researchers say.

The technique, based on passing air through a stack of charged electrochemical plates, is described in a new paper in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, by MIT postdoc Sahag Voskian, who developed the work during his PhD, and T. Alan Hatton, the Ralph Landau Professor of Chemical Engineering.

The device is essentially a large, specialized battery that absorbs carbon dioxide from the air (or other gas stream) passing over its electrodes as it is being charged up, and then releases the gas as it is being discharged. In operation, the device would simply alternate between charging and discharging, with fresh air or feed gas being blown through the system during the charging cycle, and then the pure, concentrated carbon dioxide being blown out during the discharging.

As the battery charges, an electrochemical reaction takes place at the surface of each of a stack of electrodes. These are coated with a compound called polyanthraquinone, which is composited with carbon nanotubes. The electrodes have a natural affinity for carbon dioxide and readily react with its molecules in the airstream or feed gas, even when it is present at very low concentrations. The reverse reaction takes place when the battery is discharged -- during which the device can provide part of the power needed for the whole system -- and in the process ejects a stream of pure carbon dioxide. The whole system operates at room temperature and normal air pressure.

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