‘Diamonds fromsky’ approach turns CO2 into valuable products

‘Diamonds from the sky’ approach turns CO2 into valuable products

11:38 AM, 18th September 2015
‘Diamonds from the sky’ approach turns CO2 into valuable products
Carbon nanofibers are stronger than steel but skinnier than a human hair.

BOSTON, US: Finding a technology to shift carbon dioxide (CO2), the most abundant anthropogenic greenhouse gas, from a climate change problem to a valuable commodity has long been a dream of many scientists and government officials. Now, a team of chemists says they have developed a technology to economically convert atmospheric CO2 directly into highly valued carbon nanofibre for industrial and consumer products.

The team will presented the brand-new research on this new CO2 capture and utilization technology at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

“We have found a way to use atmospheric CO2 to produce high-yield carbon nanofibre. Such nanofibre 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,” said Stuart Licht, PhD, who leads a research team at George Washington University. 

Previously, the researchers had made fertilizer and cement without emitting CO2, which they reported. Now, the team, which includes postdoctoral fellow Jiawen Ren, PhD and graduate student Jessica Stuart, said their research could shift CO2 from a global-warming problem to a feed stock for the manufacture of in-demand carbon nanofibre.

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 nanofibre that can be made from atmospheric carbon and oxygen.

Because of its efficiency, 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 nanofibre. To power the syntheses, heat and electricity are produced through a hybrid and extremely efficient concentrating solar-energy system.

Licht estimates electrical energy costs of this “solar thermal electrochemical process” to be around $1,000 per tonne of carbon nanofibre 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 said.

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

Licht said that one advance the group has recently achieved is the ability to synthesize carbon fibre using even less energy than when the process was initially developed.

© American Chemical Society News

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