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Carbon-Trapping 'Sponges' May Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Dec 17, 2014 11:22 AM EST

In the fight against climate change and an increasingly warming world, scientists may have just got a helping hand. A new material that acts as a carbon-trapping "sponge" may cut the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and solve our ongoing emissions problem, recent research says.

Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) produced from human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels for energy and transportation, are particularly blamed for man-made climate change. Carbon capture, which involves trapping CO2 before it's released into the atmosphere, may curb the amount of the heat-trapping gas that goes into the atmosphere and warms our planet.

Standard methods of trying to capture carbon boast problems like toxicity, corrosiveness and inefficiency, but the new design by researchers at Cornell University gets around these issues.

The team, led by Professor Emmanuel Giannelis, developed a powder that performs better, and is safer than amine scrubbing, the most common carbon capture method used in natural gas and coal-burning plants. This conventional approach involves passing the post combustion flue gas through liquid vats of amino compounds (amines) where the carbon dioxide is absorbed. However, this amine solution is corrosive and expensive to contain.

But since 2008, after several trials, Cornell researchers have honed their novel technique.

"We have made great strides in sustainability, particularly in the energy supply areas of alternative energy sources, and the demand side areas of energy conservation and building design standards. If we are truly to achieve neutrality, though, we also have to consider capturing and offsetting carbon," KyuJung Whang, Cornell's vice president for facilities services, who was not involved in the study, said in a statement.

Cornell's team hopes to do this with their low-toxicity, but highly effective "sponges." The researchers created a dry white powder that can capture heat-trapping CO2 regardless of the presence of moisture by dipping a silica scaffold, the sorbent support, into liquid amine that soaks into the support like a sponge and then partially hardens.

Giannelis notes that carbon capture usually uses solid amine sorbents, but the supports are usually only physically infused with the amines. This means over time some of the amine is lost, decreasing effectiveness and increasing cost. The researchers instead grew the amine into the surface of the sorbent, causing the anime to chemically bond to the sorbent so only a little amine being is lost.

Giannelis and his colleagues believe that their more efficient method could lead to the development of improved carbon capture technologies.

Their findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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