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Baking Soda That Can Capture Carbon?

Feb 07, 2015 01:15 PM EST

It's possible the solution to our world's buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has been sitting on our grocery shelves all along. Baking soda of all things may help to capture carbon dioxide, according to a new breakthrough study.

Scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), in collaboration with researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Harvard University, have developed a new type of carbon capture medium made up of core-shell microcapsules, consisting of a polymer shell that is highly permeable. The shell contains a solution of sodium carbonate, which is the main ingredient of baking soda, and it can absorb carbon dioxide (CO2).

The capsules are able to keep the solution within the core, and allow CO2 to pass through the shell.

Microcapsules have been used in the past for the controlled delivery and release of various substances, including pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and food flavoring, but this is the first time it has been applied to carbon capture.

Current methods for carbon capture, while successful, could have negative effects on the environment due to the usage of caustic fluids such as monoethanolamine. This new approach could solve that problem and simultaneously reduce CO2 in the planet's atmosphere.

"Our method is a huge improvement in terms of environmental impacts because we are able to use simple baking soda - present in every kitchen - as the active chemical," Roger Aines, one of the LLNL team members, said in a statement. "Corrosiveness also is improved because the chemical is more benign and always is encapsulated."

Unlike the caustic fluids used in capturing carbon, the new method also only reacts with the target gas.

"Encapsulation allows you to combine the advantages of solid capture media and liquid capture media in the same platform," said study co-author Jennifer Lewis, from the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Compared to traditional methods, encapsulation also highly increases the absorption due to higher surface area. The capsules force the baking soda to remain in the form of tiny drops, which are able to react faster with the CO2 as they contact more of the greenhouse gas.

Researchers hope that this breakthrough technique can be designed to work with power plants run by natural gas or coal, or with industrial processes such as the production of cement and steel. And considering that sodium carbonate is easily accessible compared to the previously used substances, it looks like researchers may have found an answer to the carbon emission problem.

The results 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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