Scientists have announced a potential breakthrough in developing a new material that removes carbon dioxide from the air. CO2 scrubbing could be a useful tool against global warming.
Using cheap, readily available materials, a team of chemists has developed a new compound for drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
The compound holds the potential to drive down the cost of capturing carbon, although it's too early to say by how much, the scientists say.
The results "add to the list of possible materials that can absorb CO2 from the air, and it potentially could be quite a good one," says Klaus Lackner, who heads the department of earth and environmental engineering at Columbia University in New York and was not part of the team formulating the material.
Capturing carbon represents one approach to combating human-triggered global warming, which most climate scientists attribute in some degree to increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide from industrial activity as well as to carbon dioxide released through land-use changes.
Aside from the relatively low cost of the materials needed to make the new CO2 sponge, the compound can absorb significant amounts of CO2. It can endure several cycles of absorbing and releasing the gas for sequestration or recycling. And the energy needed to release the gas is low compared with many current materials.
"It has some nice qualities," Dr. Lackner says of the material, although he adds that it remains to be seen how practical the material could be.
But carbon capture is a controversial approach.
Critics argue that, at least with current technologies, carbon capture is too expensive, compared with approaches to prevent the CO2 emissions in the first place. They says its deployment could needlessly delay the process of weaning economies from fossil fuels – the dominant source of global CO2 emissions.
In addition, once the carbon dioxide is scrubbed – either at the smokestack or from the air itself – storing it for hundreds to thousands of years to keep it out of the atmosphere brings its own set of environmental concerns.
Still, advocates counter that some form of carbon capture and storage (or recycling) ultimately will be needed to counter global warming. Economies continue to pump CO2 into the atmosphere at a significant pace. Each fresh molecule of CO2 that isn't absorbed by the oceans or by terrestrial plants will remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, greasing the skids for additional warming.