Researchers at the University of Washington have been working for several years now on a chemical process to trap greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. According to them, by installing their trap over an area equivalent to 10 % of the Sahara, in just 10 years, we could return to pre-industrial CO2 emission rates.
Sf this invention proves to fulfil its promises, it should undoubtedly revolutionize the fight against global warming and figure prominently in the solutions to be proposed at the next COP21 in Paris.
What exactly is the situation?
The team of researchers led by Professor Stuart Licht presented its method a few days ago at 250e National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). The device is based on a new solar process, the STEP (Solar Thermal Electrochemical Photo (STEP) Carbon Capture Process), which from atmospheric CO2 produces carbon nano-fibres, various materials and various fuels. The method also makes it possible to extract iron from iron ore, all without producing CO2. Researchers promise that solar energy will be used with an efficiency of 50%, which is higher than other techniques based on the use of solar energy.
Researchers describe the recipe of their magic drum, indicating that they use a solar furnace that concentrates the sun's rays in a crucible. There they melt lithium carbonate and add a little zinc to start the process. By liquefying it at a temperature of 723°C, the lithium becomes a veritable carbon dioxide sponge. If two electrodes are immersed in this fluid and subjected to a potential difference, powered electrically by solar energy, the carbon molecules are broken up and carbon nanofibres are obtained. This material is particularly popular in various industrial sectors, from aeronautics and nanotechnology to information technology, as it is extremely resistant. The method used by researchers at the University of Washington could reduce the cost of producing this valuable material by a factor of almost 1,000.
Scientists believe that the CO2 trapping qualities of this discovery suggest that if enough lithium crucibles were assembled over a large area, the CO2 level in the atmosphere could be significantly reduced.
This process is still in an experimental phase and produces only 10g of carbon nanofibres in one hour. One tonne of nanofibres would have to be produced to capture 4 tonnes of CO2 in the atmosphere. We are still a long way off, but this avenue of research seems singularly promising. While waiting to save the planet, the method has definite economic virtues by already reducing the cost of manufacturing materials as important to industry as carbon fibres.