CO2 can be converted into nanofibres worth £25,000 a tonne
Scientists have discovered a new process that could convert atmospheric CO2 into valuable carbon nanofibres.
Researchers from George Washington University claim their innovation could help tackle climate change while also producing a material which can be used to make strong carbon composites, such as those used to construct the body of the Boeing Dreamliner plane.
The innovative process works by adding atmospheric air to a high-temperature electrolytic ‘bath’ of molten carbonates at 750 degrees. The heat and chemical processes slowly split the CO2 in the air into oxygen and valuable carbon.
The resulting nanofibres are worth approximately $25,000 per tonne – about 25 times more than the costs of the process.
The experiment is powered by a solar thermal system which focuses the sun’s rays on a photovoltaic solar cell to generate electricity and on a second system to generate heat and thermal energy to warm the ‘bath’.
Since initial experiments, the researchers have already scaled up the process more than a hundredfold, making a 10 grams of nanofibre an hour.
“We believe that this process will substantially bring down the cost of nanofibres, driving up demand,” said lead researcher Dr Stuart Licht. “We think this gives us a large impetus to convert CO2 into nanofibres and provides a reasonable path to bring down the level of CO2 in the atmosphere….We have found a viable solution to mitigate climate change.”
Reversing climate change
Licht added that the process was very straightforward and could be relatively easy to scale up even further.
“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.
Licth’s technique provides a potential alternative to carbon capture and storage (CCS), which aims to simply sequester the carbon underground rather than turning it into anything useful.