News / Science & Technology

New Discovery Promises Efficient Way to Recycle Carbon Dioxide Pollution

This sugar factory is shown at dawn, in Clewiston, Florida, November 1997. (file photo)
This sugar factory is shown at dawn, in Clewiston, Florida, November 1997. (file photo)

Scientists in the United States say they have discovered a new, inexpensive way to remove excess carbon dioxide, or CO2, from the atmosphere, as well as from large industrial exhaust sources, such as factory smokestacks.

Researchers at the University of Southern California's Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute say their new CO2 extraction method achieved some of the highest rates ever reported for removing the potentially climate-changing greenhouse gas from the air under humid conditions.  

Most scientists believe that industrial carbon dioxide emissions are major contributors to global warming. The accelerating increase in the Earth’s average surface temperatures also is believed to be triggering significant changes in climate, including more intense storms, more severe floods and droughts, and major shifts in rainfall patterns.

Study co-author and Loker Institute director Professor Surya Prakash said the CO2 extraction technique involves a plastic-like substance dispersed in a sandy material called fumed silica.  

Prakash says the goal of the research was to create an efficient way to capture excess CO2 from the air and recycle it for use in the production of all the fuels and carbon-based products now made from refined petroleum. He adds that the extracted carbon dioxide also can be permanently isolated from the environment.

Prakash says he expects to see his team’s CO2 recycling technology in commercial use within three to five years.

The USC researchers say the fumed silica materials they developed for the CO2 extractor are much cheaper, more energy efficient and more chemically stable than existing extraction devices.  They also report that the new materials can be used multiple times without losing their efficiency.

Prakash said he and his colleagues tested the new materials in humid air because capturing CO2 in humid conditions is especially difficult, and provided realistic conditions for the experiment since most air contains moisture.  

A report on the new USC study is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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