A BREAKTHROUGH discovery that “turns carbon dioxide back into coal” at room temperature offers hope for a “climate rewind”.
Scientists have found a way to use liquid metals to turn the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere from a gas into solid carbon particles.
Current tech for capturing and storing carbon involves compressing CO2 into a liquid, before transporting it and inject it underground.
However, it’s an expensive process, and has also sparked environmental backlash over the risk of possible leaks.
Now experts at Australia’s RMIT University say their method “an alternative pathway for safely and permanently removing the greenhouse gas from our atmosphere”, in a new study published in Nature Communications.
Chemistry boff Dr Torben Daeneke said converting CO2 into a solid could be much more sustainable.
“While we can’t literally turn back time, turning carbon dioxide back into coal and burying it back in the ground is a bit like rewinding the emissions clock,” said Daeneke, of RMIT.
“To date, CO2 has only been converted into a solid at extremely high temperatures, making it industrially unviable.
“By using liquid metals as a catalyst, we’ve shown it’s possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that’s efficient and scalable.
“While more research needs to be done, it’s a crucial first step to delivering solid storage of carbon.”
So how does it work?
Researchers designed a liquid metal catalyst that is “extremely efficient” at conducting electricity.
Carbon dioxide is dissolved in a beaker filled with electrolyte liquid, as well as a small amount of liquid metal, which is then charged with an electrical current.
Over time, the CO2 slowly converts into “solid flakes of carbon”, which are naturally detached from the liquid metal surface – allowing the carbon to be continually produced.
And the carbon isn’t useless either – it can be repurposed into an electrode.
“A side benefit of the process is that the carbon can hold electrical charge, becoming a super capacitor, so it could potentially be used as a component in future vehicles,” said Dr Dorna Esrafilzadeh, a lead author on the study from RMIT.
“The process also produces synthetic fuel as a by-product, which could also have industrial applications.”
Sadly, it remains to be seen whether scientists can scale up this process to the point where significant amounts of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere can be removed and turned back into carbon.
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