Over the last century mankind has impetuously emitted CO2 into the air, largely ignorant of its ill effects.
Now, with the advent of a climate catastrophe, scientists are scrambling to take that carbon back and put it virtually anywhere else. Researchers at Japan’s Kyoto University, along with colleagues at the University of Tokyo and China’s Jiangsu Normal University, might have found a solution. Together they have developed a material that captures carbon and fixates it into useful organic compounds, which could be a game-changer in tackling carbon emissions.
Of course, there are several methods already available to sequester carbon, including the natural processes used by trees and algae. However natural sequestration is often slow, and artificial sequestering can be energy and cost intensive. Kyoto University scientists hope to address this shortcoming with the debut of their newly published polymer research. Here’s what you need to know.
How the technology tackles carbon emissions
In layman’s terms, the material uses a distinct molecular shape to selectively filter carbon dioxide out of the air. In distinctly not layman’s terms, the material is a porous coordination polymer, or PCP, made of zinc ions. It features a propeller-like molecular structure that causes CO2 molecules to rotate and become entrapped within the compound. You can pick whichever explanation you prefer; the end result is that the material uses no energy to filter carbon from air.
The material is extremely effective; it is approximately 10 times as efficient as similar polymers and can be reused indefinitely. During tests, it was found to maintain its initial carbon sequestration rate even after 10 cycles. The captured carbon molecules can then be converted into polyurethane which is used to make products ranging from clothing to cars.
Why it matters
Polymer fixation offers an energy efficient and cost effective method to filtering carbon dioxide from air. Large scale implementation of polymer sequestering would counteract carbon emissions without the extensive infrastructure that other methods necessitate.
Additionally, carbon’s potential to converted to useful chemicals makes PCP implementation economically appealing. Susumu Kitagawa, a material chemist from the Kyoto University group maintains that “one of the greenest approaches to carbon capture is to recycle the carbon dioxide into high-value chemicals.” This is important, as without a financial incentive it is hard for sustainable measures to make an immediate impact. Luckily PCP will be a technology that both environmentalists and economists can get behind.
Polymer sequestration technology truly has the capability to change how we approach carbon emission reduction, but it’s still one that needs to be followed and checked.
Brian is a writer at The Rising and a student in the pre-engineering program at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
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