Chemical Looping Could Burn Fossil Fuels With Almost Zero Carbon Dioxide Emissions

Ohio State University/YouTube

Engineers say they’ve found a way to prevent carbon dioxide pollution when burning fossil fuels, a possible stop-gap solution as we move to a renewable energy future.

Research by The Ohio State University has been published in two papers in the journal Energy & Environmental Science describing the findings.

“Renewables are the future,” said professor Liang-Shih Fan, who led the research, in a statement. “We need a bridge that allows us to create clean energy until we get there – something affordable we can use for the next 30 years or more, while wind and solar power become the prevailing technologies.”

The idea is built around something called chemical looping. It involves using metal oxide “particles” – although in reality, they’re vessel-like pellets – in high-pressure reactors to burn fossil fuels without the need for oxygen in the air. This reduces the amount of carbon dioxide released by 99 percent.

The particles used are iron oxide particles, which supply the oxygen for chemical combustion. This is known as coal-direct chemical looping (CDCL) combustion. The particles take back the oxygen from the air after the combustion has taken place, and the cycle repeats.

In this research, it was demonstrated that the particles could survive more than 3,000 cycles, which amounts to more than eight months of use. This is the longest lifetime ever reported for an oxygen-carrying particle like this.


"If fossil fuels are to be used, this technology as compared to existing technologies is superior," Fan told IFLScience. "Scale-up is a pending issue to be demonstrated, and there are always risks involved but that is inherent to all new technologies and is not considered as a drawback in this technology development."

The findings promise a “cleaner” way to burn fossil fuels, although there are of course some caveats. Fan told IFLScience that scaling-up the technology was still a pending issue but, if fossil fuels were to continue to be used, then this method was superior to other existing technologies.

"Chemical looping can be implemented as either a retrofit or as a new plant," he said. "The choice would be dependent upon various factors that include site location, specific operating scheme, and desired product."

The team also said that any carbon dioxide that was produced could have some uses. Chemical looping allows for the production of “syngas”, which can be used to make plastics and carbon fibers.

"The CDCL process is the most advanced and cost-effective approach to carbon capture we have reviewed to date,” David Kraft from Babcock & Wilcox (B&W), who collaborated with Ohio State on this technology, said in the statement.

“B&W believes CDCL has potential to transform the power and petrochemical industries."


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