This Incredible Powder Could Help Cut CO2 Emissions

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With the clock ticking to avoid climate catastrophe, every action is important to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that we release into the atmosphere. Now, researchers at the University of Waterloo might have found a way to capture a lot more of the emissions produced by factories and power plants.

The scientists developed an extremely porous carbon powder that can capture a large amount of the greenhouse gas. The powder is made of carbon nanospheres and the researchers can control the ratio and size of the pores on its surface, with many of them being less than one-millionth of a meter wide. The team was able to establish an incredibly efficient design. Their study is published in the journal Carbon.

"The porosity of this material is extremely high," senior author Professor Zhongwei Chen, who holds a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in advanced materials for clean energy, said in a statement. "And because of their size, these pores can capture CO2 very efficiently. The performance is almost doubled. This will be more and more important in the future. We have to find ways to deal with all the CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels."

The carbon powder works thanks to a process called adsorption. Carbon dioxide molecules adhere to the surface of the nanospheres, which is greatly extended by the creation of many pores. By using it in filters in power plants and factories, we can stop carbon dioxide getting into the atmosphere.

Once filled with carbon dioxide, the powder would be taken to storage sites and buried, which would have no adverse consequences. Carbon is both abundant and environmentally friendly so this is a great strategic material to use in greenhouse-gas-capturing initiatives.

The nanospheres also have applications beyond trapping CO2. They can be used for energy storage as well as water filtration. Both options are currently being investigated in detail by Chen’s team.

It is estimated that 37 billion tonnes (40 billion tons) of carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere every year, but to avoid the most disastrous effects of global warming we should be releasing zero. The responsibility to make changes lies with politicians and heads of industry, but everyone can use their vote and money to push for better policies and actions. Every act – no matter how small – helps.

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