Thursday, April 12, 2012

New Technology May Make It Possible To Capture Carbon Right Out Of The Air

Photo Credit: freefotouk
The idea's still in the lab -- and it won't solve everything -- but theoretically, it should be possible to extract carbon straight out of the air.
March 21, 2012

What if, in addition to curbing greenhouse gas emissions, we could capture them from the air? That’s the question that prompted Marc Gunther, an author and contributing editor at Fortune magazine, to write the e-book Suck It Up, a Kindle Single. Below is an excerpt from the book on the history of the start-up Kilimanjaro Energy, a private company that is seeking to solve the carbon extraction equation.

Working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory during the 1990s, Klaus Lackner had numerous interests: the behavior of high explosives, nuclear fusion, and self-replicating machine systems. At some point, he turned his attention to the technology used to capture CO2 from the smokestacks of coal plants — technology in which the U.S. government has invested billions of dollars, with little to show for it. He began to wonder whether it might make more sense to scrub CO2 from the atmosphere. So when his daughter Claire asked for help with a science project, he asked her: “Why don’t you pull CO2 out of the air?”
Chemical engineers have known for decades that sodium hydroxide, a caustic base also known as lye, will bind with CO2, an acid, to make carbonates. That’s basically how CO2 is removed from the air so people can continue to breathe on submarines or in spaceships. Claire accomplished the feat by filling a test tube with a solution of sodium hydroxide, buying a fish-tank pump from a pet store, and running air through the test tube all night. By the next day, some of the sodium hydroxide had absorbed CO2, creating a solution of sodium carbonate.
“I was surprised that she pulled this off as well as she did,” Lackner recalls, “which made me feel that it could be easier than I thought.”  READ MORE

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