Climate change: a promising new concept for sucking CO2 out of the air

Scientists have outlined a new method for sucking carbon dioxide from the air and storing it in the ocean. According to the authors, this novel method captures CO2 from the atmosphere up to three times more efficiently than existing techniques.

The warming gas can be converted to bicarbonate of soda and safely and inexpensively stored in seawater. The new method could expedite the deployment of carbon removal technology.

In recent decades, while the world has struggled to limit and reduce carbon dioxide emissions, a number of companies have focused on developing technology to remove CO2 from the atmosphere.

Climeworks in Switzerland may be the most well-known. Over the past ten years, it has developed machines that filter and capture carbon dioxide molecules from atmospheric air.

At an Icelandic plant, the captured CO2 is injected deep underground and permanently transformed into stone. Recently, the company began offering a certified carbon removal service to large corporations, including Microsoft, Spotify, and Stripe. 

Cost is a significant obstacle for the majority of current direct air capture methods. Although CO2 is a potent greenhouse gas, its concentration in the atmosphere is only about 400 parts per million (ppm). Therefore, large machines requiring substantial amounts of energy are required for both CO2 absorption and emission.

According to the scientists involved, this new method, which utilises commercially available resins and other chemicals, promises far greater efficiency and lower costs. The research team "tweaked" existing materials to remove CO2 from the air by adapting a technique used for water-based applications. In laboratory tests, the new hybrid material absorbed three times as much CO2 as existing substances.

Prof. Arup SenGupta of Lehigh University in the United States stated, "To the best of my knowledge, there is no absorbing material capable of capturing 400 ppm of CO2 in direct air capture at 100,000 ppm."

Even though the development is in its infancy, it has been welcomed by others in the field.

Prof. Catherine Peters from Princeton University, an expert in geological engineering who was not involved in the study, said, "I am delighted to see this paper in the published literature; it is very exciting and has the potential to revolutionise CO2 capture efforts." The performance demonstrated for CO2 capture is encouraging. 

It is a common practice to store waste underground or at sea in abandoned oil wells. With the addition of a few chemicals, the captured CO2 can be converted into bicarbonate of soda and safely stored in sea water, according to the new paper.

He believes that removing CO2 in this manner will not only be essential for preventing a rise in global temperatures, but could also directly empower developing nations. "We must involve countries such as Bangladesh, Barbados, and the Maldives; they have a role to play and cannot continue to be helpless bystanders." 

With the temperature thresholds of the Paris climate agreement threatened by rising emissions, however, many others believe that rapid deployment of direct air capture in addition to massive carbon reductions is the  best chance for preventing global warming. This optimism is shared by Professor SenGupta, who believes that this new method can remove CO2 for less than $100 per tonne. 

The findings have been published in Science Advances.