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Earth Science

New Material Can Selectively Capture CO2 285

Socguy brings us a story from CBC News about a recently developed crystal that can soak up carbon dioxide gas "like a sponge." Chemists from UCLA believe that the crystals will become a cheap, stable method to absorb emissions at power plants. We discussed a prototype for another CO2 extraction device last year. Quoting: "'The technical challenge of selectively removing carbon dioxide has been overcome,' said UCLA chemistry professor Omar Yaghi in a statement. The porous structures can be heated to high temperatures without decomposing and can be boiled in water or solvents for a week and remain stable, making them suitable for use in hot, energy-producing environments like power plants. The highly porous crystals also had what the researchers called 'extraordinary capacity for storing CO2': one litre of the crystals could store about 83 litres of CO2."
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New Material Can Selectively Capture CO2

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  • Like corn cobs? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by F34nor ( 321515 ) * on Sunday February 17, 2008 @12:30PM (#22453798)
    I wonder if this is similar to the charcoal briquetting technique shown about a year ago with corn cobs and natural gas. []
    • Like Zeolite (Score:3, Insightful)

      by StCredZero ( 169093 )
      They are like Zeolites. For mobile applications, they're going to need a lot better than 83X. More like 1000X. This might be useful for stationary applications, however.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by F34nor ( 321515 ) *
        Sounds like a poor man's Aerogel! [] Not that many rich people are rich enough to buy this stuff. Unless they want scraps from United Nuclear. [] If you want green Aerogel and not stuff that is decribed as being more dangerous to make than TNT to make you can create some SEAgel [] buy freeze drying agar. []
      • At 83x absorption, how many billions of tons of this will we need per year and how much CO2 will production/transport of same produce?

        To me it doesn't sound like much of a solution to anything.

        Nuclear power plants, OTOH, there's a technology which could help.

        Same with wind power (where practical).


        • by steeviant ( 677315 ) on Monday February 18, 2008 @10:41AM (#22462820)
          Nuclear power plants, OTOH, there's a technology which could help."

          Yes, that's the mentally balanced answer!

          After all there's nothing more benign a powerplant that outputs high-level "spent" nuclear waste that we have nowhere in the world to store, and is going to remain "hot" for at least another hundred thousand years, not to mention the radioactive contamination left behind when they finally close down, that sees their former site uninhabitable for about the same time as the aforementioned waste.

          As for those trifling concerns about how such reactors safely contain and process the constant stream of radioactive steam and water created during their operation, all the aforementioned concerns rightly pale by comparison to the proven unquestionably armageddon-like catastrophic effects of carbon dioxide and smoke particles escaping into the environment.

          And if there's one thing we can be unquestionably certain of, it's that absolutely no carbon whatsoever is released into the environment during the extracting, (re)processing, transporting and safe-storage of all that radioactive material. I mean, imagine the dirty bomb they could create if Al Qaeda got their hands on some coal or oil.

          Oh please! Won't somebody think of the environment!

  • by bhodikhan ( 894485 ) * on Sunday February 17, 2008 @12:31PM (#22453814)
    I use another CO2 storage technology in my house already. It's called WOOD. Doesn't have any patents tied to it and the more we plant, cut up and build with, the more CO2 we will remove from the atmosphere. Sure there might be a more high tech solution with a higher yield but planting trees and using them also produces oxygen as well. Nice idea but it's been done before. Way before.
    • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @12:42PM (#22453894) Homepage Journal
      Didn't you listen to Reagan, "Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do"

      Not listening to Reagan? Friggin' pinkos....
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        So, you think the Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountains have all that haze from the massive car pollution there, vice the ozone-producing isoprene that plants, trees in particular, emit, with plant hydrocarbon emission being at a rate ten times that of all the world's cars?

        I suppose listening only to that great bastion of unbiased scientific study, the 4:1 liberal:conservative press, is one option...
        • the 4:1 liberal:conservative press

          Hah. Oh, that's funny. Or sad, depending on whether or not you actually believe it.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward
          The chemicals that the blue mountains emit may be "hydrocarbons", but that does not mean they are greenhouse gases. In fact, environmental scientists are studying these regions to protect and try to REPRODUCE the effect they have.

          Forgive me for being light on details about WHY these chemicals are good for the environment, but this is not my area. I simply recall this from a talk by Jose Fuentes at the University of Virginia, who is studying Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains, which are similar to Sydney's Bl
    • by itsdapead ( 734413 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @12:45PM (#22453918)

      I use another CO2 storage technology in my house already. It's called WOOD.

      Hopefully sourced from any trees which were cut down to make space for your house...?

      But seriously, the other neat trick is that even if you cut down the wood and burn it for power, you're only putting back the CO2 which the tree took out - not releasing carbon that has been safely out of the equation for millions of years.

      Sadly, though, it looks like the idea of biofuels is going to get discredited by the lamebrained alcohol-from-corn debacle.

    • the more we plant, cut up and build with, the more CO2 we will remove from the atmosphere

      Indeed. And using very old trees which don't fix carbon as fast as they did when they were younger & growing is even better. As long as new trees are planted to replace the old ones the plan is a winner.

      I've planted tens of thousands of trees in my life. Where do I go to get my carbon credit? :)

    • by mikael ( 484 )
      There was the idea of selectively breeding cytoplankton that could absorb larger amounts of CO2 than at present. When it died, it would just sink to the bottom of the oceans.
  • by esconsult1 ( 203878 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @12:32PM (#22453816) Homepage Journal
    So I can tell you that these guys with powerplants will take forever to modernize to use this technology. If you have a steady stream of income, and a reason to not go down, then you're gonna hate to do anything to cut into your profits and to also interrupt that stream of income for even a second. Inertia and income are the drivers for these plants to never, ever make any changes to benefit the environment.
    • by Gyga ( 873992 )
      The heads of companies will do anything to get eviromentalist off their backs.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      worth pointing out that a carbon tax would fix that problem.
      • This is a good example for the "Electric cars are bad" people...

        With a relatively few power plants to fix up, we can actually focus on how to do it, and we can pass taxes and legislation that aren't directly targeted at individual people... so fixing up power plants becomes a hell of a lot easier than trying to fix up all the cars on the road.

        Practical or easy right now? no
        But it's at least a tractable problem.
      • by Orne ( 144925 )
        Yeah, a carbon tax would do a good job of stopping power companies from ever building more power plants, limiting supply, thus since our demand is not increasing, the rates are going to go up, making all of our electricity more expensive.

        Good job
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cunamara ( 937584 )
      That and needing hundreds of liters of these crystals per hour to absorb the CO2 produced by a coal- or natural gas- fired powerplant. USG (United States Gypsum) was working on stuff like this to absorb acids out of smokestack emissions 20+ years ago and determined that, while it could be done, it just wasn't cost-reasonable.
    • Here's where your wrong, the vast majority of power stations are State regulated monopolies, and the state's Public Utilities Commissions typically allow rates to be set which limit the profit ratio, for example if the Utility is limited to 10% profit, the only way to increase their Gross Profits is to increase their expenses, for every dollars in extra expenses, they get an extra 10 cents in profits! This is just the opposite of most businesses, in fact power companies are the only industry where its a Gen
  • Gasp! (Score:5, Funny)

    by NetNinja ( 469346 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @12:32PM (#22453818)
    Another use for dilithium crystals!

    Great Scott!

  • by fictionpuss ( 1136565 ) * on Sunday February 17, 2008 @12:33PM (#22453820)
    Slurm Extreme.. now with 83 times as much fizz!
  • Some ecoterrorist will get ahold of these and soak up all the CO2 in the atmosphere killing us all!

    (Probably through a personal and major misunderstanding of biology, not through any actual malicious intent)
  • other uses (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Exile1 ( 746114 )
    wonder how this will advanced re-breathers, as you need to remove co2 from them.
    • Or commercial space and even air travel.

      It sounds interesting because there is a range of things that already depend on the removal of Co2. If this stuff is more effective in both costs and performance, it might have a significant impact in ways the normal person wouldn't think of.

      My SCUBA instructor was certified to use re-breathers and did so on numerous occasions. He claimed that besides looking cool, the lack of exhaust help him monitor his students better and he could react sooner if something went wro
  • by bigattichouse ( 527527 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @12:35PM (#22453836) Homepage
    So, you spill a few liters of the stuff - what does it do when it gets in contact with living creatures (like algae? birds? small children?) And how long does it take to break down and release all those gases? (That would be useful - like a CO2 tank for plants for long space voyages)... I think there are a lot of questions.
    • by Precipitous ( 586992 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @01:51PM (#22454516) Journal

      I doubt that long term studies have been completed. It doesn't seem like ZIFs are extremely new, this process for creating them and this particular variation are new. That said, several other sources provide better information than the CBC link and speak directly to your question. The CBC article states in first paragraph: "the crystals are non-toxic and would require little extra energy from a power plant." [] Suggests that this looks much cleaner than existing state of the art:

      Currently, the process of capturing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants involves the use of toxic materials and requires 20 to 30 percent of the plant's energy output, Yaghi said. By contrast, ZIFs can pluck carbon dioxide from other gases that are emitted and can store five times more carbon dioxide than the porous carbon materials that represent the current state-of-art.

      Yaghi's initial idea of what to do with the material afterwards appears to involve geologic storage.

      It's also always useful to hunt down the primary source. I think this PDF [] is it (I only skimmed).

  • full? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by theheadlessrabbit ( 1022587 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @12:36PM (#22453846) Homepage Journal
    and what happens when these crystals are full?
  • Question is, when's the IPO for a company mass producing this stuff?

  • Raises two questions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @12:43PM (#22453896)
    First, how much CO2 is produced in making those crystals and second, what shall we do with them once they're full? Dump them in some old salt min... no, wait, there's already that radioactive waste.
  • by victorvodka ( 597971 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @01:05PM (#22454062) Homepage
    I hate to be the grumpy old man throwing the wet blanket of thermodynamic skepticism on this fancy new idea, but since these are new crystals, I have to imagine they are not present in nature, and thus take lots of energy to make. Thus, to soak up a lot of CO2 takes a lot of energy - but using lots of energy is why we have CO2 to begin with. All the CO2 sequestration ideas I've read about so far don't make any sense from a macro-ecological perspective, since their use actually drives up energy usage, precisely the opposite of the response we should be making to the problem. "Oh, but we can make the crystals with clean nuclear power!" Really? If that's case, you can just not make the crystals and use that clean power instead! It doesn't take much of a puzzle for even smart people to fall for plans which, at their root, are just perpetual motion machines.
    • Unless those crystals are going at light speed or they are made from antimatter, we should not be confusing the energy creation cost with the crystals' chemical absorption ability. (It doesn't cost much water to make my sponge, but it sure as heck absorbs a lot of H2O!) Now if someone claims the full crystal could later be taken and converted into fuel that somehow released more energy than the cost of creating the crystal and the CO2 in the first place, then we would indeed be violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
      • I agree with you, but usually people stop adding up the energy costs of some new technology at some arbitrarily-premature place in the process. For example, once these crystals are soaked with CO2, where do you put them? How toxic are they? (CO2 is acidic and can be toxic when concentrated). How bulky are they? If I was Dictator, I would want to see the complete ledger of energy costs for this before I signed off on it. My guess is that conservation is cheaper, but conservation is always just TOO HARD b
        • by Protonk ( 599901 )
          Yeah, I mean the pragmatism is appreciated, but let's be fair. CO2 absorption is going to be a big business. Within the next 4 years you will either see a comprehensive greenhouse gas tax accessed on businesses based on tons of carbon equivalent emmitted or a means for businesses to trade permits to release tons of carbon equivalent. That means that corporations will NEED to abate and they will figure out the best way how. Turns out industry is really, really good at figuring out if something is efficie
        • by smaddox ( 928261 )
          The great thing about a free market approach to energy is that you don't have to analyze energy use. All you have to do is look at the price. It will take into account energy used.

          Of course, it doesn't necessarily account for environmental contaminants, which is basicaly how we got into this mess in the first place.
      • Now if someone claims the full crystal could later be taken and converted into fuel that somehow released more energy than the cost of creating the crystal and the CO2 in the first place, then we would indeed be violating the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

        No it won't, as the issue you mention here has absolutely nothing to do with the "Second Law of Thermodynamics" but with the "the law of conservation of energy", which is a difference

      • To "make your sponge", someone had to kill the sponge animal and remove all the water from it. The water it absorbs is less than there was in the animal in life. In the same way, if the manufacture of these crystals takes more than the equivalent of 84l of CO2 emissions, they are a total waste of time.
    • If these crystals take a lot of energy to produce then they will take a lot of money to produce. Suppose a coal plant spends M dollars to produce E amounts of energy and C amounts of carbon dioxide. If this crystal uses more than E energy to soak up C amount of carbon dioxide, then installing it in their coal plant will give them a net negative income (for the portion of carbon that is being soaked up). While you can play games with producing the crystals when/where energy is cheap, and then using them when
      • "as long as the government doesn't get too carried away with politically-motivated subsidies" Sure, if all costs (including those to future generations) were taken into account, pure economics could rule the day. But there are all sorts of distortions to this system, including subsidies, variable transmission costs, and the perpetual desire of a utility to grow into a monopoly or join a cartel. In this case, a regulation that required such crystals would throw a monkey wrench into the economics of the sys
        • The creation of the ethanol subsidies are understandable because they benefit the strong corn lobby, and offer no real threat to the established oil companies. But who is going to be lobbying to make these crystals mandatory? And how on earth are they going to convince a congress that is far more likely to listen to the energy companies, especially when the energy companies are right? The environmentalists don't have anywhere near that power, even with Democrats.
  • by giafly ( 926567 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @01:16PM (#22454168)
    • The average US household produces 7.5 tons [] of CO2 equivalents per year.
    • The density of C02 is 1.799 kg/m3 []
    • So the average US household produces about 7.5*1000/1.799 m3 of CO2 = 4,169 m3 = 4,169,000 litres
    • One litre of the crystals could store about 83 litres of CO2.
    • So per family requires 4,169,000/83 = 50,228 litres of crystals per year
    • I guestimate the average house (of say 10 rooms) has a floorspace of about 1500 ft2 = 150 m2, with each room being 10 ft or 3 m high,
    • So the average house is 450 m3 = 450,000 litres, split between 10 rooms.
    These crystals would about fill one room of every house every year, floor-to-ceiling.

    As about half the other commentators have already said, this does not allow for the financial and environmental costs of producing these crystals.
    They might even cost more CO2 to produce than they store.
  • "Increasing global warming requires a bigger and bigger piece of ice each time. Thus solving the problem once and for all."
  • What impact is this going to have on the carbon cycle []? There is a set amount of carbon and oxygen on the earth, if we take a bunch and store them in crystals, it would cause a deficit in our supply. While this solves a short term problem, the long term effects are going to come back and bite us in the ass a few generations down.
    • No. God no. Look up how many tons of carbon there are in the atmosphere, we're not gonna spend a fortune pointlessly and capture CO2 beyond what's necessary.
    • Well, the idea is presumably to reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere back down to pre-industrial levels, not to suck all of it out of the air.
  • From the original article at UCLA [] "synthesized 25 ZIF crystal structures and demonstrated that three of them have high selectivity for capturing carbon dioxide (ZIF-68, ZIF-69, ZIF-70)."

    Would someone please tell me how we extrapolate the CO2 capture from 3 crystal structures to an entire liter of crystals and can accurately predict an 83-to-1 capture ratio? The math is never that simple in real applications.

    • Sweeeeet. ZIFs are normally synthesized using 2-methyl imidazole, a known animal carcinogen. The solvent used is generally DMF, a known teratogen. So we are going to make tons and tons of this stuff to capture CO2, and then all die of cancer, and our babies are all going to have birth defects.

      This plan suxors.

  • by Gearoid_Murphy ( 976819 ) on Sunday February 17, 2008 @02:56PM (#22455010)
    according to the article, they discovered these crystals after processing thousands of compounds, somewhat like the way Edison figured out a stable element for light bulbs, pretty cool stuff, would be even cooler if they could process the captured co2 and seperate it into o2 and carbon.
  • Does anyone see the possibility that the used crystals could become the next NIMBY rallying cry? Nobody wants nuclear waste in their state, and nobody is going to want to have CO2 waste storage nearby either. What do they plan on doing with these crystals when they're saturated? Can the CO2 be extracted and put somewhere permanently, and the crystals reused? Do the crystals hold CO2 permanently? If so, what to do with it?

    The usual common-sense solutions like dropping it into a deep ocean subduction zon
  • You don't actually need a liter of these crystals per 83 liters of CO2 you want to capture.

    The point is that you can capture the CO2 and then perform some treatment on the crystals (perhaps heating or reducing the surrounding air pressure) to re-extract the CO2--much like soaking up water in a sponge then squeezing it to get the water back out. In that light, it becomes a bit more interesting since now you have the possibility of extracting carbon dioxide selectively and putting it somewhere else with a re
  • We are now trading CxH2x+2 + x/2O2 for x/2H2O + yCOm. IOW, we are slowly tying up the O2. I wonder what the long terms consequence of that is? Well, the good news is within another 10 years, I am guessing that we will be using about same amount of coal and oil power that we have today, or maybe even less. Of course, EU and America will be substantially less, but China and India will be a great deal more.

"No, no, I don't mind being called the smartest man in the world. I just wish it wasn't this one." -- Adrian Veidt/Ozymandias, WATCHMEN