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Scientific Breakthrough: MIT Solves Two Huge Energy Problems

Irina Slav

While methane has recently started to grab some attention for its contribution to climate change, carbon dioxide remains the main culprit that scientists point their finger at. Because of its bad-guy status, there have been understandably many attempts to capture and store, or even utilize this CO2. But so far, none of these attempts has demonstrated potential for large-scale adoption. That is, up until now.

Now, a new kind of battery just might fill this need.

Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have published a paper that details the mechanism of a battery device that can suck out the carbon dioxide from the air, store it, and then release it for sequestration or storage and subsequent sale: the oil and gas industry uses CO2 to improve well output.

The principle of the device is ingeniously simple: as the battery charges, it sucks in carbon dioxide. During discharge, the CO2 is released into the ground. The battery itself is made up of arrays of electrodes with gaps between the arrays so the gas can enter the device. Each electrode is coated with a carbon nanotube layer that enables an electrochemical reaction when carbon dioxide comes into contact with the surface of the electrodes. The guarantee for this contact is the fact the electrodes have a natural affinity for CO2, which means they attract the gas molecules when they enter the device.

“The greatest advantage of this technology over most other carbon capture or carbon absorbing technologies is the binary nature of the adsorbent’s affinity to carbon dioxide,” explains one of the authors, Sahag Voskian, as quoted by New Atlas. “This binary affinity allows capture of carbon dioxide from any concentration, including 400 parts per million (the levels in the atmosphere), and allows its release into any carrier stream, including 100 percent CO2.”

The process is called electro-swing adsorption and, according to the authors of the paper, the device utilizing it could be economically feasible at a cost of between $50 and $100 per ton of carbon dioxide. What’s more, Sahag Voskian and T. Alan Hatton say, the device is very easy to use thanks to its simple design and minimal additional equipment, which is limited to a power source for the charging and a destination for the electricity, a so-called sink.

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If the electro-swing device lives up to the promise it would save the biggest problem of carbon capture and storage: the prohibitively high costs. The costliest part of the process is the capture. The Carbon Capture and Storage Association estimates the cost of capturing carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning at about US$70-102 per ton.

The same association predicts these could fall to around US$40-57 over the next few years, with hopes that carbon capture technology will follow the cost-falling path of lithium ion batteries. While it is far from certain it will work out that way, inventions such as the carbon-swing device are offering solutions.

For now, based on CCSA’s cost projections for carbon capture, the creators of the electro-swing battery will need to lower the upper limit of their cost range. But with its simple design and plug-and-play nature, the device could have a bright future in carbon capture.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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