Carbon dioxide ‘sponge’ could ease transition to cleaner energy


Aug 11, 2014

By Science Daily

A sponge-like plastic that sops up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) might ease our transition away from polluting fossil fuels and toward new energy sources, such as hydrogen. The material — a relative of the plastics used in food containers — could play a role in President Obama’s plan to cut CO2 emissions 30 percent by 2030, and could also be integrated into power plant smokestacks in the future.

The report on the material is one of nearly 12,000 presentations at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world’s largest scientific society, taking place here through Thursday.

“The key point is that this polymer is stable, it’s cheap, and it adsorbs CO2 extremely well. It’s geared toward function in a real-world environment,” says Andrew Cooper, Ph.D. “In a future landscape where fuel-cell technology is used, this adsorbent could work toward zero-emission technology.”

CO2 adsorbents are most commonly used to remove the greenhouse gas pollutant from smokestacks at power plants where fossil fuels like coal or gas are burned. However, Cooper and his team intend the adsorbent, a microporous organic polymer, for a different application — one that could lead to reduced pollution.

The new material would be a part of an emerging technology called an integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC), which can convert fossil fuels into hydrogen gas. Hydrogen holds great promise for use in fuel-cell cars and electricity generation because it produces almost no pollution. IGCC is a bridging technology that is intended to jump-start the hydrogen economy, or the transition to hydrogen fuel, while still using the existing fossil-fuel infrastructure. But the IGCC process yields a mixture of hydrogen and CO2 gas, which must be separated.

17 comments on “Carbon dioxide ‘sponge’ could ease transition to cleaner energy


  • I was able to track down the study’s abstract, which I used to look for the study online, but I discovered nothing beyond the abstract is visible without an appropriate journal subscription. This is a shame, because I was hoping to calculate the cost of enough of this polymer to capture 30 gigatonnes of CO2, which is our annual production of it. If anyone can get the data, it’d be nice to see what percentage such a cost is of the planet’s annual energy budget.



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  • Whether or not that was intended as a joke, it’s worth discussing why, contra some deniers of the importance of action, CO2 isn’t good news for plant growth. Photosynthesis has other limiting factors, such as light intensity. (Human air pollution has slightly reduced sunlight to Earth’s surface, a phenomenon called global dimming.) Relying on chemical conversion of CO2 to address our emissions problem is different form – indeed, less viable than – what this polymer actually does, which is to trap the CO2 without actually converting it.



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  • CO2 isn’t good news for plant growth.

    This is very true. Research in Australia has shown that a higher C02 atmosphere reduces the protein content of Wheat, Rice and Barley. This is an extract from an interview with the chief scientist, Ros Gleadow.

    **Dr Ros Gleadow
    Leaves of plants grown at elevated carbon dioxide have a lot less protein wheat, barley, rice, all of those in probably only 50 to 60 years time will have 15 to 20% less protein in them than they do now.*

    *NARRATION
    So why would a plant have less protein in a raised carbon dioxide environment? In the process of photosynthesis plants convert carbon dioxide into sugars using a protein called RuBisCO to capture the CO2 from the atmosphere. If carbon dioxide levels increase plants will need to produce less RuBisCO to capture the same amount of carbon dioxide. Less of this protein means a less nutritious meal. And the plant’s extra resources can then be diverted in to protecting the plant. Plants protect themselves using spines and thorns or make themselves less appetising by producing toxic chemicals. Eucalypts produce phenols.**

    What happens to Cassava, a plant that feeds a large part of the third world, in a raised CO2 atmosphere is terrifying. With the extra C02, it doesn’t produce bigger more nutritious tubers, it ups it’s cyanide production, making the planet inedible.

    The full report can be seen here.

    http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/2891924.htm

    Use this the next time some irrational denier says C02 will increase food production.



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  • This thinking reflects a line of research that is not helpful. Billions of dollars are being spent trying to invent systems that will allow fossil fuels to continue to be burnt. Burying carbon in the ground. Converting it to rock. Getting the oceans plankton to eat more carbon. They all have one underlying fallacy. They assume that continuing to burn carbon will be the norm into the future. They are in love with carbon. They can’t think outside of the carbon bond.

    I would argue that there needs to be a transition while the earth weens itself off fossil fuels, but the real investment winners will be the energy production from renewable non carbon sources.



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  • David R Allen

    . STORY ARCHIVE

    As carbon dioxide levels increase in the atmosphere some of our food crops will respond by becoming less nutritious and produce more toxins.

    Great ten minute clip. You did well to find it as it dates back to 2010. More meaningful today, than 4 yrs ago.



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  • I thought the same thing. I hope someone publishes a study that calculates the cost of soaking up 30 gigatons of CO2 (yikes!) and expresses that figure as a % of global energy expenditures. That would be useful information to have.



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  • Skepticism is a good thing, and your’s is a valid question. Just bear in mind that sometimes skepticism can be used as bulwark against progress, particularly when those whom have a lot to lose at the hands of progress have such tremendous influence over public opinion. Talking heads in the media have suggested fossil fuel burning power plants will mean electric cars will actually create more CO2 emissions than ICEs. This is not true at all. 55% of US power plants burn coal, 9% natural gas, 4% oil and 32% from nuclear and other renewables. So, nearly one-third of all power generation comes from sources that create little to no carbon emissions. And even if every electric car was recharged by a coal fired plant, carbon emissions would be around 20% less than the emissions from an equal amount of ICE powered vehicles.



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  • I’m not obtuse to your point, but I don’t see those things as mutually exclusive. Combatting climate change is a battle to be fought on multiple fronts. We need long-term investment in renewables and solutions that can limit carbon emissions in a more immediate time frame.



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  • opeongo66 Aug 13, 2014 at 11:43 am

    Why is CO2 used in greenhouses? Just asking.

    In crops like tomatoes which are sold by weight, it increases the weight (but not necessarily the nutrition) of the crop.
    Commercial strains like “Moneymaker” do the same, “bulking up”, by increasing the water content of the fruit!

    Let the buyer beware!!



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  • @OP – A sponge-like plastic that sops up the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) might ease our transition away from polluting fossil fuels and toward new energy sources, such as hydrogen.

    These people clearly have no concept of planetary scales – or the volumes of this stuff that would be required – or the carbon foot-print of producing it!!

    If we want hydrogen for fuel cells, . . . … .

    https://www.richarddawkins.net/2014/06/japan-plans-ample-support-for-fuel-cell-car-technology/

    . . . . . there are oceans of WATER full of it! – And low-carbon electricity to extract it!



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  • I haven’t seen any reference to the “volumes of this stuff” until your post (kudos!). How and where would this stuff be disposed of, and what would be the footprint of this process?

    Steve



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  • Agrajag Aug 17, 2014 at 11:36 am

    I haven’t seen any reference to the “volumes of this stuff” until your post (kudos!). How and where would this stuff be disposed of,

    To continue burning gigatons of carbon, this would either have to be buried, or the CO2 extracted and sequester somewhere. To my way of thinking, this is just another daft attempt at engineering a sop to justify continued carbon combustion. If adopted its most likely effect, is to divert investment money away from more effective long term sustainable energy solutions.

    and what would be the footprint of this process?

    Plastics are manufactured from coal or oil, so the footprint would depend on the extraction and manufacturing process.

    IMO we don’t need “ease our transition away from polluting fossil fuels and toward new energy sources, such as hydrogen”, slowly – in little steps, while continuing to burn carbon.
    We need to get the hydrogen technology based on green generation, in place quickly – without pandering to the carbon industries which have done all they can to side-track and delay changes to low carbon systems.



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  • David R Allen Aug 12, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    This thinking reflects a line of research that is not helpful. Billions of dollars are being spent trying to invent systems that will allow fossil fuels to continue to be burnt. Burying carbon in the ground. Converting it to rock.

    This illustrates the stupidity of carbonaceous Luddite thinking!

    Coal is already rock buried in the ground, and is one of the safest ways of storing carbon out of harm’s way!
    It requires no expenditure or machinery to leave it there!



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