By Jonathan Webb
Scientists in the US have found a way to take carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and make carbon nanofibres, a valuable manufacturing material.
Their solar-powered system runs a small current through a tank filled with a hot, molten salt; the fluid absorbs atmospheric CO2 and tiny carbon fibres slowly form at one of the electrodes.
It currently produces 10g per hour.
The team says it can be “scaled up” and could have an impact on CO2 emissions, but other researchers are unsure.
Nonetheless, the approach offers a much cheaper way of making carbon nanofibres than existing methods, according to Prof Stuart Licht of George Washington University.
“Until now, carbon nanofibres have been too expensive for many applications,” he told journalists at the autumn meeting of the American Chemical Society in Boston.
Carbon nanofibres are already used in high-end applications such as electronic components and batteries, and if costs came down they could be used more extensively – improving the strong, lightweight carbon composites used in aircraft and car components, for example.
The question is whether the “one-pot” reaction demonstrated by Prof Licht and his team could help to drop that cost.
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