Air Scrubber Invented - US Scientist Claims It Can Remove CO2 from the Atmosphere

27 June 2008

Illustration: Guardian

A Columbia University physicist, Klaus Lackner, claims to have invented a device which will remove CO2 from the air, so that it can be stored – sequestered – away, helping to reduce the likelihood of devastating climate change. In a further development some people have suggested that the CO2 thus removed should be used to make biofuels from algae, which need CO2 to procreate.

The device is planned to capture one tonne of CO2 per year, or about one tenth of a UK citizen's emissions. The prototype will costs £100,000 to build, and be able to fit into a shipping container. Undoubtedly if it is successful costs, and size, will come down.

Millions of the devices would be needed to remove significant amounts of CO2, but this is “small potatoes” according to Lackner, compared to the problems of increasing climate change. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was recently revealed at 387 parts per million (see last month's Carbon News) and the rate at which it enters the atmosphere is speeding up.

The difficulty with carbon capture is not the capture itself, but finding a non-energy intensive way to remove the carbon. Lackner's team claim to have solved this problem. “The team says it can trap the CO2 from air on absorbent plastic sheets called ion exchange membranes, commonly used to purify water. Crucially, it has discovered that humid air can then make the membranes "exhale" their trapped CO2. The discovery was "some serendipity and some working out," Lackner said. "When I saw it the first time, I didn't believe it." “

The problem remains what to do with the remaining carbon. It would need to sequestered somehow. Pumping it into old oilfields is one suggested solution, which is expensive, in both financial and energy terms, as well as being fraught with dangers – what if the CO2 leaked out again?

One of the most attractive solutions, which has been proposed to deal with the large amounts of CO2 emissions from the tar sands of Canada is to bubble the gas through micro-algae, to produce biofuel, or even food. CARS –the humourously named Carbon Algae Recycling System – from I-CAN a not-for-profit consortium of ten Canadian research corporations who have joined together for key strategic projects.

Photo: I-Can

“In essence, the goal of CARS is to fast-track Mother Nature's own process of using plants to soak up greenhouse gases that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere,” says John McDougall, vice-chairman for I-CAN from the Alberta Research Council. “Algae growth research isn't new, but our goal is. Other algae projects are aimed at creating bio-fuels. The goal of CARS is to provide industry with a sustainable, affordable way to deal with their greenhouse gas emissions.”

This would be applicable to gases captured by the scrubber too. There needs to be a note of caution about this: neither process is in production yet, and would need to be rolled out on a large scale, along with all the other methods of emissions reduction and alternative energy, to stabilise, and hopefully reduce the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.


Could US scientist's 'CO2 catcher' help to slow warming?




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