Scientists can now turn CO2 in the air into solid coal

The cost-effective method could revolutionize how we remove carbon from the atmosphere, particularly in regard to climate change.

Pixabay
  • A team of scientists used liquid metal and a liquid electrolyte to convert gaseous CO2 into a solid, coal-like substance.
  • Compared to current methods, the new approach could prove to be a more efficient and scalable way to remove carbon from the atmosphere and safely store it.
  • The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the global community must remove 100 billion to 1 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by mid-century in order to avoid catastrophic global warming.

Scientists have created a method to convert carbon dioxide back into solid coal, a breakthrough that could change the ways carbon is removed from the atmosphere and permanently stored.

It's one of several recently developed negative emissions techniques that seek to make carbon capture and storage cheaper, safer and more efficient. This particular method was developed by a research team led by RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, and it uses a liquid metal electrocatalyst, containing nanoparticles of the rare-earth metal cerium, to convert the greenhouse gas into a stable, coal-like solid.

"While we can't literally turn back time, turning carbon dioxide back into coal and burying it back in the ground is a bit like rewinding the emissions clock," study co-author Dr. Torben Daeneke told The Independent. "To date, CO2 has only been converted into a solid at extremely high temperatures, making it industrially unviable."

RMIT University

Publishing their findings in the journal Nature Communications on February 26, the team described how carbon dioxide turned into solid flakes after it was dissolved and placed inside a beaker filled with an electrolyte liquid and liquid metal that were charged with an electrical current.

"By using liquid metals as a catalyst, we've shown it's possible to turn the gas back into carbon at room temperature, in a process that's efficient and scalable," Daeneke said.

Improving carbon capture and storage

Instead of being buried underground, the solid carbon produced by the method could be used as a fuel source or as feedstock, as the element is in other carbon utilization approaches.

"A side benefit of the process is that the carbon can hold electrical charge, becoming a supercapacitor, so it could potentially be used as a component in future vehicles," Dorna Esrafilzadeh, a Vice-Chancellor's Research Fellow in RMIT's School of Engineering, told The Independent. "The process also produces synthetic fuel as a by-product, which could also have industrial applications."

The ability to sell or otherwise use carbon after removing it from the atmosphere would help make carbon capture and storage methods more cost-effective, and therefore more scalable. Currently, only about 1 percent of carbon emissions are removed from the atmosphere and stored. Making it cheaper to do so could help the global community remove the 100 billion to 1 trillion tons of carbon necessary to avoid catastrophic global warming by mid-century, a number put forth by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

American education: It’s colleges, not college students, that are failing

Who is to blame for the U.S.'s dismal college graduation rate? "Radical" educator Dennis Littky has a hunch.

Percentage of college student dropouts by age at enrollment: 2-year and 4-year institutions

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • COVID-19 has magnified the challenges that underserved communities face with regard to higher education, such as widening social inequality and sky-high tuition.
  • At College Unbound, where I am president, we get to know students individually to understand what motivates them, so they can build a curriculum based on goals they want to achieve.
  • My teaching mantra: Everything is permitted during COVID-19. Everything is permitted during COVID-19. Everything is permitted during COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists observe strange lights in the heart of the Milky Way

Astronomers spot periodic lights coming from near the black hole at the center of our galaxy.

Hot spots around the black hole at the center of the Milky Way may produce periodic lights.

Credit: Keio University
Surprising Science
  • Astronomers in Japan observe periodic lights coming from the region near the black hole at the center of our galaxy.
  • The twinkling may be produced by hot spots in the accretion disk around the black hole.
  • The mysterious region studied features extreme gravity.
Keep reading Show less

These countries are leading the transition to sustainable energy

Sweden tops the ranking for the third year in a row.

AXEL SCHMIDT/DDP/AFP via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation

What does COVID-19 mean for the energy transition? While lockdowns have caused a temporary fall in CO2 emissions, the pandemic risks derailing recent progress in addressing the world's energy challenges.

Keep reading Show less

What does the red pill really show you?

Neo's superhuman powers were only inside of The Matrix. The outside world offered a different reality.

A fan cosplays as Morpheus from The Matrix during the 2018 New York Comic-Con at Javits Center on October 7, 2018 in New York City.

Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images
Culture & Religion
  • The "red pill" came into prominence as a way to break free of mental slavery in the 1999 movie, "The Matrix."
  • In a new essay, Julian Walker points out Neo's powers only worked inside of the simulation—reality is a different story.
  • The red vs blue pill question is a pop culture phenomenon, often used in questionable circumstances.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…