Innovation That Matters

| Photo source Andrea Starr | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Scientists develop the cheapest carbon capture system to date

Agriculture & Energy

PNNL researchers have found a way for companies to profit from carbon capture using carbon upcycling

Spotted: While carbon capture technology is considered vital for putting energy systems onto a sustainable path, its uptake has been slow. Commentators usually point the finger at its expense for this, but, as the IEA reports, giving up on the technology for cost reasons would derail our net-zero goals for good. This is why scientists at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have unveiled its cheapest carbon capture system yet, which converts CO2 into methanol – one of the world’s most widely used chemicals.  

The system seizes the CO2 molecules before they touch the air and converts them into the sellable substance. Because methanol is used in many things, from fuels to construction, the team believes that this will incentivise companies to adopt the inexpensive carbon capture system. To further attract buyers, the technology is designed to fit into coal, gas, or biomass-fired power plants, cement kilns, and steel plants, making the potential boundless. 

PNNL chemist David Heldebrant compares the system to recycling, explaining that “instead of extracting oil from the ground to make these chemicals, we’re trying to do it from CO2 captured from the atmosphere or from coal plants, so it can be reconstituted into useful things. You’re keeping carbon alive, so to speak, so it’s not just ‘pull it out of the ground, use it once, and throw it away.’ We’re trying to recycle the CO2, much like we try to recycle other things like glass, aluminium, and plastics.” 

The technology is now available for licensing.  

Springwise has previously spotted other innovations that capture CO2 and transform it into useful substances, including a system that turns it into carbon fibre and wastewater treatment chemicals and one that turns carbon into rock.

Written By: Georgia King


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