Scientists from the University of Calgary in Canada have created a method to efficiently capture carbon dioxide directly from the air around us. The device, which is built on near-commercial technology, was built by Uof C climate change scientists David Keith and his team.
“At first thought, capturing CO2 from the air where it’s at a concentration of 0.04 per cent seems absurd, when we are just starting to do cost-effective capture at power plants where CO2 produced is at a concentration of more than 10 per cent,” says Keith, Canada Research Chair in Energy and Environment.
“But the thermodynamics suggests that air capture might only be a bit harder than capturing CO2 from power plants. We are trying to turn that theory into engineering reality.”
Technology for reducing the levels of carbon dioxide have advanced in the last 18 months, focusing on capturing carbon directly from the production and immediately burying it. Keith’s device, however, does not require any proximity to the production of the harmful greenhouse gasses. This technology is especially helpful in the removal of emissions made by transportation sources, such as airplanes and cars.
Director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy’s (ISEEE) Energy and Environmental Systems Group and a professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, Keith is heralded by his peers as a scientist looking to the future.
“While it’s important to get started doing things we know how to do, like wind power nuclear power and ‘regular’ carbon capture and storage, it’s also vital to start thinking about radical new ideas and approaches to solving this problem.”
“David Keith’s vision and originality are key factors in our ranking this year as the top engineering school in Canada for sustainability initiatives, both in terms of research and curriculum,” says Elizabeth Cannon, Dean of the Schulich School of Engineering. “Leaders like this are not commonplace, and we are proud to get behind this kind of leadership at the Schulich School.”
Keith explains just how this technology could be used by companies across the globe: “A company could, in principle, contract with an oilsands plant near Fort McMurray to remove CO2 from the air and could build its air capture plant wherever it’s cheapest – China, for example – and the same amount of CO2 would be removed.”
In a recent test, Keith and his team demonstrated that they could capture CO2 directly from the air, using less than 100 kilowatt-hours of electricity, and capture the equivalent of about 20 tons per year of CO2 on a single square meter of scrubbing material. “This means that if you used electricity from a coal-fired power plant, for every unit of electricity you used to operate the capture machine, you’d be capturing 10 times as much CO2 as the power plant emitted making that much electricity,” Keith says.
And though this technology is in its early stages, and relatively expensive – despite being comparable to carbon capture and storage technologies – the relative simplicity of the device and scalable technology will see the technology flourish over the next few years with commercial input.