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Fighting Against Global Warming – A New Development in Carbon Capture with Nanotechnology

Global warming continues to be a growing concern for scientists worldwide. If action is not taken now, global warming could change the world as we know it, making it an uninhabitable place. Not only will animals that rely on the environment die out and become extinct, but it would develop conditions that humans cannot withstand either. As a result, governments around the world are now making global warming one of their primary concerns, for the sake of continuing life on this planet.

Carbon capture is a method that scientists have been trying to implement to combat global warming. Carbon capture relies on chemical processes to trap unwanted carbon dioxide before it is released within the atmosphere. Although this method sounds wonderful on paper, current methods for carbon capture leads to the production of toxic, corrosive, and inefficient products. However, Cornell materials scientists led by Emmanuel Giannelis have turned to nanotechnology to provide smarter and safer ways.

Currently, the most common method for carbon capture is amine scrubbing. Amine scrubbing is commonly used it natural gas and coal-burning plants, which contribute greatly to global warming. After combustion, flue gas that holds carbon dioxide is forcibly passed through liquid vats of amines, otherwise known as amino compounds. These vats help to absorb most of the carbon dioxide from the gas. Then, the gas filled with carbon is taken away to be reused. However, this amine solution is very corrosive material and can be dangerous without proper containment. Containment for hazardous materials such as this is also very expensive, which means that it will require a large amount of resources.

As a result, researchers have been trying to discover a better method for carbon capture from as early as 2008. The latest and most promising option is made with a silica scaffold, which is a sorbent support, with increased surface area with the integration of nanoscale pores. The scaffold is dipped into liquid amine is soaked inside the material, similar to how a sponge absorbs liquid. The material partially hardens and becomes a stable, dry white powder that can capture carbon dioxide even when there is moisture in the area. This makes it a much more efficient method of carbon trapping without unnecessary risks and hazards.

Usually, solid amine sorbents lose amine over time because the amine is only physically connected with the material. As the amine is lost, the material becomes ineffective as well as expensive to maintain. The researches of Cornell have been able to chemically bond the amine to the material, which has resulted in less amine loss.

Now, the researchers are attempting to improve the material and optimize it. Once work is complete, they wish to demonstrate this new material to industries as a safer, inexpensive product with higher efficiency. The Cornell researchers hope that the material will be used to improve the Cornell power plant. However, Cornell researchers have also pointed out that this technology can be used at a smaller scale as well, such as in greenhouses.