New powder could reduce greenhouse gas emissions

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Researchers at Waterloo Engineering have created a powder that could be used to reduce greenhouse gases at factories and power plants that burn fossil fuels.

The advanced carbon powder, developed using a novel process in the lab of chemical engineering professor Zhongwei Chen, could filter and remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from emissions with almost twice the efficiency of conventional materials. 

Zhongwei Chen

A team of researchers led by Waterloo Engineering professor Zhongwei Chen has created an advanced carbon powder to help fight global warming.

“This will be more and more important in the future,” said Chen. “We have to find ways to deal with all the CO2 produced by burning fossil fuels.”

The new process, which involves manipulating the size and concentration of pores, could also be used to produce optimized carbon powders for applications including water filtration and energy storage, the other main strand of research in Chen’s lab.

CO2 molecules stick to the surface of carbon when they come in contact with it, a process known as adsorption. Since it is abundant, inexpensive and environmentally friendly, that makes carbon an excellent material to capture CO2, a greenhouse gas that is the primary contributor to global warming.

The researchers, who collaborated with colleagues at several universities in China, set out to improve adsorption performance by manipulating the size and concentration of pores in carbon materials.

'Performance is almost doubled'

The technique they developed uses heat and salt to extract a black carbon powder from plant matter. Carbon spheres that make up the powder have many, many pores and the vast majority of them are less than one-millionth of a metre in diameter.

“The porosity of this material is extremely high,” said Chen, who holds a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in advanced materials for clean energy. “And because of their size, these pores can capture CO2 very efficiently. The performance is almost doubled.”

Once saturated with carbon dioxide in filters at large point sources such as fossil fuel power plants, the powder would be transported to storage sites and buried in underground geological formations to prevent CO2 release into the atmosphere.

A paper on the CO2 capture work, In-situ ion-activated carbon nanospheres with tunable ultramicroporosity for superior CO2 capture, appears in the journal Carbon.

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