New powder could be exactly what we need to limit CO2 emissions

19 Dec 2018

Image: © kamilpetran/

Carbon capture is about to be brought to the next level in factories after researchers unveiled a new engineered powder.

With the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warning of the inherent threat posed by a two degrees Celsius increase in average global temperature, engineers and researchers are desperately trying to find ways to reduce our damage to the planet.

One such way is through carbon capture, whereby we try to replicate the great carbon sinks of our planets – such as forests and oceans – in a bid to absorb CO2 from our atmosphere to limit the greenhouse effect. To that end, a team of researchers from the University of Waterloo in Canada and several Chinese universities has revealed an engineered powder that could help greatly contribute to this fight.

Publishing its findings in Carbon, the research team said this new powder could be used to capture CO2 from factories and power plants before the emissions are released into the atmosphere.

‘The performance is almost doubled’

In a process known as absorption, carbon is considered an ideal element for carbon capture because it sticks to CO2 when it comes in contact with the compound, as well as it being abundant and inexpensive.

In this research project, the team wanted to improve absorption performance by manipulating the size and concentration of pores in carbon materials. The technique involved using heat and salt to extract black carbon powder from plants, with the carbon spheres found in the new powder having numerous pores, most of which are less than one-millionth of a metre in diameter.

The team said the new process to manipulate the size and concentration of pores could also be used to produce optimised carbon powders for applications including water filtration and energy storage.

“The porosity of this material is extremely high,” said Zhongwei Chen, a chemical engineer in the research team. “And, because of their size, these pores can capture CO2 very efficiently. The performance is almost doubled.”

Once saturated with CO2 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.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic