Cheap Carbon Capture BreakthroughBy Cinthya Alaniz Salazar | Tue, 10/19/2021 - 15:40
A global team of chemical engineers working with the University of New South Wales (UNSW), Australia, has demonstrated how gallium liquid metal can be utilized to inexpensively convert carbon emissions. This process has been a linchpin in the global energy transition process because its cost has often been cited as an impediment for the widespread adaptation of this technology, said the International Energy Agency (IEA) earlier this year.
The paper, published in the Advanced Materials journal, details how at near room temperature the capture and conversion process of liquid gallium can reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) into oxygen and high-value carbon products that can be used in batteries, construction and aircraft manufacturing. Accounting for the importance of scalability, researchers augmented their project to process 0.1 liter of CO2 per minute and ran it continuously for a month with no sign of degradation.
"We see very strong industrial applications with regards to decarbonization. This technology offers an unprecedent process for capturing and converting CO2 at an exceptionally competitive cost," said Junma Tang, the first author of the paper.
The reaction process works by breaking carbon dioxide into oxygen gas and carbonaceous sheets, which rise to the surface of the container due to differences in density, facilitating extraction. The process touts a 92 percent efficacy rate while using only using 230 kWh, a remarkably low energy input. According to the group’s estimates, this process could process up to a ton of CO2 for roughly US$100. The cost of atmospheric capture just two years ago ranged between US$200 and US$1,000, according to the American Chemical Society’s C&EN.
Gallium, although abundant, is difficult to mine and costs between US$0.25-US$1.00 per gram, says Physics Today. Nonetheless, its cost is still significantly lower than other precious metals like gold, which currently sells at about US$57 per gram.
These low input costs compounded with the production of a lucrative byproduct have made this technology attractive for investors. LM Plus company, which provided the initial seed money to fund the project, intends to scale and commercialize the technology. “What we are working towards now is to raise funds to build a larger size proof-of-concept for this system to work within a 40-foot container–the size of a truck trailer–that could ultimately help industrial sites immediately capture any CO2 emissions and convert them.”
Mexico, which signed onto the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, had committed to focus on carbon capture and storage. The country had also committed to reduce CO2 emissions by 19 percent and address emissions from the country’s energy sector. However, the new administration seems to be prioritizing fossil fuels over renewable energy adaptations and projects and the country’s energy transition is six years behind, according to a report by CONAMER.