‘Scrubber’ traps greenhouse gases directly from air

September 30th, 2008 - 2:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Sep 30 (IANS) Scientists are working on a technology to trap greenhouse gases directly from the air that could cut down emissions from transportation sectors.A study conducted by David Keith, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering and his team from Calgary University demonstrated how it is possible to trap traces of carbon dioxide (CO2) present in the air, with the help of a relatively simple machine.

The research is significant because air capture technology is the only way to trap CO2 emissions from transportation sources like vehicles and airplanes. These so-called diffuse sources represent more than half of the greenhouse gases emitted on Earth.

“At first thought, capturing CO2 from the air where it’s at a concentration in hundredths of one percent 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,” said Keith.

“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.”

“The climate problem is too big to solve easily with the tools we have,” noted Keith, also director of the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy (ISEEE), according to a Calgary University press release.

“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.”

Energy-efficient and cost-effective air capture could play a valuable role in complementing other approaches for reducing emissions from the transportation sector, such as biofuels or electric vehicles, said David Layzell, executive director, ISEEE.

Significantly, Richard Branson, head of Virgin Group, has offered a $25-million prize for anyone who can devise a system to remove the equivalent of one billion tonnes of carbon dioxide or more every year from the atmosphere for at least a decade.

Keith and his team’s research this summer, which included an outdoor test of their capture tower in McMahon Stadium in Calgary as a dramatic setting, is featured in an episode of Discovery Channel’s new “Project Earth” series on television.

The series has the largest budget of any in Discovery Channel’s history, and it may attract a global viewership of more than 100 million. The episode on Keith’s research has already aired in the US and is available on Discovery Channel’s website (http://dsc.discovery.com/tv/project-earth/project-earth.html ); click on “Episodes.”

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