Could these tiny beads be the solution to stopping CO2 emissions?

CCS or carbon capture and storage is a climate change solution that works to safely remove CO2 from power plants and industrial processes before it reaches the atmosphere.

One method that groups like the Global CCS Institute have been promoting for carbon capture relies on large sub-systems attached to power plants and uses a chemical process involving an organic compound called amines to remove the CO2 from the plant exhaust  (see my recent article on CCS here).  Although there have been some success stories with CCS (notably a 110 megawatt coal plant in Canada), carbon capture still struggles with the issue of efficiency; the subsystems required to capture CO2 need energy themselves – this parasitic load increases the net cost of the power produced, sometimes making the energy uncompetitive with other sources that are not using CCS technology.

Although the energy industry is still working to make CCS effective using large mechanical and chemical solutions, there may be a better answer coming from nano-technology.  Lawrence Livermore Laboratories are working on a new solution that uses tiny permeable nano-beads filled with a solution of sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3).  The particles, placed as a coating inside an exhaust stack can absorb large quantitites of CO2.  Once full, the beads will discharge the captured CO2 when heat is applied – the beads can then be reused again and again.  

The researchers at Lawrence Livermore published a paper on the new technology this month in the journal Nature Communications titled Encapsulated liquid sorbents for carbon dioxide capture.

What does it mean for Cleanleap countries?

There are thousands of coal plants in the world right now, many in emerging economies with no technology installed to capture CO2.  Countries with growing energy needs like China are accelerating the development of coal plants too.  A simple system to capture CO2 that did not require an expensive, and perhaps inefficiencnt mechanical subsystem would be a great way to to stop the CO2 emissions while still allowing people to purchase electricity at a reasonable price.  

Watch this video from Bloomberg that explains how the CO2 absorbing beads work.


Disclosure: I used to work as the Community Manager at the Global CCS Institute.