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A New Form of Carbon Capture: Researchers Suggest CO2 Could be Converted Back to Coal

Kate Byng-Hall Reveals New Innovative Ideas Supporting Carbon Capture

Photo by Dexter Fernandes

Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology have devised a way in which carbon dioxide released during industrial processes can be converted back into a solid product at room temperature. 


The Institute has said that turning CO2 back into coal is like “turning back the emissions clock”, and could mitigate the damaging effects of fossil fuels on the environment.


Carbon Capture


A process is already in use at some powerplants called carbon capture and storage (CCS).  This process aims to capture CO2 either before or after the combustion of fossil fuels, converting it into a liquid-like form which is then transported either by pipeline or tanker to offshore storage sites where it remains underground permanently.  


While this method does subvert the greenhouse gas from polluting our atmosphere, it comes with its drawbacks.  CCS is very expensive: it costs approximately $2 billion to equip a powerplant with the necessary infrastructure to carry out the process, and then a further $1.7 million for every kilometre the CO2 has to be transported.  This means that plants have to be situated relatively close to storage sites for the process to be worth carrying out: it’s not a viable method to be applied universally.


Additionally, a single tiny leakage at any stage in the CCS process itself or in the transit of the consequent product would render the whole effort futile.  Considering the risk and cost involved, it’s not a viable solution to the problem of CO2 emissions.


The New Method 


The researchers at RMIT have formulated a similar technique to CCS, but which could eliminate a lot of its disadvantages.  In their method, CO2 is dissolved in a mixture of a liquid metal and an electrolyte liquid, then an electric charge is added, causing the CO2 to form into flakes of solid carbon which can then be collected and stored or used.


While this sounds quite a brain-scrambling procedure, the important thing is that it can be conducted at room temperature, meaning it expends less energy in its conduction than CCS, and is also much more cost-effective.  The carbon product could also potentially be used as components in vehicle engines or in various other areas, so it may not have to be a fruitless activity.


Could Liquid Metal be the Key?


In this new carbon capture technology, the liquid metal catalyst is a key component as it allows the process to be conducted a lot more efficiently than in its absence.  The importance of liquid metal could emerge as a running theme in environment-preserving ideas.


Organisations such as the ARC Centre for Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies are looking into how liquified metals can be used as catalysts in processes such as the aforementioned CO2 conversion, as well as clearing other pollutants, and decontaminating water.  


Metals used in these processes, including gallium, indium, bismuth, and tin, are so easy to make into liquids that the conditions could just about be replicated in a domestic kitchen in an oven or on a hob that can reach 300°C.  


It seems that the utilisation of liquid metals could be a new avenue to pursue to try and combat climate change and pollution.  Who knows what other similar discoveries could be just around the corner?

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