Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology is something of a holy grail for an energy industry that has to lower the amount of carbon it pumps into the atmosphere. And unusually, the problem is not that scientists and engineers do not know how to do it. As Lynden Archer, a professor of engineering at Cornell University explains:
“One of the roadblocks to adopting current CO2 capture technology in electric power plants is that the regeneration of the fluids used for capturing CO2 utilize as much as 25 percent of the energy output of the plant. This seriously limits the commercial viability of such technology. Additionally, the captured CO2 must be transported to sites where it can be sequestered or reused, which requires new infrastructure.”
So Archer’s research team set out to develop a CCS technology that addresses both problems. The result is an aluminium-based electrochemical cell that generates electricity when a mixture of oxygen and carbon dioxide gas passes through it. In the process, it converts the carbon dioxide into a carbon-carbon oxalate by-product that is widely used in the pharmaceutical and other industries.
Although at an early stage of development, the technology could provide the means of making CCS economically viable… particularly if it is sufficiently cost-effective to be retrofitted to existing plants.