Collecting Carbon in a Concrete Jungle

Land unsuitable for tree planting could still be used to reduce levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere thanks to new research.

Microscopic tubes that suck in carbon dioxide from the air are being developed by chemists, engineers and medical researchers at the University of Edinburgh, with funding from the RCUK Energy Programme, led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
 
Just one 1m2 unit containing the tiny tubes could adsorb (suck in) the same amount of carbon as 10 average trees.
 
In the future larger versions of the units could be placed alongside places like motorways or on rooftops to make better use of land and spaces in reducing our carbon footprint.
 
If the technical hurdles are successfully overcome, a patentable unit could be developed and available for purchase within five years.
 
Each individual tube will be around 1 micrometre long and just 1 nanometre in diameter (1 micrometre is 1 millionth of a metre, 1 nanometre is 1 billionth of a metre). They will be made of pure carbon with some additional chemical groups that will attract and trap the carbon dioxide.
 
Once saturated with carbon 'used' tubes will be regenerated by a rapid heat pulse generated from a renewable energy source, such as a solar cell, and the carbon dioxide will be concentrated and stored in small canisters. These canisters may be exchanged periodically for fresh ones as part of a regular collection round.
 
"The tube material will be specially designed at the nanoscale to be highly porous, in order to adsorb as much carbon dioxide as possible," says Professor Eleanor Campbell, who is leading the project. "A key task is to engineer the chemistry of the tubes so that they only adsorb carbon dioxide without taking water vapour, for instance, out of the air as well."
 
The filled carbon dioxide canisters could be transported to a special facility where the carbon can be collected prior to secure disposal deep underground using carbon capture and storage technology, the development of which the University is also prominently involved with through the Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage (SCCS) consortium. Alternatively, the carbon dioxide could be converted into added-value chemicals using novel catalytic reactions that are currently being developed at the university and elsewhere.
 
The project team will look at a whole range of issues, such as a unit's potential purchase price, its appearance and its optimum dimensions.
 
The views of the public were canvassed at an event which took place on Nov. 5, 2011 in Edinburgh.
 
"In some ways, the unit would work like an artificial tree," says Professor Campbell. "A key advantage of course is that the units could be used in built-up urban areas where tree planting is not possible."

Download Center

  • Your Guide to Environmental Metrics that Drive Performance

    Translating sustainability into action starts with implementing the right metrics to assess your environmental risk and performance. Learn how to design metrics that improve your decision-making process and drive enterprise performance.

  • Unpacking ESG: 6 Questions You Were Too Afraid to Ask

    Environmental and Sustainability experts from Arcadis and Cority answer 6 of the most pressing questions EHS professionals have about getting started with Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) reporting.

  • 5 Keys to Best-in-Class Chemical Management

    Running a safe chemical program is challenging and complex: from knowing what's on-site to proper handling and disposal - all while navigating regulatory changes. Learn the best ways to mitigate chemical risk, get the most value out of your data, and gain buy-in for a chemical management solution.

  • Streamline Your Air Emissions Management

    See how consolidating all your emissions management functions into one centralized system can help you streamline your operations, more easily maintain compliance, and achieve greater time and cost savings.

  • A Crash Course in Creating the Right Environmental Scoring System

    Learn how to develop the right environmental scoring system so you can easily benchmark performance across all your facilities and gain a holistic view of your environmental programs.

  • Industry Safe